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Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports or allegations of: the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; and violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Judicial authorities investigate whether any security force killings that may occur were justifiable and pursue prosecutions as required by the evidence.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

Internet Freedom

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violate the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years for violations. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process, until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception while administrative processing is underway, but no more than 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

Concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in special requirements for movement within the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government imposed nationwide lockdowns from the beginning of the year through mid-May and from November 22 to December 12. On November 15, the government also imposed a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals, requiring them to stay at home unless they needed to exercise, purchase items at essential retail outlets such as grocery stores and pharmacies, or go to work. The lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals continued after the nationwide lockdown ended on December 12. There were also some exit restrictions in provinces and municipalities throughout the country when infection or hospital rates became too high. For example, in September persons near Braunau, which had a high incidence of infection and a low rate of immunization, were required to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 with a negative result to leave that area.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

Despite growing criticism by human rights NGOs, the government continued to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers to Afghanistan until August. In a legal challenge brought by an Afghan being held in custody prior to deportation, the Constitutional Court ruled on August 17 that given recent developments in Afghanistan, it was impossible to deport Afghan asylum seekers within any reasonable time. Subsequently, the ministers of interior and foreign affairs acknowledged deportations to Afghanistan were no longer possible and stressed that under EU and Schengen Zone rules, the government instead would return Afghans to the first EU country they entered on their way to Austria.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria can be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to be safe countries of transit.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee. Asylum seekers have access to health care services and school education is available to their children, but they do not receive other integration services, such as language classes or employment assistance, until their applications have been approved.

Durable Solutions: While the government processes and grants applications for asylum, there was no active program for resettlement of refugees, and UNHCR was not involved in the refugee or asylum process in the country. The integration section in the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration at the Federal Chancellery, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Ministry of Interior, in 2020 the government provided temporary protection to 2,524 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Ministry of Interior, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to 2,110 individuals.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were 17,992 persons in the country registered as stateless, that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire their parents’ citizenship due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country.

The law allows some stateless persons to gain Austrian nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of government corruption during the year. The Ministry of Justice’s 2020 annual report disclosed that it had investigated 2,031 allegations of corruption in 2020, of which 1,594 were closed without prosecution, 249 resulted in convictions, and 93 resulted in acquittals. The convictions represent a 15 percent increase from 2019.

Corruption: On November 18, parliament voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, at his request, so that an investigation against him by anticorruption prosecutors could continue. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October but at that time continued to serve as the People’s Party chairman and started serving as the party’s parliamentary floor leader. Kurz resigned in the wake of corruption investigations against him in connection with alleged abuse of office and alleged misuse of public funds for manipulated polling and favorable press coverage beginning in 2016. Kurz withdrew from politics completely in December and resigned as chairman of the People’s Party and as the party’s parliamentary floor leader.

On August 27, a Vienna court sentenced the former vice chancellor and former leader of the Freedom Party, Hans-Christian Strache, to a 15-month suspended prison term for trying to initiate legislation to benefit the owner of a private hospital who donated $14,000 to Strache’s party. Strache appealed the verdict.

During the year, prosecutors also continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and the government holding company OeBAG. The investigations included a search of the finance minister’s house based on allegations he may have been involved in discussions about a political party donation by gambling company Novomatic in exchange for the government’s assistance regarding a tax matter in Italy. In June prosecutors initiated investigations against Kurz on perjury charges in connection with his June 2020 testimony before a parliamentary investigative committee regarding his possible involvement in the appointment of the CEO of the government holding company. The finance minister resigned all party positions and withdrew from politics in December.

Prosecutors also continued investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($575,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examines complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee also provides oversight of the government’s actions with respect to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment; domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. The government generally enforced the law, and law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was generally effective. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters.

Under the law, the government provides psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There are no legal barriers or government policies that adversely affected access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of cases of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit and owning or managing businesses or property. Women were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination are in place, and the government enforced them effectively. The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. (See section 2.a.)

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 443 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, up from 314 in the previous year.

In July the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 21, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.

The NGO ZARA, which operated a hotline for victims of racist incidents, reported receiving 3,039 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, up from 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that 2,148 of the cases were based on racist internet postings, up from 2,070 in 2019. Most of these were directed against Muslims and immigrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center reported receiving 1,402 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, a 33.4 percent increase over the 1,051 complaints received in 2019. Some 84 percent of the reported incidents took place on digital media. The incidents included verbal abuse directed against Muslims and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Muslim groups objected to a new online “Islam Map” published by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Islamic Religious Pedagogics and presented by the integration minister’s Documentation Office of Political Islam on May 27 that shows the location of over 600 Muslim institutions in the country as well as their origin and ideology, structure and network, and connections abroad. The groups interpreted the map as an attempt to put Muslims in the country under general suspicion. Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration Raab defended the map as providing more transparency that the government and public could use as reference material.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to assert that police allegedly targeted minorities for frequent identity checks.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism among police forces and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Ministry of Interior renewed an annual agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to teach police officers cultural and racial sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities in the framework of the ADL’s “A World of Difference” program. Training has been conducted on an ongoing basis for police officers since 2002 and was introduced as part of officers’ basic training in 2008. In 2020, 525 current police officers and 1,035 prospective police officers received training nationwide. As of the end of 2020, a total of 23,265 police officers had received the ADL training out of a total police force of about 31,000 members.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for commercial sex and practices related to child pornography; authorities generally enforced the law effectively. The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that the COVID-19 crisis led to a further increase of anti-Semitism. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 585 anti-Semitic incidents during 2020. These included physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti, and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, 11 concerned physical assaults, 22 involved threats and insults, 135 were letters and emails, 53 were cases of vandalism, and 364 involved insulting behavior. The IKG reported 562 incidents in the period from January to June. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators but reported that a substantial number of incidents involved Muslim perpetrators.

An August 2020 physical attack by a Syrian immigrant on a Graz Jewish community leader remained under investigation. Authorities reportedly were unable to locate the perpetrator of another assault in November 2020 on a rabbi in Vienna.

Government officials roundly condemned the attacks at the time they occurred. School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Research offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

From September 2020 – the date a law extending citizenship to descendants of Austrian victims of National Socialism entered into force – to August, approximately 6,600 persons, mostly from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, received citizenship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred. Health services and transportation were available on an equal basis with others, and government communication was generally provided in accessible formats. There were no government actions that limited participation in civic life, including the ability to vote.

The government had a National Action Plan on Disability for 2012-20 that called for gradual abandonment of segregated schools for students with disabilities. During the 2019-20 school year, however, 36.2 percent of students with disabilities were placed in special education schools.

The Federal Disabilities Act mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities. While the federal ombudsman for disabled persons has noted most buildings comply with these regulations, NGOs complained some public buildings still lacked such access. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Care, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance, to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

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

There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, condoning, or tolerating violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTQI+ persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ organizations generally operated freely. According to a survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 11 percent of homosexual persons and 17 percent of transgender persons reported they had been verbally or physically assaulted in the previous five years.

In October a court in Styria convicted a Syrian national living in Austria who had defaced the walls of an LGBTQI+ community center in the city of Graz, assaulted the president of the Graz Jewish Community, and vandalized the Graz synagogue. The court sentenced him to a three-year prison term.

In March a trial before the Vienna court on incitement charges against a man who had allegedly harassed three LGBTQI+ men after a rainbow parade in 2019 ended in a settlement providing financial compensation to the victims.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment. Laws at the provincial level prohibit discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, including with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. Civil society groups noted there was no federal mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. It prohibits antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The Austrian Trade Union Federation was the exclusive entity representing workers in collective bargaining. Unions were technically independent of government and political parties, although unions in some sectors were closely associated with parties.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws that covered all categories of workers. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were of a civil nature, with fines imposed, and were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative, registration, and judicial procedures were not overly lengthy.

There were few reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions. The government and employers recognized the right to strike and respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for collective bargaining and protecting unions from interference and workers from retaliation for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months to five years imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking in recent years due to organized crime in Eastern Europe. Traffickers were reported to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or work that is detrimental to ethics and morals. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so through regular and thorough checks of workplaces and special youth advisors in companies. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

Child labor occurred. Children were trafficked to the country and subjected to forced begging and occasionally sexual exploitation. Forced labor or exploitation of minors is treated under the criminal code as trafficking in persons, with criminal penalties of one to 10 years in prison, double the penalty for forced labor or exploitation of adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The law does not address national origin. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. Muslim women wearing headscarves sometimes encountered discrimination when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Women employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women by filing a court case or registering a complaint with the Federal Equality Commission, which can award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements covered between 98 and 99 percent of the workforce and set minimum wages by job classification for each industry. Where no such collective agreements existed, such as for domestic workers, custodial staff, and au pairs, wages were generally lower than those covered by collective bargaining agreements. The agreements set wages above the poverty line except in a few cases.

The law in general provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours, although collective bargaining agreements establish 38- or 38.5-hour workweeks for more than half of all employees. Regulations to increase workhour flexibility allowed companies to increase the maximum regular time from 40 hours to 50 hours per week with overtime. A law that entered into force in 2019 allows work hours to be increased to a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week, including overtime, but employees can refuse, without providing a reason, to work more than 10 hours per day.

Overtime is officially limited to 20 hours per week and 60 hours per year. The period worked must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 17 weeks. Some employers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and information technology sectors, exceeded legal limits on compulsory overtime. Collective bargaining agreements can specify higher limits. An employee must have at least 11 hours off between workdays. Wage and hour violations can be brought before a labor court, which can fine employers who commit violations. Penalties were commensurate with other similar crimes.

Sectors with immigrant and migrant workers were particularly affected by violations in wage and hour regulations. Foreign workers in both the formal and informal sectors made up 19 percent of the country’s workforce. They constituted 20 percent of officially employed persons and 35 percent of unemployed persons. There were concerns that some migrant workers, especially those in the childcare industry, were misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. Consequently, these workers did not have access to social safety net benefits, such as unemployment insurance, as well as other benefits, such as paid leave.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Resources and remediation remained adequate. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code. Penalties are commensurate with those for other crimes, such as negligence.

In 2020 a total of 113 workers died in industrial accidents, down from 126 in 2019. Hazardous sectors where the most accidents occurred include construction, agriculture, and forestry.

Workers could file complaints anonymously with the labor inspectorate, which could in turn sue the employer on behalf of the employee. Workers rarely exercised this option and normally relied instead on the nongovernmental workers’ advocacy group and the Chamber of Labor, which filed suits on their behalf.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Informal Sector: Authorities did not effectively enforce wage, hour, and occupational safety and health standards in the informal sector. Workers in the small informal economy generally did not benefit from social protections. Workers generally had to pay into the system to receive health-care benefits, unemployment insurance, and pensions, and such payments were rare in the informal sector. Economists estimated the size of the country’s informal sector at approximately 7 percent of GDP.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Read A Section: China

Hong Kong | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority. Communist Party members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the Communist Party Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as party general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses.

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution, including torture and sexual violence; the inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. Enforcement of laws on corruption was inconsistent and not transparent, and corruption was rampant.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available. In an April 21 report, Amnesty International declared the country executed potentially thousands of individuals in 2020.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the 82-year-old Uyghur poet Haji Mirzahid Kerimi died in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for writing books that were later blacklisted. According to RFA, Kerimi was arrested in 2017 as part of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) campaign to censor “dangerous” literature. RFA also reported Kurbanjan Abdukerim died in February shortly after his release from an internment camp. During the three years of his detainment, Abdukerim family reported he had lost more than 100 pounds and that the cause of his death was unknown.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers and online media providers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspend or close publications. Self-censorship was prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views. For example police in Huizhou continued to hold human rights activist Xiao Yuhui, detained in July 2020 after repeating a WeChat post calling for individuals to save Hong Kong.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

In August, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were indicted on charges of subversion after two rounds of investigation by the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau and 21 months in detention. Ding and Xu were arrested in December 2019 after they met earlier that month in Xiamen, Fujian, to organize civil society and plan nonviolent social movements in the country. They were charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “subversion of state power;” the latter crime carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence. Authorities continued to deny the families and their lawyers access to Xu and Ding.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, and other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Mass-gathering events were canceled during the year due to COVID-19 controls.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area. The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and, in some cases, detained or harassed NGO workers. Propaganda targeted NGOs, smearing them for any affiliation with foreign governments.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by charity law and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: as a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities and sponsorship included burdensome reporting requirements. All organizations are required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding.

All domestic NGOs are supposed to have a CCP cell, although implementation was not consistent. According to authorities, these CCP cells were to “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” Authorities are to conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations or for one-time activities. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the NGO law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Many government agencies still had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. According to the Ministry of Public Security, as of November 2, approximately 622 foreign NGO representative offices had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with more than one-half of those focusing on industry or trade promotion activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of the year, there were more than 900,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs, or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization, foreign NGOs must maintain a representative office in the country to receive funds, or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. By law foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibit organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that did not comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict, evict, and investigate local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: The government continued to consider North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China.

g. Stateless Persons

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant. Many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

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

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial or other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and all official NGOs were required to have a government agency sponsor.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws include language that protects members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively, and authorities perpetrated and promoted violence and discrimination against members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.

The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.

The government promoted Han Chinese migration into minority areas, significantly increasing the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP posts and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang.

In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” Since 2017 the government used this broad definition of extremism to detain more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in re-education or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported government security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).

Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology specifically designed to target and track Uyghurs.

The national government perpetuated and condoned policies and attitudes that promoted discrimination; minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions intentionally disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government promoted racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, and disparaged and denied the resulting complaints, cracking down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion.

Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment could be based on expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to the official news agency Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big-data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” (See section 1.f.) Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.

Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. (See sections 1.a. and 1.b.).

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability.” It requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content, and to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households. Persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones. (See section 1.f.).

Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. Throughout the year ethnic Kazakhs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan reported that PRC officials attempted to silence protests regarding their missing family members in Xinjiang. Small groups of Kazakhs often protested outside the PRC consulate in Almaty and the PRC Embassy in Nur-Sultan to demand answers concerning their families’ detention in Xinjiang. Local sources stated that PRC officials frequently called their cell phones to pressure them to stop protesting. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.

The government pressured foreign countries to forcibly repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information concerning the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited in Xinjiang. For information regarding abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside policy quotas or to single women often cannot be registered or receive other legal documents such as the hukou residence permit. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.

Government authorities in Inner Mongolia required instructors to use Mandarin to teach history and politics instead of the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which are viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and other provinces to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into commercial sex could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or a death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who paid for commercial sex with girls younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.

Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had relatives willing to care for them, the government placed the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with CCP ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions regarding their parents’ religious beliefs and practices.

In October 2020 a study on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available. According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased from 497,800 to 880,500. Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. Government policy aimed to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.

Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.

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 government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The World Jewish Congress estimated the Jewish population at 2,500. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements, and the government failed to provide persons with disabilities with access to programs intended to assist them.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

The Ministry of Education reported there were more than 2,000 separate schools for children with disabilities, but NGOs reported only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. Universities often excluded candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.

The law sets standards for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities; compliance was limited.

The law forbids marriage for persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors find a couple is at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple may marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates local governments are to employ such practices to eliminate the births of children with disabilities.

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

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTQI+ matters continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by organizations that accept funding from overseas.

LGBTQI+ individuals reported incidents of violence, including domestic violence; however, they encountered difficulties in seeking legal redress, since regulations on domestic violence do not include recognition of same-sex relationships. Accessing redress was further limited by societal discrimination and traditional norms, resulting in most LGBTQI+ persons refraining from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nonetheless, the civil code includes a provision that protects certain tenancy rights for designated partners of deceased property owners without officially defined family relationships.

NGOs working on LGBTQI+ topics reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them due to laws governing charities and foreign NGOs, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

In July, WeChat’s parent company Tencent deleted dozens of public WeChat accounts run by LGBTQI+ groups at universities across the country for allegedly violating internet regulations, including 14 of the most prominent accounts.

In September the National Radio and Television Administration ordered television companies to exclude niangpao or “sissy men” from their content. It was the first time the government used the term, which is used to insult or bully gay men. Also in September the administration condemned representations of gay men’s love stories on radio and television. Later in the month, the state-backed gaming association issued new video game guidelines stating that depictions of same-sex relationships, characters with ambiguous genders, and effeminate males were considered problems and would raise flags.

In November, LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an organization focused on changing law and policy, announced it was ceasing all activities and shutting down its social media accounts.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with democratic, parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is head of state. A prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party of a multiparty coalition, is head of government and presides over the cabinet, which is accountable to a unicameral parliament (Folketing). The kingdom includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous with similar political structures and legal rights. They manage most of their domestic affairs, while the central Danish government is responsible for constitutional matters, citizenship, monetary and currency matters, foreign relations, and defense and security policy. Observers deemed national elections in 2019 to be free and fair.

The National Police maintain internal security and, jointly with the Danish Immigration Service, is responsible for border enforcement at the country’s ports of entry. The Ministry of Justice oversees both services. The Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have responsibility for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities, such as disaster response and maritime sovereignty enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of excessive use of solitary confinement, including of children.

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years.

In January police detained three individuals who allegedly made threatening remarks as an effigy of the prime minister was burned by antilockdown protesters. The protest was one of a series organized by Men in Black, a self-proclaimed “freedom” group that protested the government’s winter lockdown to hinder the spread of COVID-19. According to police, the group had strong ties to the hooligan soccer community. On March 12, the Copenhagen city court sentenced a woman associated with Men in Black to two years’ unconditional imprisonment for having called for violence during a demonstration on January 9. The court doubled her punishment due to a special section in the law allowing for the doubling of punishments for several crimes if the offense was connected to COVID-19 restrictions. Amnesty International Denmark expressed concern that the law was too vaguely worded regarding the connection between the crime and COVID-19. In June a higher-level court reduced the sentence to 60 days. Approximately 15 demonstrators from the same event also received the double sentence, and in two instances, after appeals, the High Court reversed the sentence.

Internet Freedom

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

In January the DIHR published a report on technology companies’ impacts on human rights. The report concluded that human rights considerations be incorporated throughout “tech giants” boards, strategic and policy planning, risk management procedures, and beyond.

On November 18, the government hosted its Tech for Democracy conference to discuss how digital technology can strengthen democracy and support human rights.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Exile: On October 6, the government repatriated three mothers and their 14 children from northeastern Syria. Authorities also said they would repatriate five other children without their mothers, who had been stripped of their Danish citizenship.

Citizenship: In December 2020 parliament removed the “sunset” clause from a 2019 law allowing the revocation of citizenship without a court hearing for those who “acted in a manner which is seriously detrimental to the vital interests of the country.” This 2019 law was set to expire in 2021. The law does apply to those who would be rendered stateless by the revocation. Under this provision the government revoked the citizenship of 11 Danes.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its program to resettle refugees.

On June 3, parliament authorized the government to establish asylum centers in non-EU countries. The EU Commission called the law inconsistent with EU law. The government negotiated the establishment of asylum centers with potential partner countries, including Rwanda. The Danish Refugee Council criticized the amendments to the law on transferring asylum seekers to non-EU countries.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government limits the rights of persons with subsidiary or temporary protection to family reunification, restrictions not applied to persons recognized as refugees. For example, persons with subsidiary or temporary protection must wait at least three years before applying for family reunification for their spouse or cohabitating partner and minor children. In contrast, persons with refugee status can apply for family reunification at any time.

The government does not consider Damascus, Syria, and the Rif Dimashq Governate surrounding it to be dangerous. The government did not forcibly return rejected asylum seekers to Syria. Those whose claims were rejected, however, lost their work permit and were required to live in an asylum center.

On July 9, the ECHR found the country violated its international human rights obligations by imposing a law that lengthened the amount of time a newly arrived refugee must wait before applying for family reunification. In the same case, the ECHR also concluded that the local authorities’ decision to deny a Syrian refugee family reunification was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2015 the government granted a Syrian national temporary protection status for one year. When the Syrian applied for family reunification with his wife, the government denied it due to the three-year rule, which requires refugees to wait three years before applying for family reunification. Local courts upheld the denial.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered or attempted to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or were registered in another state-party to the Dublin regulation.

Refoulement: As of September 30, the government has revoked the residency permits of 87 Syrian refugees since 2019 after the Danish Refugee Appeals Board deemed Damascus and its surrounding governorate to be safe. Most of these individuals have since departed Denmark for Syria or other destinations. In September a report by Amnesty International Denmark on the repatriation of Syrian nationals to Syria found one-third of human rights abuses in Syria took place in Damascus or in the surrounding area. Amnesty also stated that Syrian nationals whose residency permits were revoked could face torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention upon their return to Syria.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government stated all asylum seekers were offered a medical screening upon arrival in the country, reception center staff were sensitive to signs of torture, and it was the opinion of the government that the procedures in place to identify and assist victims of torture were sufficient. The government stated that if an asylum seeker’s condition was such that detention was deemed impossible, the police imposed less restrictive measures, but the fact that an alien had been subjected to torture generally did not exclude the use of detention. The UN Committee Against Torture subsequently regretted that medical examinations were performed at the sole discretion of immigration authorities.

Freedom of Movement: The law limits the initial period of immigration detention to six months, which can be extended to 18 months if special circumstances exist.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows municipalities to accommodate refugees only in temporary housing.

Durable Solutions: The government’s policy encouraged repatriation of refugees rather than their integration into society. The state provided financial assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who choose to return home. It paid for their travel and provided a small sum of money to help them resettle in their homeland. The government provided similar financial incentives to nonrefugee or non-asylum-seeking residents who choose to return to their homelands. This policy decreased the likelihood of long-term residency permits for refugees and asylum seekers as it encouraged repatriation over integration.

Temporary Protection: As of August, 111 refugees received temporary protection status in the country.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, as of February, 11,655 stateless persons lived in the country. Stateless persons can apply for citizenship if they have lived in the country for at least eight years.

During the country’s UPR, UNHCR reported that stateless children born in the country are not entitled to Danish nationality by birth but could acquire nationality through naturalization, with requirements more stringent than those in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Transparency International Greenland’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2020, released in March, found that 57 percent of respondents felt corruption was a “big problem.” The survey was conducted in October-November 2020, shortly after a conflict-of-interest case emerged involving the then premier of Greenland Kim Kielsen. In May 2020 Kielsen’s government raised the fishing quotas for rockfish while the then premier lent out his private boat for commercial fishing of rockfish. Kielsen confirmed that he earned 27,000 kroner (DKK) ($4,200) by renting out his boat that was not rated for commercial use. In September 2020 the government’s audit committee offered a “sharp reprimand” of the “criticizable” actions, but it did not find Kielsen had violated any laws.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman investigated complaints regarding national and local public authorities and any decisions authorities made regarding the treatment of citizens and their cases. The parliamentary ombudsman can independently inspect prisons, detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals. A European ombudsman monitored the country’s compliance with EU basic rights, a consumers’ ombudsman investigated complaints related to discriminatory marketing, and two royal ombudsmen provided liaison between the Danish central government and those in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. These ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or political interference, and were considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women and men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is not defined by a lack of consent, but rather by whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years for aggravated circumstances and up to six years for domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape.

Gender-based violence rates have increased due to COVID-19. The number of women enrolled in domestic violence shelters throughout the country in 2020 increased 3 percent compared with 2019. In January a new consent law went into effect. The law, which strengthened the country’s rape laws, criminalized sex without the explicit consent of all parties.

The police received 1,825 reports of rape or attempted rape in 2020.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances it also reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape. The law does not provide a minimum sentencing for persons convicted of rape but does cap sentencing at 10 years. The law is applied equally regardless of the marital relationship of the offender and the victim. The law provides that sentencing be based on the severity of the case as well as an individual evaluation of the offender. Sentencing was typically between 12 and 18 months.

In the country’s UPR, two treaty bodies of the UNHRC expressed concern that numerous women had experienced violence or had been exposed to threats thereof, and that the rates of prosecution and conviction remained low. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was concerned regarding the high incidence of sexual violence, including rape; the lack of reliable associated statistical data; the inadequacy of legal provisions relating to rape; and the very low rate of prosecution of sexual violence.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence throughout the country, including in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Under the law a man who is the survivor of domestic violence is not afforded the same opportunities for help as a woman. While the law provides women the right to be admitted to a women’s crisis center, men can only be admitted to shelters or male centers as “functional homeless.” These centers did not necessarily have expertise in caring for survivors of violence because they house a wider target group, such as the homeless and those suffering from drug or alcohol addictions. In Greenland there were 748 sexual crimes reported in 2020, a 33.8 percent increase from the 559 reported in 2019.

The law provides for 10 hours of taxpayer-funded psychological help for women, but not for men, in shelters. The government may extend this treatment to men in men’s shelters on trial basis in 2022-23.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers sexual harassment an unsafe working condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility to resolve it. The government enforced the law effectively.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, religious, personal status and nationality, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning and managing businesses and property laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

COVID-19 vaccination rates among residents in the country’s so-called parallel societies (previously called “ghettos”) were considerably lower than other areas of the country. As of August, 40 percent of those older than age 12 who were invited to get vaccinated in the largest areas, including Vollsmose, Gellerup, and Tingbjerg, did not book a time to get vaccinated. This compared with 15 percent of the rest of the general population. Health experts attributed the low rates of vaccine uptake among certain minority and immigrant groups to insufficiently robust outreach and engagement efforts.

In a report from a study conducted between 2015 and 2018 and released in September 2020, the DIHR found that patients with non-Western backgrounds had a 40 percent higher risk of being subjected to coercion in psychiatric institutions.

The Finance Act of 2021 included a four-year grant to fund the country’s first crisis center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons with ethnic minority backgrounds. The crisis center will emphasize specialized counseling and guidance efforts and aims to promote security, well-being, and equal opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons with a minority background.

The Ministry of the Interior and Housing continued to implement the government’s action plan for the elimination of parallel societies by 2030. The government defines a parallel society as a neighborhood with more than 1,000 residents where more than half of the residents are of “non-Western” origin and meet certain socioeconomic criteria. Media widely interpreted “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities. The law requires parents from parallel societies to send toddlers older than the age of one to government-funded daycare to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions. Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to DKK 4,560 ($711) from noncompliant parents. The law also requires neighborhoods that have been classified as “parallel societies” for four consecutive years to reduce the amount of public housing in the area by 40 percent through demolition, sale, or privatization of public housing. The government is responsible for re-housing evicted individuals.

Indigenous Peoples

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, who are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources. Greenlanders also vote in national elections.

In the UPR, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that Greenland’s Thule tribe was not a distinct group of the area’s Inuit population breached the right to self-identification.

Children

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including corporal punishment, is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. According to police statistics, approximately 17 percent of total sexual offenses in Greenland were crimes of “sexual relations with individuals below the age of 15.”

During the UPR the Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns that many children, especially children with disabilities, who could not stay with their families continued to be placed in alternative care institutions.

The 2020-23 joint Denmark-Greenland project to strengthen the work for vulnerable children and young persons in Greenland established 16 targeted initiatives to ensure early support for vulnerable children and young persons, who were survivors of abuse or sexual assault. The national government allocated DKK 80 million ($12 million) to help implement the recommendations and initiatives. Previously, the Greenlandic government reported that every third child in Greenland experienced neglect, that one in five children born after 1995 experienced sexual abuse, and that the suicide rate among youth was high.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18.

A report released in October by Ethnic Consultant Team, a department of the municipality of Copenhagen, showed an increase in the number of persons who have contacted Copenhagen and Aarhus municipalities because of threats of so-called honor killings. An estimated 100 persons, mostly women, contacted the municipalities over the past three years. The municipality of Copenhagen received 90 inquires related to “honor killings” between 2018 and 2020, of which 80 were directly related to threats of “honor killings,” and the remaining 10 to anxiety related to “honor killings.” Spokesperson for the Council for Ethnic Minorities, Halima El Abassi, called the numbers “extreme,” adding that the country has issues surrounding honor, and the big cultural differences in some environments.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Penalties for the distribution of child pornography include up to a six-year prison sentence. The government generally enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. Prostitution is not criminalized, but the purchase of sexual services from a person younger than 18 is illegal. Penalties for inciting child prostitution include up to a four-year prison sentence.

The law in Greenland prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 15; the Greenlandic Police determine the penalties for perpetrators.

Displaced Children: The government considered unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants to be vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. If a child younger than 18 enters the country without parents or any other family and applies for asylum, the child is termed an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker. As such, the child has special rights including to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance and be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason, as well as other rights described in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A personal representative is appointed for all unaccompanied children who sought asylum or who stayed in the country without permission.

In the UPR, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that: asylum-seeking families with children might be detained awaiting deportation; efforts to identify children in vulnerable situations or girls at risk of female genital mutilation were insufficient; and the best interests of the child were not adequately considered in immigration cases. The committee and UNHCR were also concerned that children aged 15 or older did not have an automatic right to family reunification.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concerned that unaccompanied children might be placed in detention when awaiting deportation and, as of age 17, were placed in centers for adults and could be separated from unaccompanied siblings. The committee was also concerned that unaccompanied children missing from asylum centers could have become sex trafficking victims and that unaccompanied children not found mature enough to undergo the asylum procedure did not have their applications processed until they were considered sufficiently mature.

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

The organization the Jewish Community in Denmark (Det Jodiske Samfund i Danmark) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country, mostly in the Copenhagen area.

In April the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg was vandalized. Two dolls were placed near a grave, and paint was poured over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery. In addition, anti-Semitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical movement Nordic Resistance Movement were found near the dolls. A 29-year-old man was charged with vandalism and hate speech. In June the man was sentenced to one year in prison. He appealed the verdict and was released from prison on November 1, because the court deemed that there was a risk that the expected sentence from the High Court of Western Denmark would not exceed the time the man had already served.

On April 6, a 28-year-old man was sentenced to nine months in prison for racism, violation of the peace of a graveyard, and gross vandalism against a grave in a Jewish cemetery in Randers in 2019.

Representatives of the Jewish community remained concerned regarding proposals to ban nonmedical circumcision of boys younger than age 18 could reemerge in parliamentary debates.

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 and harassment of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, employment, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions.

The law provides for the right of free education for all children. The law provides that most children with disabilities be able to attend mainstream classes with nondisabled peers through secondary school. On April 20, parliament voted unanimously for a bill to include on the list of hate crime offenses criminal acts motivated by prejudice against a victim’s disability. Previously, only crimes motivated by prejudice against a victims’ ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or similar, counted as hate crimes. The new law took effect on May 1.

On January 1, the law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of disability was amended to provide reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities in day care, primary school, independent schools, and private primary schools (free primary schools). At the same time, the right to appeal was introduced to the Equal Treatment Board, which makes it possible to be awarded compensation. The purpose of the amended law is to avoid discrimination of children and young persons with disabilities in day care and at school and achieve the same opportunities for participation as other children and teenagers.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as in elections to the European Parliament, but not in national elections.

Greenland employed a spokesperson to promote the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. According to media reports, persons with disabilities in Greenland continued to lack adequate access to physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Many Greenlanders with disabilities had to be relocated to Denmark because of lack of support resources in Greenland.

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

Police and other government agents did not incite, perpetrate, condone, or tolerate violence against LGBTQI+ individuals, or those reporting on such abuse.

Danish law prohibits discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, and the government enforced such laws.

The law affords individuals legal gender recognition, but government guidelines require that individuals undergoing transition receive hormone treatment at one of two designated government-run clinics; private physicians are not permitted to establish this course of treatment.

In May the protest movement Live and Let Live (Lev og Lad Leve) published a book detailing 1,000 examples of hate crimes committed against members of the LGBTQI+ community in the country since 2020. The release of the book was accompanied by a demonstration at parliament where 1,000 chairs were placed in front of the castle, one to represent each story in the book. The organizers and authors of the book delivered copies of the book to politicians in parliament, among them Minister for Equal Opportunities Peter Hummelgaard. Several smaller demonstrations were held throughout the country where books were given to local politicians. Intersex Denmark and other LGBTQI+ organizations called on the country to end surgery on intersex children.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law states all workers may form or join independent unions. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and to legal strikes but does not provide nonresident foreign workers on Danish ships the right to participate in the country’s collective bargaining agreements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination, and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation including supporting regulations were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Breaches of collective agreement are typically referred to industrial arbitration tribunals to decide whether there was a breach. If the parties agree, the Labor Court may deal with cases that would otherwise be subject to industrial arbitration. The court determines penalties on the facts of the case and with due regard to the degree that the breach of agreement was excusable.

Employers and the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Annual collective bargaining agreements covered members of the workforce associated with unions and indirectly affected the wages and working conditions of nonunion employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced this prohibition. The law prescribes penalties that were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes.

An annual report from the National Board of Social Services noted that victims of both human trafficking and forced labor had been affected more negatively due to COVID-19. Male victims were generally trafficked for criminal actions and forced labor. Children and young persons were often exploited for criminal acts. The report underscored human trafficking increasingly took place digitally, with use of technological tools for recruitment, monitoring, retention, and exploitation of victims. The National Board of Social Services also identified cases of trafficking to slavery-like conditions. In all cases the victims had been physically deprived of their liberty.

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 the worst forms of child labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The minimum legal age for full-time employment is 15. The law sets a minimum age of 13 for part-time employment and limits school-age children to less strenuous tasks. The law limits work hours and sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Minors may not operate heavy machinery or handle toxic substances, including harsh detergents. Minors may only carry out “light work” that is the equivalent of lifting no more than 26.4 pounds from the ground and 52.8 pounds from waist height. For minors working in jobs where there is a higher risk of robbery, such as a snack bar, kiosk, bakery, or gas station, a coworker older than 18 must always be present between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination, and the government generally enforced these laws effectively. The law prohibits discrimination and harassment based on race, skin color, or ethnic origin; gender; religion or faith; sexual orientation; national or social origin; political views; age; and disability. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV, AIDS, or refugee status. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment and were generally commensurate with those for similar violations.

The UNHRC expressed concerned regarding the persistent gender wage gap, mostly affecting women with immigration backgrounds, and obstacles faced by women in accessing full-time employment.

Danish gender equality law does not apply to Greenland, but Greenland’s own law prohibits gender discrimination. Greenland has no antidiscrimination laws in employment, and Danish antidiscrimination laws do not apply to Greenland.

Greenlandic law prohibits gender‐based discrimination in the labor market and has set up an Equality Council. The council’s mandate is restricted to gender equality, and the council “is not obliged to work at the request of citizens but can assess whether an issue requires its attention.” Greenlandic citizens cannot complain to an independent appeals board but must bring their case to court. If a complaint concerns discrimination by a public authority, citizens can complain to the parliamentary ombudsman.

In July the Employment and Integration Administration in Copenhagen released findings showing that nearly a quarter of the 3,433 young persons between the ages of 18 and 29 surveyed experienced discrimination within the past year. Of the respondents, 42 percent indicated that discrimination occurred in their workplace, up from 34 percent in 2019. The survey reported that those of younger age with an ethnic background other than Danish had a greater risk of having unpleasant experiences at work.

In May the labor union Lederne published a survey showing the extent of discrimination in Danish workplaces. According to the results, many workers with non-Western ethnic backgrounds experienced racist or discriminatory actions from customers or other employees.

In 2019 the Ministry of Equality published findings from a study regarding the situation of LGBTQI+ persons in the labor market. The study found that approximately 30 percent of LGBTQI+ workers experienced discrimination in the workplace. Following the release of this report during the year, the Ministry of Equality announced a new campaign to increase job satisfaction as well as prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not mandate a national minimum wage. Unions and employer associations negotiate minimum wages in collective bargaining agreements that were more than the estimate for the poverty income level. The law requires equal pay for equal work; migrant workers are entitled to the same minimum wages and working conditions as other workers.

Workers generally worked a 37.5-hour week established by contract rather than law. Workers received premium pay for overtime, and there was no compulsory overtime. Working hours are set by collective bargaining agreements and adhere to the EU directive that average workweeks not exceed 48 hours.

The Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) under the Ministry of Employment is responsible for the enforcement of wage and hour laws. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government effectively enforced wage and hour laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Vulnerable groups generally included migrant and seasonal laborers, as well as young workers. These groups often worked in the agricultural and service sectors.

There were growing concerns regarding the state of working conditions in the country’s platform economy (also known as gig economy). Employees at Nemlig.com, an online grocery delivery service, were threatened with being fired or having reduced working hours if they could not work within the allotted timeframe of packing customers’ orders. Drivers were also expected to work for 15 hours a day and experienced enormous physical pressure to fulfill deliveries to avoid fines up to approximately DKK 2,000 ($310). The labor union 3F entered an agreement with Nemlig.com regarding the work pace in a warehouse located in Broendby. In March, 3F stated in a briefing note that Nemlig.com made progress during the COVID-19 pandemic but that employees continued to be treated poorly.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law prescribes conditions of work, including appropriate safety and health standards, and authorities effectively enforced compliance with labor regulations. The same inspectors with authority over minimum wage and hours conducted occupational safety and health inspections. Standards were enforced effectively for wage, hours and occupational safety and health in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for safety and health violations, for both employees and employers, were commensurate with those for similar violations. The DWEA under the Ministry of Employment may settle cases subject only to fines without trial.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for the framework and rules regarding working conditions, health and safety, industrial injuries, financial support, and disability allowances. The DWEA is responsible for enforcing health and safety rules and regulations. This is carried out through inspection visits as well as guidance to companies and their internal safety organizations. DWEA’s scope applies to all industrial sectors except for work carried out in the employer’s private household, exclusively by members of the employer’s family, and by military personnel. The Danish Energy Agency is responsible for supervision of offshore energy installations, the Maritime Authority is responsible for supervision of shipping, and the Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for supervision in the aviation sector.

The DWEA has authority to report violations to police or the courts if an employer fails to make required improvements by the deadline set by the DWEA. Court decisions regarding violations were released to the public and show past fines imposed against noncompliant companies or court-ordered reinstatement of employment. Greenland and the Faroe Islands have similar work conditions, except in both cases collective bargaining agreements set the standard workweek at 40 hours.

Workers can remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations. The same laws protect legal immigrants and foreign workers and apply equally to both categories of workers.

The DWEA registered 25 workplace fatalities in the period from January to May. An annual report from the DWEA showed that in 2020 a total of 46,391 occupational accidents were reported (a number that is the highest registered number of occupational accidents in the period from 2015-20). According to the report, the most frequent injury was ankle sprains and other muscle injuries which made up 37 percent of all reported occupational accidents in 2020.

France

Executive Summary

France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. President Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017. An electoral college elects members of the bicameral parliament’s upper house (Senate), and voters directly elect members of the lower house (National Assembly). Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate National Assembly elections to have been free and fair.

Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, a civilian national police force and gendarmerie units maintain internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army is responsible for external security under the Ministry of Armed Forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violence against journalists; the existence of criminal defamation laws; violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting Muslims, migrants, members of ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption. Impunity was not widespread.

Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Five overseas territories, in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and La Reunion, have the same political status as the 13 regions and 96 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas “collectivities”: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the mainland regions and departments.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Mechanisms to investigate security force killings and pursue prosecutions include the police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN); the gendarmerie police disciplinary body, the Inspector General of the National Gendarmerie and a separate and independent magistrate that can investigate police abuses.

In July 2020 judicial sources announced that three police officers were charged with manslaughter after the January death of a Paris delivery driver from asphyxia during his arrest by police. A fourth police officer was under investigation but had not been charged. The victim, Cedric Chouviat, was stopped by police close to the Eiffel Tower in January 2020 in a routine traffic stop. In a video acquired by investigators, Chouviat was heard saying, “I’m suffocating,” seven times in 22 seconds as police held him down, allegedly in a chokehold. In June 2020 authorities banned police use of chokeholds to restrain individuals. On June 21, the Ministry of Interior confirmed the three police officers charged had not been suspended. On July 30, the director general of the National Police finalized the ban on chokeholds and replaced their use with three different techniques aimed at allowing police to restrain resisting individuals without applying continuous or prolonged pressure on the larynx.

As of September 17, the country had experienced one terrorist attack during the year. On April 23, a Tunisian national stabbed and killed a police administrative worker as she walked into a police station in Rambouillet, a southwestern suburb of Paris. Police officers shot and killed the attacker. The national antiterror prosecutor has jurisdiction over the investigation because the assailant had previously scouted the site and shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

In April parliament adopted the controversial Comprehensive Security bill that aimed to change the legal framework for video surveillance, police body cameras, and the use of drones by law enforcement as well as broaden the authority of municipal police forces and better regulate private security firms. On May 20, the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional the provision of the law that makes publication of video of on-duty police officers illegal. The subject legislation had sparked massive street protests in late 2020 due to public perceptions it would limit freedom of the press.

On July 23, parliament adopted the government’s Upholding Republican Values bill creating a new offense for online hate speech that will make it possible to quickly detain a person who spreads personal information on social media regarding public-sector employees, elected officials, journalists, or a minor with the intent to harm them. Under the law such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 75,000 euros ($86,300). Offenses targeting other members of the population are punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800). The law also makes it easier for authorities to block or delist websites promoting hate speech and accelerate legal proceedings against them.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the country’s antidefamation and hate-speech laws.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment:

In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during “yellow vest” protests in 2018 and 2019. RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

In September 2020 Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions of the doctrine, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press, aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. In September 2020 RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

In its annual report released on April 20, RSF stated that conditions at violent protests, harassment during investigations, and concentrated media ownership were detrimental to press freedom in the country. RSF also criticized the inspector general of the IGPN police affairs bureau for summoning investigative journalists, which the RSF asserted could “threaten the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources, which are not sufficiently protected by French legislation.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not. On September 29, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, convicted of public defamation, with a 500 euro ($575) suspended fine as well as 1,000 euros ($1,150) in damages and 3,500 euros ($4,025) in procedural compensation, due to Melenchon’s 2016 comments on his blog calling a journalist an “unrepentant assassin.”

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns regarding police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental Impact: Authorities opened an investigation for attempted murder after a news photographer working for the newspaper LUnion, Christian Lantenois, was attacked and seriously injured while covering a reported surge of youth violence in the northeastern city of Reims on February 27. The victim was in a serious condition after being hit on the head by a projectile and spent one month in a coma. Senior government officials condemned the assault. On March 1, police arrested a 22-year-old individual, who was charged for aggravated attempted murder and placed in pretrial detention.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government enacted security legislation in 2019 that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations, including the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations. It also approved making it a criminal offense for protesters to conceal their faces at demonstrations, punishable by one year in prison and 15,000 euros ($17,300) in fines.

In September 2020 government enacted legislation establishing a new doctrine for maintaining order at demonstrations that was intended to be “more protective for the demonstrators” and “reduce the number of injured during demonstrations.” Among the changes were replacing the riot control grenade model that was in service with a new model deemed less dangerous, putting in place stricter supervision of defense ball launchers, and implementing the widespread presence of a “supervisor” who assists the shooters to “assess the overall situation and the movements of the demonstrators.” In a June 10 decision, however, the Council of State cancelled some provisions of the law, such as allowing encirclement of demonstrators. The council also deemed illegal other points such as the obligation for journalists to move away in the event of a dispersal order, have accreditation to access real-time information, or wear protective equipment under certain conditions.

Freedom of Association

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

On July 23, parliament approved the Upholding Republican Values law, which gives authorities broad powers to monitor and close religious organizations and groups. The government dissolved several Muslim organizations accused of inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination. On October 29, Interior Minister Darmanin stated that one-third of the 89 places of worship “suspected of being radical” by authorities had been closed since November 2020. He added that six mosques, located in five different regional departments, were to be shut down and that two imams had been deported for spreading separatism. Muslim groups and others criticized the law for unfairly targeting Muslim organizations and for infringing on their freedom of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.

On January 29, Prime Minister Castex announced measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. As of January 31, travel in and out of the country and its overseas territories to and from non-EU countries was prohibited except in cases of “compelling reasons.” For noncitizens, return to their home country was included explicitly as a “compelling reason.” Entry of travelers into France from an EU country was contingent upon a negative PCR test result, except for cross-border workers. The government deployed police and gendarmes to enforce existing restrictions more strictly, such as the 6 p.m. curfew.

On March 19, new restrictions began at midnight to combat the third wave of COVID-19 concentrated in northern and southeast France and Paris. Schools and shops selling essential goods remained open, and individuals were allowed to exercise outdoors. Nonessential interregional travel in the 16 departments was prohibited. A national curfew remained in place but was moved from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Faced with the continued spread of the “UK” COVID variant, an increased rate of infections, and the saturation of intensive-care capacity in hospitals, President Macron announced new restrictions March 31 that extended local lockdown measures previously limited to 19 departments to all Metropolitan France starting on April 3 and lasting for at least four weeks. Macron also closed all schools for in-person learning. The national lockdown included an interregional travel ban that went into effect April 6, the closing of nonessential businesses, and mandatory telework whenever possible. The nationwide curfew from 7:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. remained in place.

Authorities began relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on May 3 with “deconfinement,” in which middle and high schools reopened at half capacity; domestic travel resumed; and travel certificates were no longer needed for daytime travel. Subsequent loosening of restrictions took place in three stages between May 19 and June 30, progressively reducing limits on nonessential businesses, restaurants and cafes, leisure activities, travel, curfews, and telework requirements and pushing the curfew back to 11 pm. The country reopened its borders to foreign tourists, under certain conditions. On June 16, Prime Minister Castex announced the lifting of the nationwide curfew 10 days earlier than planned due to the rapidly improving health situation and increasing vaccinations. Authorities also implemented lockdown measures and curfews in overseas territories. As of early December, authorities were assessing the emerging “Omicron” coronavirus variant but had not substantially revised the remaining restrictions on movement due to its emergence.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including Albanian, Arabic, English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Tamil, and Turkish. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers outside of the country may request a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum from a French embassy or consulate. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in the country. Unlike other applicants, however, visa holders were authorized to work while their application was processed and evaluated. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.

In 2018 parliament adopted a law intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten to 90 days the period asylum seekers must have to make an application. The law includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention. It extends to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention and to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The law extends the duration of residence permits for persons granted subsidiary protection and for stateless refugees to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to protect girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons cannot be considered “safe” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.

OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted based on their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.

The country received 41 percent fewer applications for asylum in 2020 than in 2019, according to provisional data released by the Ministry of Interior on January 21. The decline in the indicators linked to immigration marked a clear break since the 2015 migration crisis and was directly attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak and related travel restrictions that curtailed the number of migrants entering the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 13 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary protection that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:

Calais continued to be a gathering point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the United Kingdom. As of October, authorities estimated that 500 migrants and refugees lived around Calais, while support groups said the number was closer to 1,500 to 2,000.

In an opinion about migrants in Calais and Grande-Synthe released February 11, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised authorities to end the so-called “zero point of fixation” security policy, which led to instances of police abuse of asylum seekers and other migrants encamped at Calais and those who provided humanitarian assistance to them.

On September 28, police dismantled the largest migrant camp in Calais, moving some 400 persons to temporary shelters in the region. Local authorities had provided water taps, and aid groups had been handing out meals to the estimated 500 to 800 persons who were living in the makeshift camp near the city’s main hospital. The police prefecture said the camp created “serious problems” for the security, hygiene, and peace of mind for employees and patients. According to the migrant aid organization Human Rights Observers, 15 of the 883 evictions conducted in Calais since the beginning of the year led to police transferring migrants to shelters.

On September 9, the Boulogne-sur-Mer court gave a riot police officer an 18-month suspended prison sentence for assaulting a British migrant-support activist in Calais during an operation to remove migrants in 2018 and for giving false evidence. The court also barred him from serving for two years. Of the two junior police officers who lied in support of the accused man’s version of events, one was given a reprimand while the other escaped disciplinary action. The rights group Amnesty International said the verdict sent a “clear signal” that such abuses would not be tolerated, after many allegations regarding police brutality towards activists and minorities.

In a report released October 7, Human Rights Watch stated police were harassing migrants in Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy. According to the report, police tactics also included regularly confiscating migrants’ belongings and harassing NGOs who provide humanitarian assistance.

Freedom of Movement:

Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners pending deportation. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 23 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories, with a total capacity of 2,196 persons.

On July 6, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, the Inter-Movement Committee for Aid of Evacuees (Cimade), Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 27,917 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2020, representing a 50 percent decrease from 53,273 persons placed in such centers in 2019. According to the report, the government detained 2,166 children, including 2,044 in Mayotte, a French overseas department located in the Indian Ocean. The report noted the detention and the deportation of children from Mayotte’s holding center were characterized by serious violations of their fundamental rights.

The exercise of an effective remedy against detention and deportation decisions in Mayotte was very limited due to the restrictive regime established by the French government for access to French nationality for children born on the island and the rapidity of evictions. Many children were detained illegally without at least one of their parents. According to the migrant assistance association’s report, some families were separated during these deportations. The report noted, however, that in 80 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that provides for up to 90 days’ detention time for foreigners subject to deportation. In 2020 the government did not report uniformly screening migrants in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation. The government also did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors at risk for sex and labor trafficking in Mayotte by offering medical, shelter, education, or other protection services.

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2020, the latest year for which statistics were available, the government voluntarily repatriated 4,519 undocumented migrants to 75 different countries, including 1,374 minors, to their countries of origin, a 48.5 decrease from 2019. As of April the government offered an allowance of 650 euros ($750) per person (adults and children) for the voluntary return of asylum seekers from countries whose citizens need a visa for France and 300 euros ($345) per person (adults and children) for those from countries whose citizens did not need a visa for France or were citizens of Kosovo.

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and may extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2020, the most recent year for which information was available.

g. Stateless Persons

OFPRA reported there were 1,606 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it made 298 stateless status requests in 2020 and granted stateless status to 74 persons in 2020. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person married a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In November 2020 former president Nicolas Sarkozy stood trial on corruption charges for trying to obtain confidential information through his lawyer from a judge. Prosecutors claimed he offered to help the judge obtain a well-paid post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling. On March 1, the Paris Criminal Court found Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence-peddling in the “Wiretapping Affair.” Sarkozy, his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and the now-retired magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, were each sentenced to three-year prison terms, with two years suspended. All three appealed the verdict.

In June 2020 the inspector general of the National Police placed six officers from a Paris unit into custody on charges of theft, drug possession, and extorting money from drug dealers. In July 2020 four of them were formally charged. The officers were part of the Security and Intervention Unit (CSI 93) in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, one of the poorest in the country. CSI 93, tasked with addressing urban violence and crime, had 17 preliminary investigations open against its officers for violations. In September 2020 the inspector general placed four other officers in custody on violence and forgery charges. On June 4, a Bobigny court sentenced two officers from the unit to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a five-year prohibition from serving in the police force over “violence,” “forgery,” and “use of forgery” charges. Two other officers received a four-month suspended prison sentence for falsifying documents related to a January 2020 arrest.

On July 17, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) announced that Rachida Dati, formerly minister of justice and the 2020 Republican Party candidate for mayor of Paris, was indicted on July 22 for corruption and abuse of power. Dati was accused of receiving 900,000 euros ($1.04 million) from Renault-Nissan from 2010 to 2012 to conduct illegal lobbying while serving as a member of the European Parliament. Dati said she would appeal the PNF’s decision.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNCDH advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

Following spring protests against police violence and racism, the National Assembly in September 2020 established an investigative committee to assess the ethics of police actions, practices, and law and order doctrine. On January 20, the committee presented the conclusions of its report and made 35 proposals aimed at re-establishing the balance between freedom to demonstrate, security of demonstrators, and protection of public order, which is the basis of the “relationship of trust between all citizens and the police.”

Following the April 14 Supreme Court ruling that the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis use prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, the National Assembly on July 22 established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair. The investigation will be able to summon police officers, witnesses, judges, ministers, and others to examine the case.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.

The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years to 20 years in prison and a substantial fine.

In 2019 the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking published data showing that in 2018 approximately 213,000 women older than 18 declared they were survivors of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. The agency reported that over the same period, 94,000 women declared they had been survivors of rape or attempted rape.

In 2019 the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who considered themselves survivors of sexual violence committed by a person who did not live with them declined from 265,000 in 2017 to 185,000 in 2018. In 2017 there had been a sharp increase in the number of estimated victims so, despite the decline, the 2018 estimate still reflected the second-highest level of abuse since the organizations began collecting data in 2008.

In its 2020 annual report on delinquency published on January 28, the Ministry of Interior reported that domestic violence and rape cases rose by 9 and 11 percent, respectively, compared with 2019. Police and gendarmes registered 24,800 rapes committed in the country in 2020, an 11 percent increase compared with 2019 when 22,300 rapes were registered. The government sponsored and funded programs for women survivors of gender-based violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.

In 2019 the government initiated a national forum on domestic violence that brought together dozens of ministers, judges, police officers, survivors’ relatives, and feminist groups in approximately 100 conferences across the country. At the close of the conferences, then prime minister Philippe announced 46 measures aimed at preventing gender-based violence, including domestic violence. Among concrete measures announced were the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for survivors and improved training for those who work with survivors of domestic violence. On September 3, Prime Minister Castex reported that, of the 46 measures announced in 2019, 36 had been implemented.

In July 2020 parliament adopted a bill on the protection of domestic violence survivors that authorizes doctors to waive medical confidentiality and report to police if a patient’s life is in “immediate danger.” The law reinforces harassment penalties and includes a 10-year prison sentence in cases where violence led to a victim’s suicide. The law also makes it possible for authorities to suspend parental rights in cases of domestic violence.

Starting in September 2020, judges in five courts (Bobigny, Pontoise, Douai, Angouleme, and Aix-en-Provence) were able to order domestic violence offenders to wear electronic tracking bracelets with a monitor that alerts survivors and police if the abuser comes within a certain distance of the survivor. Judges may order trackers for men charged with assault, even if not yet convicted, provided sufficient grounds are met and the suspect accepts. If a suspect refuses a tracker, the judge may order prosecutors to open a criminal inquiry. Survivors will be given a warning device, and alleged offenders must submit to restraining orders as defined by judges.

The government estimated more than 200,000 women were survivors of marital violence each year, with many cases never reported. Official statistics showed that 102 women were killed in domestic violence cases in 2020, down from 149 in 2019. At year’s end the feminist collective “Nous toutes” (All of us) estimated that 113 women were killed in cases involving domestic violence during the year.

On May 4, 31-year-old Chahinez Boutaa, a mother of three, was shot in the legs by her husband before being doused in a flammable liquid and burned alive. The attack happened in broad daylight in Merignac. Following Chahinez Boutaa’s killing, the government launched an inquiry, whose conclusions pointed to serious flaws in the system, notably in the failure to monitor the perpetrator upon his release from prison. The conclusions also revealed a lack of coordination between police and judicial services. In September media outlets leaked an internal police report conducted by the inspector general of the IGPN on the handling of this case. The report concluded that two high-ranking police officers, an inspector and a sergeant, should face a disciplinary hearing and possibly face other sanctions after the report revealed they had made errors of judgment in dealing with this case.

On June 9, the government announced a series of measures to offer women better protection, to include evaluating the danger posed by a perpetrator prior to any easing of sentences. The number of emergency telephones given by police to abuse victims to make calls in case of immediate danger was scheduled to be increased to 3,000 by early 2022, up from the existing 1,324. The government also announced the “reinforcement of the control and possession” of weapons and the creation of a committee to monitor the measures, as well as the introduction of a conjugal violence file, shared and updated each time the police are called in to deal with a case of conjugal violence or when a formal complaint is lodged.

On June 25, a court in Saone-et-Loire sentenced a woman who had killed her rapist husband to a four-year term with three years suspended. She was spared more prison time as she had already served a year in pretrial detention. Prosecutors told the court that the 40-year-old should not go back to prison, as she was “very clearly a victim” of her tyrannical husband.

In an August 2 interview, Interior Minister Darmanin announced new measures against domestic violence. He stated that priority would be given to the processing of complaints of domestic violence, and that an officer specializing in this type of violence would be appointed to each police station and each gendarmerie brigade across the country. To handle the increased number of court procedures (193,000 for the year 2020), Darmanin promised a recruitment drive for judicial police officers.

On September 24, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti unveiled an experiment that uses virtual reality technology to deter men convicted of domestic violence from reoffending. The technology offers a “total immersion” experience by way of a headset that allows the offender to look at things from the point of view of his victims. Some 30 volunteers – all men who have been convicted for domestic violence –chose to participate in the experiment, which started in October and will be run for a year by three prison services. Six are from Villepinte and 12 are from Meaux, suburbs north-east of Paris, while 10 are in the south-eastern city of Lyon. “We have given priority to the profiles that are most likely to re-offend,” the Justice Ministry said of the project, which was to be independently evaluated before being made permanent.

On October 1, the 2021 European Crystal Scales of Justice prize, organized by the Council of Europe to reward innovative judicial practices within European judicial institutions, was awarded to the Ministry of Justice for its project Simplified filing of complaints in hospitals for victims of domestic violence. The project involved a system that allows investigating authorities to receive complaints from victims of domestic violence directly in medical facilities. The system strengthens survivor protection by providing a simplified procedure for filing a complaint at the moment and place where the violence was reported.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country, and up to 30 years if the FGM/C leads to the death of the victim. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C survivors.

According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, between 40,000 and 60,000 FGM/C survivors resided in the country; the majority were from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent, and the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year. In 2019 the government initiated a national action plan to combat FGM/C, focusing on identifying risks, preventing FGM/C, and supporting female survivors. In 2019 the National Public Health Agency estimated the number of victims of FGM/C rose from 62,000 in the early 2000s to 124,000 in the middle 2010s.

On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilations/Cutting, Junior Minister of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination Schiappa announced the allocation of 60,000 euros ($69,000) to implement a key provision of the 2019 national action plan to eradicate FGM/C. The funds were to support initial trials of a system to study the prevalence of FGM/C in the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based violence, including sexual harassment of both women and men in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” The government enforced the law.

The law provides for on-the-spot fines for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including wolf whistling), and substantial fines if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive and provides for increased sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a substantial fine. In a report released on July 6, the Ministry of Interior noted that authorities fined 3,500 men for harassing women in public spaces since the introduction of the law in 2018, including 850 during the first five months of the year.

In May 2020 the government unveiled a plan to fast-track court proceedings for street harassment and a campaign to keep women safe on the streets. The measures were part of a “cat-calling law,” which already allows for on-the-spot fines. The new provisions tighten enforcement for street harassment against women, allowing prosecutors to hear cases immediately. The plan, backed by the United Nations, allowed women who feel in danger “to know where they can find refuge if there are no police officers at hand to take their statement.” Refuge shelters could be bars, restaurants, pharmacies, or any business willing to take part in the program. Women would be able to recognize participating locations by a label displayed outside the business. On April 15, the government launched a “barometer” program to assess the street harassment phenomenon and map “red areas” of concern.

According to the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Interior in January, reported cases of sexual harassment increased by 6 percent in 2020, with 2,270 complaints registered by police.

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

On September 9, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that contraception will be free for women up to the age of 25 beginning in 2022, extending a program under which girls ages 15 to 18 could receive free contraception. The minister stated that 25 was chosen as the age limit because “this age corresponds with more economic and social autonomy,” adding that “it’s also the age limit for coverage under one’s family health plan.”

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors, but this prohibition does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, employment, property, nationality, and inheritance laws, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property in line with the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Diversity, the Fight against Discrimination and Equal Opportunities is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.

There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation (see section 7.d.), and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The country’s laws protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination, and the government generally enforced them effectively. The criminal code punishes the authors of violence committed against individuals, and the penalties are increased when they have been committed for racial and ethnic reasons. Discrimination law bears on everyday measures and practices. Discrimination is defined as the unequal and unfavorable treatment of an individual or group of individuals based on prohibited grounds and in a specific area defined by law such as employment, education, housing, or health care. Nearly 25 discrimination grounds are stipulated in the criminal code and associated laws, including origin, gender, physical appearance, or the economic circumstances of an individual.

On March 18, the Defender of Rights reported registering 2,162 complaints against the security forces’ intervention methods in 2020. The Defender of Rights noted a 10.5 percent increase in complaints related to the “ethics of security” in 2020 compared with the previous year.

On September 5, the Ministry of Interior reported that since 2018, 636 foreigners flagged for radicalization and living illegally in the country had been deported. On September 23, Alain Regnier, the interministerial delegate overseeing the arrival and integration of refugees, told the National Assembly that difficulties making appointments for foreigners could be credited to the COVID-19 pandemic and prefecture operations rather than an intentional strategy to prevent access to appointments.

Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers, including the Defender of Rights and the CNCDH, expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.

On March 18, the Ministry of Interior announced the government registered 1,461 racist and xenophobic hate crimes involving threats or violence in 2020, a 26 percent decrease from the number recorded in 2019 with 1,963 acts. The ministry reported 339 anti-Semitic acts, down 50 percent from 2019. On January 28, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) reported it registered 235 anti-Muslim acts, up 53 percent from 2019. The Ministry of Justice reported it reviewed 6,603 cases related to racism in 2019 (compared with 6,122 in 2018) and 393 racist offenses were punished with convictions.

Government observers and NGOs, including the CFCM, reported several anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The number of registered violent acts against Muslims increased by 14 percent in 2020. Over the same period, threats against the Muslim community increased by 79 percent, while total anti-Muslim acts increased by 53 percent, from 154 in 2019 to 235 in 2020.

On April 11, the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center in the western city of Rennes was defaced with anti-Muslim graffiti, prompting a same-day visit by Interior Minister Darmanin and CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui. At a press conference, Darmanin declared, “all anti-Muslim acts are offenses against the French Republic.” The Rennes’ prosecutor opened an investigation for vandalism of a religious nature.

Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment. Government data estimated there were 20,000 Roma in the country.

On July 22, the CNCDH highlighted in its annual report that intolerance of Roma remained particularly stark and had changed little since 2016. The CNCDH 2020 report showed the Romani community remained the community regarded most negatively in public opinion. The report, however, pointed out the Roma were less often taken as scapegoats by political, social, and media elites than in previous years. Roma and unaccompanied minors were at risk for forced begging and forced theft.

Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma. According to the Observatory for Collective Expulsions from Informal Living Places, authorities evicted persons from 1,079 places between November 2019 and the end of October 2020. Among those experiencing expulsions, 957 places were in Calais and its area and 122 in the rest of the country. Among those 122 places, 57 were targeting places occupied by persons “mainly coming from Eastern Europe, (who were) Romani or perceived as such.”

In a report released October 6, the Defender of Rights stated that “caravan travellers,” a distinct ethnic minority, were victims of systemic discrimination. The main reason for discrimination was the lack of recognition of a caravan (trailer) as a fully-fledged accommodation, according to the report. This lack of recognition prevented the exercise of rights to housing assistance, access to credit and insurance, or even obtaining custody of a child.

Citizens, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the Defender of Rights. According to the most recent data available, the office received 5,196 discrimination claims in 2020, 13 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public-school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs. The Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT Hate, an organization reporting to the prime minister, coordinated the government’s efforts to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, kidnapping, child pornography, and human trafficking, including both child sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties were generally severe.

In 2019 the government presented a three-year plan with 22 measures to end violence against children. The measures included 400,000 euros ($460,000) in additional funding for responses to the “child in danger” emergency hotline and strengthened implementation of background checks on persons working in contact with children. Of the 22 points, approximately one-third had been implemented before the end of 2020 and the rest were still in progress.

According to a November 2020 French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) poll, one in 10 persons in the country reported experiencing sexual violence during childhood. In 80 percent of the cases, the abuses were committed by family members.

On April 15, parliament adopted a bill setting the minimum age of sexual consent at 15. Under the legislation, sex with children younger than 15 is considered rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, unless there is a small age gap between the two partners. The bill also makes it illegal for an adult to have sex with a relative younger than age 18.

On September 21, the Independent Commission on Incest and Sexual Violence Against Children (CIIVISE) established a telephone hotline and website for childhood victims to report abuse as well as direct them to relevant legal, psychological, or medical care providers. CIIVISE could be asked to report cases to the courts for prosecution. According to CIIVISE, 160,000 children were victims of sexual violence each year in the country, and 70 percent of the lawsuits involving such violence were closed with no further action.

On September 17, a Marseille police officer assigned to the juvenile unit was indicted and imprisoned for the rape and sexual assault of a minor in the Philippines. He was also charged with possession of child pornography following an internal investigation. The individual managed an association in the Philippines dedicated to aiding impoverished children and assisting in their adoption.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

On July 23, parliament adopted the bill Upholding Republican Values, which makes it illegal for medical professionals to issue virginity certificates, as the government considered those certificates usually preceded a forced marriage. The bill also allows city hall officials to interview couples separately when there were concerns the relationship may be a forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consent is 15, and sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 are illegal when the adult is in a position of authority over the minor. For rape of a minor younger than 15, the penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. Other sexual abuse of a minor younger than 15 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a substantial fine. The law provides that underage rape victims may file complaints up to 30 years after they turn 18.

The government enforced these laws effectively. The law also criminalizes child sex trafficking with a minimum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

On July 13, the junior minister for child protection, Adrien Taquet, stated that a report by experts in education, the judiciary, law enforcement, healthcare, and child protection NGOs noted a 70 percent increase in the number of minors in commercial sex in the previous five years, based on Ministry of Interior statistics. NGOs reported that approximately 7,000 to 10,000 minors were involved in commercial sex across the country. They were typically girls between the ages of 15 and 17 from all social classes, often vulnerable due to family situations, who were recruited via social media and did not self-identify as victims, according to the report.

On October 5, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, established in 2018 by the French Catholic Church, released its report on child abuse committed by Catholic priests in the country since the 1950s following a two-and-a-half-year investigation. The report found that 216,000 minors were victims of abuse from 1950 to 2020. Deceased victims were not counted, and according to the report, the number of victims could climb to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, are included. The report found that 80 percent of the victims were boys, typically between the ages of 10 and 13 and from a variety of social backgrounds. The commission president, Jean-Marc Sauve, said the abuse was systemic and the church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years.”

Displaced Children: By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the country’s child protection system. NGOs continued to assess that border police summarily returned unaccompanied migrant children attempting to enter via Italy, rather than referring them to the child protection system. On May 5, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement saying French police summarily expelled dozens of unaccompanied children to Italy each month in violation of domestic and international law.

According to HRW, “To enable the returns, the police frequently record on official documents different ages or birth dates than the children declared. The authorities have also summarily returned adults, including families with young children, without telling them they had a right to seek asylum in France,” the association wrote. HRW also conducted in-person and remote interviews between November 2020 and April with volunteers and staff of aid groups, lawyers, and others working on both sides of the France-Italy border. The HRW statement noted that many of these returns took place at the border crossing between the French town of Menton and the Italian town of Ventimiglia. According to the HRW statement, “Police take children and adults found to have entered France irregularly to the French border post at the Saint-Louis Bridge and direct them to walk across to the Italian border post.” In the first three weeks of February, volunteers recorded accounts from more than 60 unaccompanied children who said they had been pushed back from France. The staff also recorded at least 30 such accounts from children in each of the previous three months, as well as in March and April. In each case the children showed entry refusal forms on which French police wrote false birth dates. HRW said it viewed many of these forms, including for two Sudanese boys who gave their ages as 17 and 16, but whose ages French police listed as 27 and 20, respectively.

The government did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors who were at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering them medical, shelter, education, or other protection services. Traffickers exploited the large influx of unaccompanied minors who entered the country in recent years. Roma and unaccompanied minors were at risk for forced begging and forced theft.

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

To promote equality and prevent discrimination, the law prohibits the collection of data based on race, ethnicity, and religion. A 2018 report by the Berman Jewish Data Bank estimated there were 453,000 Jews in the country,

NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials, particularly in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The number of anti-Semitic acts decreased by 50 percent (339 acts total) in 2020, according to government statistics, while the number of violent attacks against individuals remained almost identical to 2019, with 44 violent attacks registered (45 in 2019). The lower 2020 numbers were believed to be related to COVID-19 measures that severely limited outdoor activity throughout the country in 2020.

On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s court of last recourse – upheld the Paris Court of Appeals’ decision that the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis consumption prior to the crime rendered him psychotic, despite the judges’ opinion the attack was anti-Semitic in character. The Court of Cassation’s decision closed the case. According to legal sources, the killer continued under psychiatric care, where he was assigned since Halimi’s death, and would remain hospitalized until psychiatrists concluded he no longer represented a danger to himself or others. On April 25, media outlets reported that more than 20,000 persons demonstrated at Trocadero Square in Paris to “proclaim determination to continue the fight for Sarah’s memory.” Similar protests were held in several other cities across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Israel. Political leaders, including President Macron, criticized the court ruling and particularly the provisions in French law exposed by the case. Macron, who had previously criticized the Paris Appeals Court ruling during his January 2020 visit to Israel, reiterated his criticism in an April 19 interview in national daily newspaper Le Figaro. “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should not, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told the daily. “It is not for me to comment on a court decision,” Macron said, “but I want to assure the family, relatives of the victim, and all fellow citizens of Jewish faith who were awaiting this trial, of my warm support and the determination of the Republic to protect them.”

Following the April 14 Supreme Court ruling, the National Assembly established on July 22 a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair. According to parliamentary sources, the investigation would be able to summon police officers, witnesses, judges, ministers, and others to examine aspects of the case.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Armed Forces in March, the government deployed 3,000 military personnel throughout the country to patrol sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship. This number was anticipated to go up to as many as 10,000 personnel at times of high threat. Some Jewish leaders requested the government also provide static armed guards at Jewish places of worship.

Many anti-Semitic threats of violence singled out public spaces and figures. In August 2020 a man was attacked by two persons who shouted anti-Semitic insults, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious in the hallway of his parents’ apartment building in Paris. Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti tweeted, “I know the immense emotion that besets the entire Jewish community. It is the emotion of the whole nation and of course mine.” Two men were charged with violent theft motivated by religious reasons and placed in pretrial detention in August 2020.

April Benayoum, a runner-up in the 2021 Miss France competition, became the subject of “a torrent” of anti-Semitic comments on social media after revealing that her father was Israeli during the televised competition in December 2020. One message read “Hitler forgot about this one.” In December 2020 Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he was “deeply shocked” and promised law enforcement would investigate the incidents. Others, including the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, also denounced the comments. The Paris Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation in December 2020. On September 22, four men and four women appeared before the Paris Criminal Court for posting anti-Semitic tweets against Benayoum and were tried for “public insults committed because of origin, ethnicity, race, or religion.” Prosecutors requested suspended sentences of two months’ imprisonment. On November 3, a Paris court ordered seven defendants, four women and three men, to each pay fines ranging from 300 ($345) to 800 euros ($920). They were also ordered to pay one euro ($1.15) in damages to the contestant and to several associations that fight against racism and anti-Semitism that had joined the plaintiffs. Four of them were also asked to attend a two-day civic class. An eighth suspect was acquitted, with the court finding that his tweet did not target April Benayoum directly.

On April 17, authorities deported to Algeria an Algerian Deliveroo rider who was convicted of anti-Semitic discrimination by the Strasbourg Criminal Court on January 14 for refusing to transport orders of kosher food to Jewish customers on January 7. Interior Minister Darmanin stated the courier, who was illegally living in France, was expelled from the country after serving a four-month prison sentence.

On July 2, the Seine-Saint-Denis Criminal Court sentenced nine individuals to prison for four to 12 years for the violent 2017 robbery of a Jewish family in Livry-Gargan, a northern Paris suburb. The suspects were accused of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represented Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife. The court confirmed the anti-Semitic nature of the robbery and issued the group’s ringleader the longest sentence, 12 years in prison.

Anti-Semitic vandalism targeted Jewish sites, including Holocaust memorials and cemeteries. On August 11, local media reported that a monument to French Holocaust survivor Simone Veil in Perros-Guirec, Brittany, had been defaced three times, including with excrement and swastikas. On August 24, following a joint investigation conducted by the Gendarmerie and the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity, two men were arrested and placed in custody. On August 26, the local prosecutor announced they were both formally charged on aggravated degradation, aggravated public insult, and incitement to hatred charges and placed under judicial control.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. Adults with disabilities received a 904 euro ($1,040) allowance per month from the government. The government did not always enforce these provisions effectively.

In 2019 the right to vote was restored to all protected adults after a previous law allowed judges to deny the right to vote to individuals who were assigned decision-making guardians, which mainly affected persons with disabilities. The decision restored the right to vote to 350,000 citizens.

While the law requires companies with more than 20 workers to hire persons with disabilities, many such companies failed to do so and paid penalties.

The law requires that buildings, education, and employment be accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the latest government estimates available, 40 percent of establishments in the country were accessible. In 2015 the National Assembly extended the deadline for owners to make their buildings and facilities accessible from three to nine years. In 2016 then president Hollande announced that 500,000 public buildings across the country were undergoing major renovation to improve accessibility. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (now called the Ministry for Solidarity and Health) reported in 2016 that only 300,000 of one million establishments open to the public were fully accessible. Public transport was not accessible, or was only partially accessible, in Paris and Marseille, the two largest cities in the country.

According to statistics released in September by the Education Ministry, 480,000 children with disabilities attended schools in the country, a little more than 80,000 in hospitals or social health-care institutions and 400,000 in “ordinary” schools. The government did not provide detailed statistics on how many of those 400,000 children attended class full time or for only a few hours a week, or whether they had the help of assistants for children with disabilities, as required.

On September 15, UN experts from the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities called on the government to improve its policy towards persons with disabilities. The UN experts criticized the country for adopting a medical approach to those persons. Committee experts said they had been made aware of inhuman and degrading conditions of custodial measures in residential facilities, including forced medication, solitary confinement, and convulsive therapy without consent.

On November 15, the president of APF France Handicap, Pascale Ribes, told press that persons with disabilities continued to be subject to severe discrimination in accessing and maintaining employment, with some employers refusing reasonable accommodations due to financial reasons.

In 2018 the government began implementing a 400 million euro ($460 million) four-year strategy to give autistic children access to education. The plan included increasing diagnosis and early years support for children with autism, increasing scientific research, and training doctors, teachers, and staff.

On World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, President Macron visited a monitoring center for autistic individuals created as part of the government’s “autism strategy.” He announced 63 centers had been opened since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

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

Homophobic violence and hate speech decreased by 15 percent in 2020, with 1,590 acts compared with 1,870 in 2019, according to Ministry of Interior statistics released May 12. Insults constituted 31 percent of the offenses, while nonsexual physical violence made up 26 percent. Victims were mainly men (75 percent) and young persons (60 percent were younger than age 35). The ministry stressed there was significant underreporting, so the actual figures were higher.

On May 10, the Bobigny Criminal Court sentenced a 21-year-old man to four years in prison, including an 18-month suspended prison sentence, for hitting and stabbing a 31-year-old gay man in an ambush in Drancy in 2019. The court acknowledged the homophobic nature of the attack. Two other suspects, minors at the time of the attack, were due to appear before a children’s judge.

On May 17, the Inter-LGBT association reported that COVID-19 lockdowns led to an increase in violence against lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons within families in 2020. The group said the associations have been under increased pressure to find emergency lodgings for youth thrown out on the street because of their sexual orientation.

According to a YouGov survey of 1,028 individuals conducted between June 7 and June 14 and published on August 31, 57 percent of respondents said they would be supportive if a close family member came out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, while one in five (19 percent) said they would not. Approximately half (47 percent) would be supportive if their relative came out as transgender or nonbinary, but one in four (27 percent) would not.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services. Authorities pursued and punished perpetrators of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The statute of limitations is 12 months for offenses related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

In October 2020 Elisabeth Moreno, the junior minister of gender equality and the fight against discrimination, unveiled a three-year national plan to combat hatred and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. Moreno told media the plan emphasized the importance of inclusive education in stamping out homophobia and aimed to make members of the LGBTQI+ community “citizens in their own right.” The strategy comprised 42 measures designed to tackle homophobia or transphobia in the home, school, university, work, health care, and sports, and will be “amplified” between 2020 and 2023. The plan also aimed to act against conversion therapy, which Moreno stated constituted “abject and medieval practices.”

In a September 29 circular addressed to all Education Ministry staff, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer gave instructions on how to improve the welcoming of transgender children and how to fight against transphobia in schools. The circular set rules on responding to requests to change first names, wear clothing, and use private areas such as toilets and changing rooms.

Human rights organizations such as Inter-LGBT criticized the government for continuing to require transgender persons to go to court to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services, such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor, Employment and Economic Inclusion treated such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecuted cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.

Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition, a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers were required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those under other laws related to the denial of civil rights, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Most workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some union leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, firms were required to consult labor unions before implementing organizational change in the workplace, including health and safety measures related to the sanitary crisis. Unions successfully sued firms they believed did not properly consult them. The government specifically requested proposals from labor unions on how to improve health and safety measures, optimize work schedules, and leverage teleworking capabilities. Labor unions continued to be instrumental in formulating health and safety guidelines for the Ministry of Labor. The guidelines were regularly updated, most recently on June 9.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government also provided some financial support to some NGOs that assist victims; however, NGOs criticized the amount of funding generally provided by the government to all NGOs for victim assistance as insufficient.

Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subjected to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates of the extent of forced labor among domestic workers. Forced labor also occurred in construction, small commerce, agriculture, fishing, and livestock and seasonal migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor in grape harvesting for wine production. In 2020 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 222 victims of forced labor from 45 different countries, 71 percent of whom were women.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.

The government effectively enforced labor laws and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including child sex trafficking (also see section 6, Children) and labor trafficking through forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Penalties for the use of child labor were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

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/  for information on the French overseas collective of Wallis and Futuna.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particular vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of the discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality, or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights.

Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Romani community faced employment discrimination. On February 16, the Paris Court of Appeal ruled that the BNP Paribas bank had discriminated against an employee based on his Maghreb Arabic ethnic origin, awarding the plaintiff 50,000 euros ($57,500) in damages.

A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees. The companies must publish on their company websites an estimate of salary disparities between men and women. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. On June 11, the economic statistics institute INSEE released a study on the gender pay gap between 2008 and 2018, which found that in 2018 the average monthly pay for women was 2,118 euros ($2,440), while that of men was 2,547 euros ($2,930).

An April report on the employment and unemployment of persons with disabilities from the Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) showed a further decrease in the unemployment of persons with disabilities, from 8.6 percent unemployment for the general population at the end of 2019 to 7.8 percent at the end of 2020. Job seekers with disabilities were out of work for 908 days on average, compared with 673 days for the general population. They were also older, on average, than the general population: an estimated 51 percent of job seekers with disabilities were 50 or older, although they constituted just 26 percent of all job seekers. In November 2020 AGEFIPH and the polling organization IFOP presented a survey on the perspective of employers, employees, and the public on the employment of persons with disabilities. The study showed that 62 percent of employers (9 percent less than in 2018) found it easier to employ a person with disabilities, while another 67 percent (up 6 percent compared with 2018) said they were more inclined to hire someone with disabilities. The poll also indicated that those businesses supported by specialized organizations such as AGEFIPH were more likely to hire a person with disabilities (47 percent compared with only 33 percent for those who did not seek support).

The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. Noncompliant companies must contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH. The funds go to financial support for persons with disabilities seeking employment or firms employing persons with disabilities, research and analysis on disability employment issues, and support for employment retention of persons with disabilities. Approximately 51 percent of private-sector enterprises met the workforce requirement in 2018, while the companies that did not complete the requirement contributed to a 400-million-euro ($460 million) fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. As of January 1, new companies had five years to comply with the 6 percent requirement, instead of the previous 3 percent. Under the government’s recovery plan, companies hiring workers with disabilities on a full-time contract of at least three months between September 1 and February 28 were entitled to a yearly 4,000-euro ($4,600) bonus.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage adequately met the poverty-line income level, and employers in the formal sector generally adhered to the minimum wage.

The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.

The law gives employees the “right to disconnect” digitally from their work. Companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” from email, text messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.

Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work of more than 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work of more than 39 hours per week was generally remunerated at a higher rate.

The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, which must conform to separate and clearly defined standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance with the labor laws. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Disciplinary sanctions at work were strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees may pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court). Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.

The government effectively enforced wage and overtime laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards covered all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or their company health committee (for companies with more than 50 employees). Workers have a right to remove themselves without fear of reprisal from a situation presenting grave and imminent danger.

Occupational safety and health laws were covered by the same inspectors and authorities as wage and hours. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations depend on the status of the accused and generally were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, seasonal employment, construction, and hospitality services. In 2020, six major industrial accidents classified as “Seveso”-type accidents involving dangerous substances occurred, up from three in 2019, according to the Industrial Risks and Pollution Analysis Office, due to the pandemic. The report indicated that the number of major industrial accidents remained within the same range, at approximately six per year.

Informal Sector: The Labor Ministry’s General Directorate for Labor published a report on May 12 that included inspections into the informal economy. The ministry’s 1,952 labor inspectors covered 1.8 million private businesses that employed approximately 20 million persons in 2019 and 2020. According to the report, 300,000 labor inspections took place in 2019, including 24,000 in the informal economy, compared with 150,000 labor inspections in 2020, including 16,500 in the informal economy. The ministry attributed the lower number of inspections in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a February 2019 report, the Employment Advisory Council, which includes business and labor union representatives as well as parliamentarians and government-appointed members, estimated 5 percent of persons older than age 18 (around 2.5 million persons) worked in the informal economy, which totaled 2 to 3 percent of the total wages paid by companies nationwide.

Germany

Executive Summary

Germany is a constitutional democracy. Citizens choose their representatives periodically in free and fair multiparty elections. The lower chamber of the federal parliament (Bundestag) elects the chancellor as head of the federal government. The second legislative chamber, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), represents the 16 states at the federal level and is composed of members of the state governments. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy, including for law enforcement and education. The elections for the Bundestag on September 26 were considered free and fair, as were federal elections in 2017.

Responsibility for internal and border security is shared by the police forces of the 16 states, the Federal Criminal Police Office, and the federal police. The states’ police forces report to their respective interior ministries; the federal police forces report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the state offices for the protection of the constitution are responsible for gathering intelligence on threats to domestic order and other security functions. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and the state offices for the same function report to their respective ministries of the interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed few abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: crimes involving violence motivated by anti-Semitism and crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic or religious minority groups motivated by anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobia, or other forms of right-wing extremism.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed human rights abuses or were accused of corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

On January 28, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court sentenced neo-Nazi Stephan Ernst to life in prison for the 2019 murder of local Hesse politician Walter Luebcke but acquitted codefendant Markus Hartmann on an accessory to murder charge. The crime was widely viewed as a politically motivated killing of a known prorefugee state official, and prosecutors believed Ernst committed the crime out of ethnonationalist and racist motivations. Frankfurt prosecutors continued to investigate multiple persons for having threatened Luebcke on the internet after his 2015 prorefugee remarks. They passed several of the remaining investigations to prosecutors across the country, depending on the residence of the accused. A Hesse state parliament investigation into why Hesse’s domestic security service failed to identify Stephan Ernst as a danger to society was ongoing as of September.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.

Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.

In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.

On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.

On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.

On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. Authorities monitored websites, social media accounts, messenger services, and streaming platforms associated with right-wing extremists. According to the state-level project Prosecute Rather Than Delete in NRW, 241 cases of inciting hate on the internet were reported to NRW authorities in 2020.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must notify authorities 48 hours before announcing them publicly. State and local officials may ban or disperse open-air rallies or marches when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

To limit the COVID-19 outbreak, state governments required demonstrators to observe social distancing rules to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Police in Berlin and other cities broke up several demonstrations throughout the year when they deemed protesters violated these rules.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, sometimes resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. For example, on August 7, police and counterdemonstrators clashed in Weimar during a right-wing demonstration. Police arrested several counterdemonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

Media reports and videos showed what protesters said was excessive use of force by police at demonstrations August 1 and 29 in Berlin. As of September the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation was investigating one police officer for using excessive force against a protester at the August 29 demonstration (see also section 2.a., Violence and Harassment – June 3 demonstration in Duesseldorf).

Freedom of Association

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but it also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. The OPC at the federal as well as the state level also monitored the Islamic Center Hamburg, which the Hamburg OPC stated was a major Iranian regime asset in Europe. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

The FOPC monitored approximately 20,000 so-called Reichsbuerger (citizens of the empire) and Selbstverwalter (sovereign citizens). These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected government authority. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. From 2016 through the end of 2020, 880 members of these groups had their firearms licenses revoked, while 530 members were still known holders of firearms licenses. In 2020 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 599 extremist politically motivated crimes; authorities categorized 125 of them as violent.  The Ministry of the Interior banned one Reichsbuerger group in 2020 and conducted raids against others during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals for movement within the country and inside the European Union: to those with refugee status, to those with asylum status, and to foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

A federal law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state that expired in June. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. In November 2020 the federal government instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates (above 100 per 100,000) to restrict in-country travel. The law also required residents of areas with very high infection rates (above 200 per 100,000) to stay within nine miles of the locality in which they live. All movement restrictions expired July 1.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country continued to face the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 122,170 asylum requests in 2020 and 111,788 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).

In an August 23 decision, the Hesse Higher Administrative Court (VGH) ruled conscientious objectors from Syria do not automatically qualify as asylum seekers. A Syrian national, age 26, had appealed the rejection of his application for asylum in 2015. The VGH’s verdict was based on the premise that the plaintiff would most likely not face abuse for avoiding the draft in Syria but would simply be conscripted upon his return. The decision reversed previous legal practice in Hesse and followed decisions from courts in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and NRW. Syrians accounted for 33 percent (40,570 in total) of all asylum applicants in the country in 2020.

The NGO Pro Asyl continued to criticize the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “direct procedure.” The direct procedure enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin was critical of a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review, a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In November 2020 the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the 121 charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers, including all charges related to violations of asylum and residence laws. On April 20, the court decided to take no further action on the case in exchange for a payment of a fine by Bremermann, considering the minor nature of the remaining charges.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria.

Refoulement: The government reported that 137 refugees were deported to Afghanistan in 2020, the latest year for which official statistics are available; the NGO Pro Asyl estimated that 304 refugees were deported to Afghanistan during the first seven months of the year. NGOs including Pro Asyl and Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement and complained that grounds and procedures for deportation varied widely between states. On August 11, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the security situation there.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On July 22, four unknown assailants attacked and wounded two asylum seekers from Kenya in Prenzlau, Brandenburg. As of November police continued to investigate.

In November 2020 a paramedic punched in the face a restrained and defenseless Syrian refugee at a Kassel refugee shelter; the incident did not become public until police released video surveillance of it in March. The video showed two police officers at the scene not interfering or trying to stop the assault. The original November police report only mentioned disorderly conduct by the refugee, but not the assault by the paramedic. Authorities filed charges against the paramedic and the police officers. The paramedic’s employer also dismissed him from his job.

On February 4, a Saxony-Anhalt court issued a warning and suspended sentence for battery to a private security guard who was captured on video in 2019 beating an asylum seeker at a government reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Two other guards at the center were acquitted of similar charges.

Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities can arrest without a court order those persons who are obliged to leave the country. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention” – including families and children – would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stressed the regulations were legally problematic because both the constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states.

Authorities issued 10,800 expulsion orders in 2020, only slightly fewer than the 11,081 expelled in 2019. Persons holding citizenship of Albania (1,006), Georgia (995), Serbia (754) and Moldavia (654) were subject to the highest number of expulsions. In September, Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, 234,756 refugees were unemployed as of August. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to provide housing for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In 2020 authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($345 to $575) to 5,706 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection, subsidiary and humanitarian, for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 14,565 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,393 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for an existing health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR reported 26,675 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In March the magazine Der Spiegel revealed that during the 2020 height of the COVID-19 pandemic, several members of the Bundestag and the Bavarian state parliament contacted the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of the Interior, and Bavarian state ministries on behalf of suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE). Some were accused of having received compensation in exchange for recommending certain PPE suppliers to government customers or lobbying ministries to procure from those suppliers. According to media reports, Bundestag members Georg Nuesslein of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Nikolaus Loebel of the Christian Democratic Union received 660,000 euros ($759,000) and 250,000 euros ($288,000), respectively, for such activities, and Alfred Sauter, a CSU member of the Bavarian state parliament, received 1.2 million euros ($1.38 million). In June the Federal Ministry of Health published a list of 40 members of the Bundestag who had contacted it on behalf of PPE suppliers; many stated they received no compensation and were acting on behalf of constituents. Anticorruption investigations continued as of September.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Several government bodies worked independently and effectively to protect human rights. The Bundestag has a Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid and a Committee for Petitions. The Petitions Committee fields complaints from the public, including human rights concerns. The German Institute for Human Rights has responsibility for monitoring the country’s implementation of its international human rights commitments, including treaties and conventions. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) is a semi-independent body that studies discrimination and assists victims of discrimination. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Justice Ministry’s commissioner for human rights oversees implementation of court rulings related to human rights protections.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing survivors with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 350 women’s shelters operated throughout the country.

The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Shelters (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women were particularly at risk, since they were required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many resided in districts in which there were no women’s shelters.

The women’s shelter association Frauenhauskoordinierung e.V. complained that federal vaccination regulations did not prioritize residents and staff of women’s shelters for COVID-19 vaccination, in contrast to homeless shelters, refugee housing, and other group housing settings, threatening the homes’ ability to provide shelter in the event of an outbreak. Multiple NGOs expressed concern the COVID-19 lockdown constrained opportunities for women to escape violent domestic situations. ZIF called for additional government funding to place women and children in hotels if quarantine rendered its shelters inaccessible.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. During the year there were no reports FGM/C was performed in the country. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth collaborated with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C.

In July the Federal Ministry for Women and Families published a “protection letter” for girls at risk of FGM/C, warning of the high criminal penalties for FGM/C in the country. The letter was intended to be carried when travelling abroad and shown to relatives or others who tried to subject girls to FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and the government enforced the law effectively. During the year there were some reports of such killings in the country; for example, in December, Berlin prosecutors charged two men of Afghan descent with murdering their sister age 34 in July because she had divorced her abusive husband and begun a new relationship. No trial date had been set at year’s end. Although authorities estimated the number of such killings fluctuated between approximately three and 12 during any year, some observers questioned how many of these were “honor killings,” which media tended to attribute to immigrant communities, and how many were other manifestations of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of up to five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.

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

There are no legal, social, or cultural barriers, nor government policies, that adversely affect access to contraception nor to attendance of skilled health personnel during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The country’s constitution states that no one shall be “favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity by public authorities as well as private actors such as employers, landlords and businesses, but there were reports of discrimination despite these laws.

Public incitement of hatred against an ethnic, racial, religious or other minority is a crime in the country, and authorities vigorously prosecuted violations of the law. Crimes motivated by such hatred also incur harsher sentences than similar crimes not motivated by such hatred, and judges regularly imposed these sentences.

The federal and state governments employed a wide range of measures to eliminate ethnic and racial basis. For example, the federal government operated FADA, which takes complaints and reports of discrimination and provides advice and support to victims. Some states also had similar offices. Observers noted FADA was underfunded and that both state and federal offices were not sufficiently independent. Members of minority groups were not always aware of these resources.

The federal and state governments also provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat racism and ethnic bias. For example, during the year the federal government program Demokratie Leben (Live Democracy) dispensed 150 million euros ($172.5 million) in grants to organizations promoting diversity and combating extremism.

Federal and state OPCs also monitored groups with racist or xenophobic ideologies. The annual FOPC report for 2020, released in June, recorded 22,357 politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds, 1,023 of which were violent. Of these, 746 were categorized as xenophobic. The 2020 FADA report detailed 2,101 complaints of racism, a 79 percent annual increase compared with 2019, and the agency reported 6,383 requests for consultations from possible victims of discrimination, compared with 3,200 in 2019. Persons with Asian features were often affected, according to official sources and multiple media reports (see also section 3, Participation of Womenand Members of Minority Groups, attacks on campaigns of minority group politicians).

In a survey by researchers at the University of Bochum on interactions with police published in November 2020, respondents who were members of ethnic minority groups or who had a migrant background reported being subjected to random police checks more often than white respondents without a migrant background. Ethnic minority respondents and those with a migrant background were more often advised against reporting incidents of police violence, and their attempts to do so were more frequently rejected than were those of white, nonmigrant respondents.

In May the NRW state government launched a campaign to attract more employees with immigrant backgrounds to join the civil service.

On August 18, the Erfurt public prosecutor charged nine men and one woman from the right-wing extremist scene with inflicting grave bodily harm for their attack on three Guineans in Erfurt, Thuringia. Two of the victims were injured during the August 2020 attack, one of them seriously. According to the prosecutor’s office, proceedings against seven other suspects were dropped due to lack of evidence. As of August a trial date had not been set.

On June 9, Frankfurt prosecutors began investigating 20 members of the Frankfurt police department’s elite special forces unit (SEK) for sharing racist, extremist content in a chat group. Hesse interior minister Peter Beuth then dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of such units on August 26. Investigations against most of the officers were still ongoing as of October 1, while investigations of two senior officers for obstruction of justice have been closed.

In September 2020 the NRW Interior Ministry suspended 29 police officers for participating in a right-wing chat group in which they shared extremist propaganda. In July charges were filed in six cases, including five counts of spreading symbols of anticonstitutional organizations and sedition; the charges could lead to fines. Seven cases were closed with no charges filed, and investigations continued in 14 cases. In September the special representative examining right-wing extremist tendencies in the police force presented his report to the NRW state parliament. Although he found many examples of right-wing extremist, racist, sexist, and homophobic statements, he found no evidence of right-wing extremist networks in the police force or that police had been subverted by right-wing extremists. The report included an 18-item list of measures to combat extremism in the police force.

Persons of foreign origin sometimes faced difficulties with finding housing. FADA reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic German origin, particularly of Turkish and African origin.

According to local media, internal documents and whistleblower testimonies suggested that Bremen’s city-owned housing association Brebau systematically discriminated against persons of color, Sinti and Roma, Bulgarians, and Romanians. Brebau staff were instructed to note applicants’ race in the company’s internal information technology system, as well as whether they wore a head scarf and if they were “integrated” into Western society. The reports stated this information was temporarily removed if applicants asked to review their application and later re-entered.

Harassment of members of racial minorities, such as Roma and Sinti, remained a problem throughout the country.

In May the Independent Commission on “Anti-Ziganism” presented its final report to the government. The report, commissioned by the government, concluded that anti-Roma racism was an “all-encompassing everyday experience for Sinti and Roma” that posed a “massive societal problem.” Harshly criticizing an ongoing “failure of German policy, German legislation and the application thereof,” it described discrimination in local government, law enforcement, education, and other areas. The genocide of the Roma and Sinti committed by the Nazis had a “deep and lasting impact,” the report said, and had only partly been addressed.

On August 5, a Sinti family was expelled from a campground in Bad Zwesten, Hesse. The head of the family reported that he was told Sinti were not welcome at the campground. Campground operator Camping Club Kassel (CCK) confirmed to local media it had a policy of not admitting minorities. Following public complaints, the CCK eventually apologized to the family and declared it had rescinded the discriminatory policy.

On September 23, four defendants in Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg were convicted of coercion in a 2019 attack in which they threw a burning torch at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their baby, age nine months. They were given suspended juvenile sentences and were ordered to visit a concentration camp memorial. The court found the defendants were motivated by racism and had hoped to drive the Roma out of Erbach, but the defendants did not intend to harm them. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma welcomed the verdict.

Children

Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials received birth registration applications, they generally processed them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine. Birth certificates are required to access some public services, such as education or day care.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

The law nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was younger than age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals ages 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics were unavailable on such cases. Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality.

In June the NRW state government launched an awareness campaign against forced marriage headlined EXIT.NRWProtection UnitedNorth Rhine-Westphalia against Forced Marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or using children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, as well as practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is younger than 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.”

Crime statistics for 2020, the latest available, indicated 14,594 cases of child sexual abuse occurred in 2020, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2019. The number of child pornography cases processed by police rose in 2020 to 18,761, a 53 percent increase over 2019.

The law enables undercover investigators to use artificially created videos of child sexual abuse to gain entry to internet forums. The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues provides an online help portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.

In January police conducted two large nationwide raids involving 1,000 law enforcement officers against persons suspected of possessing or distributing child pornography, following a similar series of raids in September 2020. The raids were part of investigations that began with the 2019 arrest of a Bergisch-Gladbach man for severe child abuse, including the production of child pornography. That case eventually evolved into a large-scale investigation involving 400 police detectives and a network of at least 30,000 suspects, several of whom were convicted and sentenced in 2020 to multiyear prison sentences, to be followed by preventative detention, for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography. Investigations and court proceedings were ongoing.

In June 2020 police uncovered a child abuse ring in Muenster, NRW. The main suspect was a man, age 27, suspected of sexually abusing the son, age 10, of his partner; he also produced pornography of the abuse and sold it online and offered his foster son to others. By August more than 40 suspects had been identified, with approximately 30 in pretrial detention or custody; 30 children were believed to have been victims. In July a Muenster court handed down a 14-year sentence for the main suspect and ordered preventive detention after the sentence is complete; in October the main suspect’s partner was sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison for aiding and abetting the crime. Three other defendants received prison sentences of between 10 and 12 years, also with preventive detention after serving their sentences. In October the mother of the main suspect, who was tried as an accomplice, was also convicted of aiding and abetting the crime and sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison.

In 2019 an NRW parliamentary committee opened an investigation into possible failures and misconduct by the NRW state government in a case of multiple sexual abuse of children at a campground in Luegde. The investigation continued as of October, with sessions scheduled until December 17.

Displaced Children: According to the Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, 2,230 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2020, approximately half of whom came from three countries: Afghanistan, Guinea, and Syria. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in 58.7 percent of cases in 2020, compared with 94.5 percent in 2016. The NGO Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking, since youth offices have no legal responsibility to locate them if they disappear from foster families. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons, and such acts increased during the year. Jewish organizations also noted anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed right-wing extremists were responsible for most anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing acts.

In 2020 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 2,351 crimes motivated by anti-Semitism, a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes in 2019. In presenting the FOPC’s annual report, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Social Union) stated right-wing extremists continued to pose the greatest threat to the country’s democracy. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism cautioned the number of anti-Semitic attacks officially noted was likely misleading, because a significant number of cases may have been unreported.

The FOPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents dropped from 56 in 2019 to 48 in 2020. The FOPC also identified 31 anti-Semitic incidents with a religious ideological motivation, including one violent incident and 36 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.

In the year preceding March 17, the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism registered anti-Semitic incidents at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, none of them violent. Incidents included positive references to Nazis, for example the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths, including the assertion that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.

In May the Research and Information Office on Anti-Semitism Bavaria reported 239 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 55 incidents over 2019. The incidents included one violent attack, 10 threats, 13 incidents of vandalism, 27 anti-Semitic mass mailings, and 188 cases of abusive behavior. Two weeks later, the Bavarian parliament passed a resolution against anti-Semitism. The resolution calls for better surveillance and screening of possible threats as well as physical protection measures for Jewish institutions and synagogues.

In December 2020 a court sentenced Stephen Balliet, the gunman who attacked a Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019 and killed two persons, to life imprisonment with subsequent preventative detention for murder, attempted murder, and incitement. The Saxony-Anhalt court cited Balliet’s lack of remorse and expressed desire to reoffend as reasons for issuing the maximum sentence. The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the verdict for its clear condemnation of anti-Semitism. Balliet had testified to being motivated by xenophobia and anti-Semitism in court, repeating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and calling Muslim refugees in the country “conquerors.”

In May protesters burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Muenster and Bonn. The Muenster synagogue was not damaged, and authorities charged 13 men with violating the law of assemblies. In Bonn individuals threw stones at the synagogue’s front door, and authorities filed charges against three suspects.

Also in May a police cordon stopped an unregistered anti-Israel demonstration with approximately 180 attendees waving Palestinian, Turkish, and Tunisian flags at the Gelsenkirchen synagogue. In a video of the demonstration, anti-Semitic chants like “Jews out” could be heard. Police arrested a German-Lebanese man, age 26, and further investigations continued as of December.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in an anti-Semitic demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. Demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis. According to media reports, participants included members of Turkish extremist organizations such as the “Grey Wolves,” left-wing extremist groups, as well as families. After police attempted to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 restrictions, some demonstrators turned violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event. Police were only able to restore order after several hours. In the disturbances 93 police officers were injured, and authorities arrested 59 persons for battery, assaulting police officers, and other charges. As of December police investigations continued. The same day, also in Berlin, unknown persons vandalized the memorial stone marking the site of a destroyed synagogue in the Hohenschoenhausen neighborhood. Berlin mayor Michael Mueller condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

On June 5, a man, age 45, attempted to set fire to an Ulm synagogue, resulting in minor damage to the building. The suspect, a Turkish citizen, fled to Turkey after the attack. According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite him. Following the attack, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.

In August a Jewish resident, age 18, wearing a kippa was insulted and severely beaten by a group of young persons while sitting in a Cologne public park. The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face. Police identified two attackers via video cameras and arrested them. Police suspected the attack was motived by anti-Semitism but as of December investigations were ongoing.

In September a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur 2019. The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and was reported to have expressed sympathy for the attacker while minimizing his crimes in conversations with colleagues.

An attack in Hamburg on September 18 left a Jewish man, age 60, hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries. According to Hamburg anti-Semitism commissioner Stefan Hensel, the perpetrator and his companions shouted, “free Palestine” and “f- Israel” at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg. When the vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face and broke his nose and cheek bone. Hamburg police were searching for the unidentified assailant. Hamburg deputy mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank strongly condemned the attack.

On October 8, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier from Oberhausen, NRW, was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Liebermann (1852-1934) in the country’s largest Protestant cemetery, located in Stahnsdorf, near Berlin. The burial, during which Liebermann’s headstone was covered by a black cloth quoting the Bible verse “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” was attended by prominent neo-Nazis and Citizens of the Empire, according to media reports. The Protestant Church of Germany Berlin-Brandenburg was investigating how the request for the grave was approved, as well as possible consequences. Police were also investigating.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg interior minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm, to serve as counselors and contact persons for prospective and existing police officers as well as community members.

Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism. Since then, 15 of 16 states have also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. In the one state not to have instituted a commissioner, the Bremen Jewish community told the state government it was not necessary to introduce such a position, and that they deemed alternative tools to combat anti-Semitism to be more efficient. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs. A federal- and state-level Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism and Protect Jewish Life including all commissioners met twice a year to coordinate strategies.

In April, Hamburg launched a publicly funded independent reporting agency for anti-Semitism and other racist incidents.

In August the NRW state government established a reporting office for anti-Semitic assaults that do not rise to the level of criminal charges. The office was temporarily administered by the North Rhine State Association of Jewish Communities until a new organization could be established.

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

Federal and state laws require public authorities take measures to ensure persons with disabilities have equal access and treatment in education, health, public services, and transportation. These include the elimination of physical barriers in buildings and transportation; communication assistance; the elimination of barriers to applying for and accessing public services; the provision of public information in accessible formats; and ensuring access to the political process. These requirements were not always implemented. For example, most physicians’ offices often located in older buildings were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and there were too few health-care facilities able to address the specific health-care needs of persons with disabilities. Government information and communications were not always provided in accessible formats, especially at the local level.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.

Persons with disabilities also faced hurdles in employment and housing. While discrimination based on a disability was illegal, the unemployment rate among persons of working age was much higher than in the general population. Not enough suitable employment opportunities were available for persons with disabilities, and despite requirements that private companies employ persons with disabilities, many chose to pay a fine instead of doing so. There was also a shortage of affordable, accessible, and barrier-free housing for persons with disabilities and older, privately owned residential and commercial buildings were often exempt from accessibility regulations.

An estimated 1.3 million adults were living under conservatorships in the country, many of them with a disability, whose rights were restricted to various degrees under conservatorship laws. In 2021, 85,000 persons with disabilities under conservatorship were permitted to vote in the federal elections for the first time, after the federal constitutional court ruled in 2019 that a ban on voting by persons with disabilities under was unconstitutional. In March the government extensively reformed conservatorship laws, effective 2023, to give persons under conservatorship more control over their own lives. NGOs such as the Institute for Human Rights stated that the reforms did not go far enough, for example because they still permitted involuntary medical treatment or sterilization in some cases.

State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or segregated schools. The law obliges all children to attend school, so those with disabilities do so at the same rate as children without disabilities. Approximately 43 percent of children with disabilities attended schools with their peers in public schools, while the remainder attended segregated schools, although inclusion levels varied significantly between the country’s different states. Somewhat more than half of the students with disabilities attending school with their peers successfully completed their secondary education, compared to more than one in four of those attending segregated schools.

According to FADA, many persons with disabilities believed they were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 measures, especially mask requirements, and were stigmatized as COVID-19 deniers when raising their concerns. The number of complaints to FADA by persons with disabilities tripled to 2,631 cases in 2020, 41 percent of the total, which declared more must be done to meet needs of the persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example by expanding outdoor retail or delivery options.

In March a Leipzig court convicted a Red Cross transportation service driver of the rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment of several children with disabilities and young adults whom he transported to education and care facilities. The court sentenced him to four years in prison.

Police in Wuerzburg arrested a speech therapist in March and charged him with the sexual abuse of children with disabilities under his treatment; a court convicted him of severe sexual abuse in May, sentencing him to 11 years in prison.

In April police arrested a caregiver at a Potsdam residential facility for persons with disabilities and charged her with killing three residents and wounding a fourth that same month. The trial continued as of November.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists and community members complained of violent attacks and a growing atmosphere of hostility towards LGBTQI+ persons across the country, often directed at transgender individuals. Official crime statistics recorded 782 hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons nationwide, 154 of which were violent and 144 of which involved battery. Community activists suspected true figures were much higher and counted three anti-LGBTQI+ killings in the country in 2020. The Berlin NGO Maneo identified 510 hostile incidents in Berlin alone in 2020, 119 of which involved battery or attempted battery.

On March 16, Frankfurt prosecutors charged with aggravated battery three individuals aged 16, 17, and 18 who had attacked a LGBTQI+ individual, age 20, in Frankfurt in November 2020 after he had spoken in a YouTube video regarding queer topics and hostility toward the LGBTQI+ community. They were expected to be tried in juvenile court.

On March 20, an unknown man attacked a trans woman in Frankfurt with verbal insults and several punches to her face, resulting in light injuries and hospitalization. Following the attack, trans rights activist Julia Monro praised the communications practices of Frankfurt police, especially for having explicitly named transphobia as the motive for the attack.

On May 21, the Dresden Higher Regional Court sentenced a Syrian refugee, age 20, and known Islamist to life imprisonment followed by a conditional security detention for attacking a gay couple in Dresden with a knife in October 2020, fatally injuring one of them. The state Ministry of the Interior and Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Saxony rejected a homophobic motive, focusing instead on the crime’s radical Islamist background. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups decried this as “unacceptable” and “disturbing.”

On June 24, the day of Berlin’s pride march, a group of unknown persons attacked a march participant from behind before punching him in the face; he required medical treatment for his injuries. Earlier that same evening, a group of persons punched and kicked three other marchers in a Berlin park while shouting anti-LGBTQI+ insults; all three were injured. Police arrested three suspects. The previous afternoon a man aged 18 assaulted a gay couple in the subway and the city’s plaque commemorating the gay liberation movement had been vandalized.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the law offering, advertising, or arranging treatments to convert homosexual or transgender minors by means of “conversion therapy” is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison. Penalties are also possible if persons of legal age have been coerced to undergo such “therapy.”

LGBTQI+ activists criticized the law’s requirement that transgender persons obtain two assessments by independent experts to receive legal gender recognition (including a legal name change), as expensive, time consuming, subjective, and intrusive.

In July the Cologne District Court fined a Polish theology professor and priest for inciting hatred by calling homosexuals in the Roman Catholic church a “cancer” and “colony of parasites,” in a January church periodical article. The publication was also fined; both defendants appealed the decision.

A professor previously convicted of defamation of LGBTQI+ persons won his appeal on March 2. In August 2020 a Kassel district court had found Kassel University biology professor Ulrich Kutschera guilty of defamation and fined him. In a 2017 interview, Kutschera had alleged that sexual abuse of children was likelier to occur among same-sex parents and called same-sex couples “asexual erotic duos without reproduction potential.” Kutschera appealed his conviction to the Kassel State Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that his statements were covered by constitutional free speech protections.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations provide for the right of employees to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Wildcat strikes are not allowed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and offers legal remedies to claim damages, including the reinstatement of unlawfully dismissed workers.

Some laws and regulations limit these labor rights. While civil servants are free to form or join unions, their wages and working conditions are determined by legislation, not by collective bargaining. All civil servants (including some teachers, postal workers, railroad employees, and police) and members of the armed forces are prohibited from striking.

Employers are generally free to decide whether to be a party to a collective bargaining agreement. Even if they decide not to be a party, companies must apply the provisions of a collective agreement if the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs declares a collective bargaining agreement generally binding for the whole sector. Employers not legally bound by collective bargaining agreements often used them to determine part or all their employees’ employment conditions. Employers may contest in court a strike’s proportionality and a trade union’s right to take strike actions. The law does not establish clear criteria on strikes, and courts often relied on case law and precedent.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively. Actions and measures by employers to limit or violate freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are considered unlawful and lead to fines. Penalties and remediation efforts were commensurate with those of equivalent laws denying civil rights.

Laws regulate cooperation between management and work councils (companies’ elected employee representation), including the right of the workers to be involved in management decisions that could affect them. Work councils are independent from labor unions but often have close ties to the sector’s labor movement. The penalty for employers who interfere in work councils’ elections and operations is up to one year in prison or a fine. Labor organizers complained a significant number of employers interfered with the election of work council members or tried to deter employees from organizing new work councils. This practice has been criticized by labor unions for a long time; they called for stronger legislation that shields employees seeking to exercise their rights under the law.

Between August 10 and September 9, the train engineers’ union GDL called three rail strikes as part of negotiations with the national rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB). DB challenged the third and final strike in a labor court. The Frankfurt Main Labor Court rejected DB’s request and upheld GDL’s right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and federal law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor range from six months to 10 years in prison and were generally commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The government effectively enforced the law when they found violations, but NGOs questioned the adequacy of resources to investigate and prosecute the crime. Some traffickers received light or suspended sentences that weakened deterrence and undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, but the language was generally consistent with the country’s sentencing practices.

There were reports of forced labor involving adults, mainly in the construction and food service industries. There were also reported cases in domestic households and industrial plants. In 2020 police completed 22 labor-trafficking investigations (up 57 percent from 2019) that identified 73 victims, nearly a third (21) of whom were from Romania.

In January the Federal Criminal Police announced it would lead a Europe-wide effort against Vietnamese human-trafficking networks. Since then, federal and state authorities conducted at least six operations, including an international effort with Slovakian authorities. From May 31 to June 6, the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit, (FKS) conducted a joint investigation with state and federal police forces and Europol in Erfurt. The FKS investigated 125 suspects and 41 companies for smuggling persons and labor exploitation of Vietnamese nationals. At least three workers without legal resident status were identified, one of whom was working without pay. On June 28, more than 100 officers raided a Berlin construction company suspected of labor trafficking and identified 10 Vietnamese nationals working without legal residence status. Police issued “start-up certificates” to at least 13 potential victims, enabling them to establish legal residence, apply for asylum, and receive benefits.

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 the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 with a few exceptions: Children who are 13 or 14 may perform work on a family-run farm for up to three hours per day or perform services such as delivering magazines and leaflets, babysitting, and dog walking for up to two hours per day, if authorized by their custodial parent. Children younger than 15 may not work during school hours, before 8 a.m., after 6 p.m., or on Saturdays, Sundays, or public holidays. The type of work must not pose any risk to the security, health, or development of the child and must not prevent the child from obtaining schooling and training. Children are not allowed to work with hazardous materials, carry or handle items weighing more than 22 pounds, perform work requiring an unsuitable posture, or engage in work that exposes them to the risk of an accident. Children between the ages of three and 14 may take part in cultural performances, but there are strict limits on the kind of activity, number of hours, and time of day.

The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. Isolated cases of child labor occurred in small, family-owned businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, family farms, and grocery stores. Inspections by the regional inspection agencies and the resources and remediation available to them were adequate to ensure broad compliance.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in all areas of occupation and employment, from recruitment, self-employment, and promotion to career advancement. Although origin and citizenship are not explicitly listed as grounds of discrimination in the law, victims of such discrimination have other means to assert legal claims. The law obliges employers to protect employees from discrimination at work.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations during the year. Employees who believe they are victims of discrimination have a right to file an official complaint and to have the complaint heard. If an employer fails to protect the employee effectively, employees may remove themselves from places and situations of discrimination without losing employment or pay. In cases of violations of the law, victims of discrimination are entitled to injunctions, removal, and material or nonmaterial damages set by court decision. Penalties were commensurate with those of other civil rights violations. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) reported that, of the 6,383 inquiries concerning discrimination or other requests for assistance it received in 2020 (the latest statistics available), at least 23 percent (approximately 1,468) concerned employment or the workplace.

FADA highlighted that applicants of foreign descent and with foreign names faced discrimination even when they had similar or better qualifications than others. In 2020, FADA received 2,101 complaints alleging discrimination in the workplace or when accessing services because of ethnic background. FADA reported racism experienced in connection with the pandemic particularly affected persons perceived as Asian, as well as Sinti and Roma.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. In March the Federal Statistical Office found the gross hourly wages of women in 2020 were on average 18 percent lower than those of men. It attributed pay differences in the sectors and occupations in which women and men were employed, as well as unequal requirements for leadership experience and other qualifications as the principal reasons for the pay gap. Women were underrepresented in highly paid managerial positions and overrepresented in some lower-wage occupations. FADA reported women were also at a disadvantage regarding promotions, often due to career interruptions for child rearing. In 2020, 79 workers contacted FADA to report being professionally disadvantaged due to pregnancy. FADA also reported the COVID-19 pandemic particularly increased psychological and health burdens for women, who make up a large percentage of the health and retail sectors where they faced additional workload and greater risk of infection.

The law imposes a gender quota of 30 percent for supervisory boards of certain publicly traded corporations. It also requires approximately 3,500 companies to set and publish self-determined targets for increasing the share of women in leading positions (executive boards and management) and to report on their performance. Consequently, the share of women on the supervisory boards of those companies bound by the law increased from approximately 20 percent in 2015 to 35 percent in 2020.

There were reports of employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate among persons with disabilities increased to 11.8 percent in 2020, remaining considerably higher than that of the general population (on average 5.9 percent for 2020). Employers with 20 or more employees must hire persons with significant disabilities to fill at least 5 percent of all positions; companies with 20 to 40 employees must fill one position with a person with disabilities, and companies with 40 to 60 employees must fill two positions. Each year companies file a mandatory form with the employment office verifying whether they meet the quota for employing persons with disabilities. Companies that fail to meet these quotas pay a monthly fine for each required position not filled by a person with disabilities. In 2019 nearly 105,000 employers did not employ enough persons with disabilities and paid fines.

The law provides for equal treatment of foreign workers, although foreign workers faced some wage discrimination. For example, employers, particularly in the construction sector, sometimes paid lower wages to seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The nationwide statutory minimum wage is below the internationally defined “at risk of poverty threshold” of two-thirds of the national median wage. The minimum wage does not apply to persons younger than 18, long-term unemployed persons during their first six months in a new job, or apprentices undergoing vocational training, regardless of age. Several sectors set their own higher minimum wages through collective bargaining.

The government effectively enforced the laws and monitored compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work through the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit, which conducted checks on nearly 45,000 companies in 2020. Focus areas included the meat industry and parcel services where alleged wage and hour violations are historically more common due to the practice of employing primarily migrant workers through subcontracting chains. The country partially ended this practice in the meat industry through a law governing the use of works contracts which entered force in January 2021. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act, and courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a substantial fine. Penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those of similar crimes.

Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. For the 54 percent of employees who are directly covered by collective bargaining agreements, the average agreed working week under existing agreements is 37.7 hours. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.

Occupational Safety and Health: Extensive laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its state-level counterparts monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. This differed from wage and hour inspections which were primarily overseen by the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit. At the local level, professional and trade associations self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions as well as works councils oversaw worker safety. The number of inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The number of work accidents continued to decline among full-time employees, and 2020 saw workplace fatalities fall to 399 from 497 in 2019. Most accidents occurred in the construction, transportation, and postal logistics industries.

Various meat-processing facilities had very high rates of COVID-19 infection at a time when the country witnessed low overall infection rates. Local authorities often blamed these on plant working and housing conditions for the largely Eastern European and sometimes seasonal workforce. In December 2020, in response to such outbreaks, the Bundestag passed legislation limiting the use of independent contractors and subcontractors in the meat processing industry, mandating electronically monitored working hours, and improving worker housing. The legislation took effect January 1.

Informal Sector: The country includes some data on the informal economy in GDP calculations but does not publish separate official statistics. The informal economy accounts for approximately 10 percent of the country’s GDP. According to the 2019 Act to Combat Unlawful Employment and Benefit Fraud, part of the FKS’ mandate includes monitoring undeclared and illegal work. The FKS has approximately 7,500 personnel assigned to investigate employers and employees not fulfilling certain social security, tax, social benefit, or employment reporting obligations. In 2020 FKS inspections included meat-processing facilities, parcel-delivery services, nail salons, restaurants, and construction sites. An unspecified amount of undeclared work occurred through bogus self-employment. The law recognizes dependent self-employment and approximately 9.6 percent of the country’s working population was self-employed.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

China | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region specified that, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. During the year, China continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s political freedoms and autonomy in violation of these international commitments. Amendments to the Basic Law fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s electoral system to allow Beijing effectively to block participation of political groups not approved by Beijing. The Hong Kong government arrested or disqualified opposition pan-democratic politicians, blocking their participation in upcoming elections. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats in the December Legislative Council election, which was widely regarded as fundamentally flawed. The turnout rate of 30.2 percent was a record low since Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The Security Bureau continues to report to the chief executive; however, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force, established by the National Security Law, operates under the supervision of the central government, and the National Security Law permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the National Security Law established a Committee on National Security in the Hong Kong government that reports to the central government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of mainland security agencies. Unaccountable under Hong Kong law, the Office allows mainland China security elements to operate openly, contradicting the spirit and practice of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. It is no longer clear if Hong Kong’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services. Hong Kong security forces have taken actions – to include arrests against nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, activists, journalists, union members, and others deemed by local officials to be critical of the central and Special Administrative Region governments.

Beijing undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and eroded civil liberties and democratic institutions throughout the year. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities repeatedly threatened or arrested associations, groups, or individuals affiliated with the prodemocracy movement, undermining fundamental freedoms otherwise provided for under the Basic Law. Following accusations made by Beijing-controlled media organs, Hong Kong authorities investigated and cut government ties with these groups, in some cases freezing their assets and forcing them to cease operations. Even after threatened groups disbanded, authorities continued targeting key members for investigations and arrests. These procedures were applied to prodemocratic parties, trade unions, and professional associations, among others.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrests and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals outside of Hong Kong; serious problems regarding the independence of the judiciary in certain areas; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on the freedom of movement and on the right to leave the territory; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including coercive actions against independent trade unions and arrests of labor union activists.

The government took few steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. The government prosecuted at least one case of official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no credible reports that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but SAR authorities did not respect those rights, especially for individuals and organizations associated with the prodemocracy movement. The government repeatedly claimed COVID-19 pandemic health concerns as reasons for restricting public gatherings, although it made exceptions for events involving government officials and pro-Beijing groups.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government effectively banned peaceful assembly for political purposes to prevent COVID-19. Because of the strict public health limits on any public gathering, police did not issue any “letters of no objection” for public demonstrations from groups not aligned with the PRC and SAR governments after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, police refused permits for a May 1 Labor Day rally, the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and the annual July 1 prodemocracy rally marking the anniversary of the SAR’s handover to China.

Freedom of Association

SAR law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect the law. SAR authorities investigated and forced the closure of any group they deemed a “national security” concern. Pro-Beijing media also accused several unions, including the SAR’s largest trade and teacher unions (see section 7, Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) of “foreign collusion” – punishable by up to life in prison under the NSL – due to their affiliation with international organizations.

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large-scale annual prodemocracy protests, announced its dissolution just days after the police commissioner publicly accused the group of possible violations of the NSL and of operating since 2002 without proper registration. He made this accusation despite previous police approvals of the group’s requests for protest permits in prior years.

The 612 Humanitarian Fund, which used crowdfunding to support emergency financial and legal assistance for persons injured or arrested during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill, was also forced to shutter its operations after the government publicly made criminal allegations against the group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a prodemocracy group organizing annual vigils to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, voted to disband after Hong Kong police charged seven of its leaders, as well as the organization itself, under the NSL, and froze the group’s assets. In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered the Alliance removed from the city’s Companies Registry.

By law any person claiming to be an officer of a banned group may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Those convicted of providing meeting space or other aid to a banned group may also be sentenced to fines and jail time.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government uses the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their admittance. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, fewer than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice that the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. In August the SAR implemented an ordinance amendment specifically targeting those seeking asylum and barring them from entering the SAR. The amendment also shortened timeframes for individuals seeking protection against deportation, and in some cases limited these individuals’ access to interpretation into their mother tongues.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were frequent targets of negative commentary by some political parties and media organizations.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to work legally in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. Claimants were also entitled to basic health-care services at public hospitals and clinics. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead, the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. In some cases, individuals waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were, however, reports of government corruption and a growing culture of impunity from prosecution for police and security sector officials.

Corruption: Opposition activists claimed that three senior government officials were treated leniently after attending a group dinner in violation of social distancing regulations in March. The Department of Justice cleared a senior police official in the National Security Department of illegal misconduct for visiting an unlicensed massage parlor where illegal sex services were reportedly being offered, although six women were arrested and four ultimately charged from the same police raid. The officer was subsequently reassigned to lead the police force personnel and training department.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups reported increasing government scrutiny, harassment, and restrictions, although some continued to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. The SAR used the NSL to force organizations expressing criticism of the PRC to cease operations, to self-censor, or to change operational procedures to protect their staff. The forced disbandment of multiple trade unions and other organizations created a chilling effect on the remaining groups that were historically critical of the central government.

In October Amnesty International announced it would close its Hong Kong office, as well as its Hong Kong-based regional office, by the end of the year. The organization stated that the NSL made it “impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government.”

PRC and SAR officials repeatedly accused local and international NGOs that alleged human rights abuses in the SAR of “sowing discord.”

A SAR court denied bail to a media executive in November in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. The court cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association among Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, and “foreign political groups.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission. The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent. Both organizations operated without interference from the SAR government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. NGOs stated that the Equal Opportunities Commission had a narrow mandate that did not allow for deep investigations, and limited support from the SAR government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape, but does not explicitly criminalize rape against men. Support organizations for sexual and domestic violence reported an increase in gender-based violence based on the larger volume of calls to their hotlines and requests for mental health-care assistance. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under laws on offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment, depending on which act constituted domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.

The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence survivors and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced it effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and universities.

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

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although ethnic Chinese account for most of the population, the SAR is a multiethnic society, with persons from multiple ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights by law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the Equal Opportunities Commission oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The commission maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the SAR government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities; the law does not clearly cover racial discrimination occurring during law enforcement activity.

Advocates stated there were indications of racism in COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Returning South and Southeast Asian SAR minority group residents complained of poor quarantine facilities, wait times, and diet, and accused the SAR of discrimination.

Persons born in mainland China also experienced frequent discrimination. Nonpermanent residents did not receive SAR cash subsidies to help with the COVID-19 pandemic-related economic downturn until eight months after the pandemic spread to the SAR.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the mainland, or abroad to parents, of whom at least one is a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire both Chinese citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as Chinese citizens. Authorities routinely registered all such statuses.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for survivors of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the SAR government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including those against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent education programs through its maternal- and child-health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, operated a child witness support program.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both girls and boys; however, parents’ written consent is required for marriage before age 21.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is effectively 16. By law, a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a person younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while unlawful sexual intercourse with a person younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and procuring children for commercial sex. The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys, or is likely to be understood as conveying, the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR 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

The active Jewish community numbered approximately 2,500 persons. 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, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government took action to investigate and punish those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities. The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to education, employment, the judicial system, and health services. The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups considered the SAR’s disability law too limited and that its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons deemed unable to live independently, offered preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other residents interested in improving their mental health.

The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to information, communications, and buildings, although there were reports of some restrictions. The law calls for improved building access and provides for sanctions against those who discriminate.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Lawmakers expressed both strong support for, and strong opposition to, LGBTQI+ rights. LGBTQI+ activists reported that they considered the courts to be the primary avenue to secure LGBTQI+ rights and viewed the courts as impartial in decisions on LGBTQI+ issues.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of age, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, SAR courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those violating these laws and regulations. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. The law does not regulate working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours and called for legislation to address that concern.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health standards for various industries. Workplace health and safety laws allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate investigations and prosecutions. For the first half of the year, the Labor Department reported 14,368 cases of occupational accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to, and working conditions of, domestic workers. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by, and underpayment of wages to, domestic workers. Labor inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health standards include fines, damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.

The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.

Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.

On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.

On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.

In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.

In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.

Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government suspended foreign banking licenses or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without authorization or that unlawfully mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations.

In September 2020 parliament passed amendments to the FCRA that placed additional limitations on the international funding of nongovernmental organizations. Financial consultants and NGO leaders believed the new legislation would severely restrict the ability of smaller, regional organizations to raise funds and diminish collaboration between the government and civil society.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on confidential investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.

Some NGOs stated they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” topics such as human rights or environmental activism. In September 2020 Amnesty International India (AII) closed its offices after a two-year FCRA investigation charged the organization with financial irregularities resulting in the suspension of its local bank accounts. In February the Enforcement Directorate froze access to AII assets worth more than 170 million rupees ($2.3 million) as part of a money-laundering investigation.

On March 31, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches of suspected terrorist organizations at 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Human Rights Forum described the searches as intimidation intended to stifle lawful protest, while a representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties alleged that human rights activists were being deliberately targeted and silenced by this law enforcement action.

On June 7, the government temporarily suspended the FCRA license of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for alleged violations. CHRI lawyers believe the enforcement action was taken as retribution for CHRI’s human rights work. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court allowed the human rights organization access up to 25 percent of the impounded funds to pay staff salaries.

On September 16, Enforcement Directorate officials raided the home and office of human rights activist Harsh Mander. Authorities alleged Mander violated provisions of the FCRA. Human Rights Watch claimed authorities repeatedly targeted Mander, who has criticized the government’s “discriminatory policies against religious minorities.” On September 29, more than 30 activists and intellectuals released a statement condemning the raids as a tactic to harass and intimidate Mander.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits when traveling to certain states. Inner Line Permits are required in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The government delayed issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, sometimes for up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: In 2019 parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act does not include Muslims from those countries and does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, most of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances.

On July 27, the minister of state for home affairs notified parliament that the government required additional time to further develop and notify the rules for the CAA, effectively meaning that the law was not in effect during the year.

Approximately 1.9 million residents of the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, were left off the Supreme Court-mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) register in Assam. The government established procedures for appeals. The nationality status of those excluded remained unclear, pending the adjudication of appeals. On May 13, Assam’s NRC authorities requested Supreme Court permission for a reverification of the NRC list.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) existed throughout the country. In 2020 approximately 3,900 persons were displaced because of conflicts and violence, while natural disasters displaced almost four million persons.

Precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence were difficult to obtain because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the matter of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs but allowed NGOs and human rights organizations access to IDPs; neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

On April 20, nearly 400 families of Mizoram’s Bru tribe left a temporary camp and relocated to permanent homes. Since 1997, nearly 37,000 Brus have lived in six relief camps after they fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei Districts. In 2020 the central government, along with the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, signed an agreement with the leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that allowed Brus to settle permanently in Tripura.

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 minimal protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. While UNHCR does not have an official agreement with the government, it is able to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. UNHCR did not have direct access to newly arriving refugees on the country’s border with Burma or protracted Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.

The country hosted a large refugee population, including more than 73,404 Tibetan refugees, per the latest census conducted by Central Tibetan Relief Committee. More than 92,000 refugees from Sri Lanka lived in the country as of July 1. In February, Burmese nationals fleeing violence in Burma began arriving in Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states. The estimated number of Burmese refugees varied widely from approximately 5,000 to 20,000. A protection working group consisting of civil society and humanitarian organizations provides basic humanitarian assistance to this population.

UNHCR reported 736 Afghans registered for protection between August 1 and September 30, and it established a telephone helpline to answer queries from this population. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced an emergency e-visa for Afghan nationals seeking emergency entry into India on August 17 after the collapse of the previous Afghan government. On September 5, a Ministry of Home Affairs official stated that no Afghan national would be required to leave the country without prior approval of the Home Ministry.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order allowing the deportation of a group of Rohingya on April 8. The group of more than 150 Rohingya were detained on March 6 for illegally residing in Jammu and Kashmir. The government argued Rohingya were illegal migrants who had crossed the border. They enjoyed equal protection of law, but their right to movement was restricted.

In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased obstacles to regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum-seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.

UNHCR maintained an office in New Delhi, where it registered refugees and asylum seekers, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The government permitted UNHCR and its partner staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Access to some refugees or asylum seekers in detention was granted.

The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram, Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government cooperated with UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily; however, UNHCR did not have access to Sri Lankan refugees who remained in Tamil Nadu.

Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, 43,157 persons of concern were registered by UNHCR as of the end of August.

Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of refugees to Burma. According to UNHCR, at least 26 non-Rohingya refugees (of an estimated 40,000) have been deported since late 2016.

On April 2, Assam police took a 14-year-old Rohingya girl from a shelter home to the international border in Manipur for deportation to Burma. Burmese immigration officials reportedly refused to accept the girl, and police returned the girl to the shelter home.

On May 3, the High Court of Manipur granted seven Burmese nationals who illegally entered the country permission to approach the UNHCR office in New Delhi. The High Court interpreted Article 21 of the constitution as protecting the principle of nonrefoulement.

On August 9, the minister of state for defense informed parliament that 8,486 Burmese refugees entered the country after the military coup in February. The minister noted that 5,796 refugees were “pushed back” into Burma while 2,690 remained in the country.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigner. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to detention, forced returns, and abuse. The country historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

NGOs claimed law enforcement officials harassed and intimidated Rohingya refugees, including by confiscating UNHCR-issued refugee cards and government identification documents. NGOs also alleged Delhi police handcuffed, physically abused, and covered refugees’ heads with hoods while detaining them for routine questioning.

UNHCR continued to advocate for the release of detained refugees, for asylum seekers to freely move within the country and have their claims assessed, and for refugees to benefit from protection in the state where they arrived, and which has jurisdiction over them.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR registered 43,157 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31. This included 23,518 persons from Burma. On August 10, the minister of state for home affairs told the lower house of parliament the government did not have accurate data on the number of illegal migrants in the country and responded to questions from parliamentarians that there were reports of Rohingya migrants committing illegal activities.

The country hosted more than 92,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. In August, 29 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees attempted suicide in two separate incidents at a detention camp in Tamil Nadu. Media reports stated nearly 80 Sri Lankan Tamils conducted a protest for weeks demanding their release and alleging false detention. The refugees were reportedly dissatisfied after meeting Tamil Nadu government officials in May who determined that their release would be delayed. Tamil Nadu has 107 refugee camps across the state, including one detention camp for refugees with criminal records.

Employment: Most UNHCR-registered refugees found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers and landlords. According to UNHCR, obtaining formal employment was difficult for refugees because they did not possess government-issued documents such as long-term visas, which the government stopped issuing to refugees in 2017.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers had access to housing, primary and secondary education, and health care. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR or its partners were able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access.

For asylum seekers UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was being considered for UNHCR refugee status.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during elections and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

On August 27, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin announced a special welfare package of 3.17 billion rupees ($42 million) for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu. The assistance will support refugee housing, cooking gas subsidies, and education allowances for refugee children. This allocation followed the disbursement of 4,000 rupees ($53) per Sri Lankan refugee family earlier in the year.

Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. According to a factsheet published by UNHCR in June, 6,561 refugees and asylum seekers were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the country during the year.

Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

According to UNHCR an April 2020 moratorium on the repatriation of Sri Lankans remained in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of commercial flight operations. A ferry project jointly proposed by the government and the government of Sri Lanka for the repatriation of refugees remained on hold. Departures for voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement, and complementary pathways continued.

g. Stateless Persons

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at a consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities may also confer citizenship through registration in specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years.

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to citizenship, refugees may present birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

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

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.

The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.

On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.

On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied their rights in practice.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted most of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, but some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

Tribal leaders in Telangana accused the state government of impinging on the forest rights of tribal communities. Farmers contended the state forest department destroyed their crops without prior notice and attempted to forcibly remove them from their land. On August 6, police arrested 23 tribal farmers for attempted murder when tribal members “forcefully tried to recover farmland that the villagers have been cultivating for decades.” Tribal leaders criticized the arrests as “persecution” for defending their rights.

On August 26, a tribal man from Madhya Pradesh died after several persons tied him to a van and dragged him on the road following a minor traffic dispute. Madhya Pradesh police identified and arrested five of the eight accused after a video of the incident was disseminated widely on social media.

Children

According to a Lancet report, more than 100,000 children lost either one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a Supreme Court affidavit reporting 8,161 children were orphaned, 92,475 children lost one parent, and 396 were abandoned between April 2020 and August.

After the NCPCR raised concerns regarding complaints of illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19, the Supreme Court directed states to take stringent measures against illegal adoptions and to increase publicity of the laws and regulations.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. Analysis of government data from 2015-16 noted approximately 62 percent of children younger than five had their births registered and their parent or parents received a birth certificate.

Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected children’s right to education and nutrition. A UNICEF India report found that during the pandemic 1.5 million schools were closed, which affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Socioeconomic inequality and lack of resources, including internet and technological devices as well as limited access to electricity, resulted in less educational opportunities for some children. The report projected that 8 percent of all children may not return to school. To reduce the risk of children dropping out, the Supreme Court ordered private schools to waive fees and for the state to pay fees to ensure children remain enrolled.

According to UNICEF, more than 60 percent of secondary school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, children with disabilities faced additional challenges with online education.

Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses.

The India Child Protection Fund reported increased incidences of cyber or sexual abuse involving children. With children spending more time indoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic, often without supervision, the report expressed concern that children were more vulnerable to online sexual predators.

A Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights study, released in July, concluded that physical, online, and mental abuse against children sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than 18 and a boy younger than 21 as illegal but recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address the practice of rape survivors being forced into marriage.

In 2020 the government constituted a task force to review the increase of the minimum permissible age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years. Critics believed the proposal did not address the core concerns regarding child marriage, such as extreme poverty and lack of education.

The law establishes a full-time child marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child protection authorities.

Financial distress, parental deaths, and school closures have put more girls at risk of child marriage. According to media reports, more than 500 cases of child marriage took place in West Bengal between March and June 2020 during the COVID-19 national lockdown. The NCRB reported 785 cases of child marriages were registered throughout the country in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. Officials reported that in most cases underage girls were forced to marry because of their family’s loss of earnings and financial distress caused by the lockdown. According to a recent study, 65 percent of the child marriage cases were related to so-called romantic marriages, another 30 percent were arranged, and 5 percent were forced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into commercial sexual or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or child sex trafficking.  Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The law provides for at least one special court dedicated to sexual offenses against children (POCSO court) to be set up in each district, but implementation of this provision lagged.

NCRB data showed that the number of 16- to 18-year-old victims under the POCSO Act was higher than the number of child victims from all the other age groups. Some NGOs noted several adolescent boys entered the juvenile justice system having been charged with rape because of the changes in the law.

Media reports indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in cases filed under the POCSO Act. Data from Child Welfare Committees showed a 36.5 percent increase in the number of POCSO cases registered from January to July when compared with the number recorded for the same period in 2020. The rise in POCSO cases was attributed to increased time spent online which increased exposure to online traffickers.

On March 13, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published new rules to protect children from sexual offenses. The rules provide for immediate compensation, increased public awareness regarding services from the CHILDLINE India Foundation, and legal aid assistance. The rules advise state governments to enact a child protection policy to re-enforce the prohibition of violence against children. A new provision also directs immediate financial help to victims of child sexual abuse by the Child Welfare Committees. NGOs noted the procedure was not being implemented in a standardized fashion across jurisdictions.

In January the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a child is not considered sexual assault if there is no “skin-to-skin contact” or “sexual intent.” The National Commission for Women criticized the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Bombay’s High Court’s decision.

In a June 2020 ruling the Delhi High Court mandated notice to complainants in child assault cases to ensure their presence in every bail application filed by the accused in their case. This ensured the complainant is informed of the proceedings and has an opportunity to argue against bail. Other high courts were expected to follow suit. For instance, the Orissa High Court issued similar directions to the POCSO courts operating under its jurisdiction.

In June 2020 the Delhi High Court held that the POCSO Act does not prevent a victim from applying for monetary compensation more than once if their circumstances required. Court cases typically last for years, and a victim’s financial needs may grow as time passes.

There was a continued focus on providing speedy justice to victims of sexual abuse. A 2016 study by the NGO Counsel to Secure Justice highlighted many child sexual abuse cases were pending trial or delayed in trial. The government stated 49,000 pending cases related to rape and sexual offenses against children were addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of 1,023 fast-track courts. Critics alleged fast-track courts established for POCSO cases were often unable to function on a timely basis because of pandemic restrictions. As a remedy, the Supreme Court directed the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Rajasthan to initiate a pilot project to test videoconferencing facilities for recording testimony.

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in several group homes and orphanages.

A National Commission for Protection for Child Rights audit found that out of 7,163 childcare institutions in the country, as many as 2,039 or 28.5 percent were not registered with state governments as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse.

In 2020 the Supreme Court directed state governments to improve the handling of the COVID-19 crisis among institutionalized children. States were asked to file detailed reports, and various guidelines were issued to different childcare institutions on how to deal with the pandemic-induced crisis. NCPCR stated more than 720 children in childcare institutions in 11 states and union territories contracted COVID-19 as of August, but no fatalities were reported.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court revised the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to prevent children from being tried as adults. The Supreme Court ruled that children can be tried as an adult only for “heinous” crimes that have a minimum punishment of seven years. In view of this judgment, the Juvenile Justice Board may conduct a preliminary assessment into a child’s mental and physical capacity to decide whether the child should be tried as an adult.

Many children continued to stay in institutions. Children accused of committing crimes often did not appear before juvenile justice boards for up to a year, and in many cases, children were required to stay in institutions for extended periods of time.

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

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.

The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.

According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.

The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.

The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.

Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.

In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.

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

NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.

LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.

On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.

On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

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

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary 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  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 based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered free and fair. Members of parliament and regional representatives elect the president of the republic; the last such election was held in 2015.

The National Police and Carabinieri (gendarmerie or military police) maintain internal security. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violence or threats of violence against journalists; criminal libel laws with penalties of up to three years in prison; denial of access to asylum; crimes, violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and labor exploitation.

The government identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses. It sometimes implemented effectively laws against official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings committed by police officers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions during the year.

Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and libel with penalties of up to three years in prison. On June 22, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional a law punishing libel and defamation with up to six years of imprisonment if committed through the press and consisting of “attribution of a specific fact.” Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out, but on April 21, a Rome judge sentenced a former editor and a journalist of daily newspaper La Repubblica to pay 50,000 euros ($57,500) to former interior minister Matteo Salvini as compensation for an article regarding a canceled trip to Israel.

Nongovernmental Impact: The NGO Reporters without Borders stated there was growing hostility toward reporters, mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the NGO, approximately 20 journalists – mostly in Rome and the South – received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists.

Police reported 123 cases of intimidation against journalists between January and July compared with 103 during the same period in 2020. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) alleged some attacks against reporters. It reported that on April 11, an unidentified man attacked Rete-4 TV reporter Carmen La Gatta and two support staffers while they were conducting interviews in the northwestern city of Cuneo, using physical force including a metal chain to attack the reporting team and the vehicle in which they were traveling. According to the CPJ, on August 28, a mob in Rome protesting the country’s measures against COVID-19 surrounded Antonella Alba, a journalist working for public broadcaster Rai News 24. The mob harassed her verbally, assaulted and injured her physically, and tried to steal her cell phone.

The CPJ also reported that on August 30, at another rally in Rome against the anti-COVID-19 measures, a protester threatened to leave Francesco Giovannetti, a video journalist for La Repubblica, “lying on the ground” unless he turned off his camera. The protester then punched Giovannetti in the face four or five times. One report stated police intervened and apprehended the attacker and that Giovannetti was taken to the hospital and treated for head injuries.

Reporters without Borders reported that journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly chose to self-censor out of fear. In February and April, the editor of the Livorno-based daily Il Tirreno reported verbal attacks, threats, and a physical assault against journalists at the newspaper. The newspaper also received a tape recording threatening a violent attack against the newsroom.

On April 15, a Bari court convicted a member of an organized crime gang to 16 months in jail for violence and threats against Maria Grazia Mazzola, a journalist from the national broadcaster Rai.

The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 110 cases of threats made against journalists between January and June, 18 of which were made by organized crime gangs and 36 of which were made by extremist political organizations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

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

Through December 13, a total of 63,062 seaborne irregular migrants had entered the country, compared with 32,919 during the same period in 2020. The increase, together with the fear of possible COVID-19 transmission, affected the ability of authorities to provide housing and other services to migrants and asylum seekers. The Italian Red Cross was responsible for managing migrants during their period of COVID-19 quarantine.

Authorities regularly authorized disembarkation of migrants rescued by NGO ships despite an April 2020 decree by the minister for infrastructure and transportation stating that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italian ports could not guarantee that they meet the requirements to qualify as places of safety for migrants who were rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area. NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistencies in the application of standards in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to appropriate, adequate services. NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified within the system and classified instead as asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation.

Some territorial adjudication committees took more than one year to process asylum claims, due in part to preventive measures adopted in response to COVID-19. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to three years.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when, on February 7, it renewed with Libya the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to seize vessels carrying migrants in Libyan waters to take them back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” due to the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya including the lack of protection from abuses, the lack of durable solutions, and a heightened risk of trafficking facing migrants forced to remain in Libya.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to seize migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed the Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.

The IOM, UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation, including labor trafficking, of asylum seekers, especially in the agricultural and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On March 9, police arrested three persons and investigated another five accused of fraud and money laundering in Frosinone. They were suspected of holding migrants in overcrowded facilities in unhealthy conditions and inflating official reports of the center’s population in order to receive public funds.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 120 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from a deportation order or predeportation jail sentence. The ombudsman for detainees noted that only half of the migrants in expulsion centers were repatriated in 2020 and lamented the lack of independent monitoring of the centers and judicial remedies for abuses. The government worked to reduce the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and restricted their movement for up to 72 hours after they arrived at reception centers.

Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported that thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported that these persons had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. Many asylum seekers moved to other European countries; based on conversations at welcome centers in Catania, Sicily, most Tunisians sought to move to France or Germany, while in contrast, most Bangladeshis sought to remain in the country. The government offered refugees resettlement services, while both the government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020 approximately 3,000 stateless persons lived in the country. Most of them were children born in Italy to parents coming from the former Yugoslavia. The law gives Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to stateless individuals, both of whom must have obtained formal recognition of stateless status. Otherwise, Italian citizenship will not be conferred upon the child at birth, and the child will be born stateless. The law provides that individuals formally recognized as stateless may request to become naturalized citizens after five years of legal residence in the country.

According to the NGO Tavola Apolidia, many stateless individuals reported difficulty in obtaining their rights, due to the low level of knowledge in the country’s administrative bodies concerning statelessness. Individuals who are stateless but have not received stateless status do not receive fundamental rights such as the rights to work; to go to school; to own property; or to receive welfare, identity documents, and travel documents. They were also at risk of detention and expulsion.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Corruption was a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

On March 29, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption noted the absences of “clear and enforceable conflict of interest rules” for parliamentarians, “a robust set of restrictions concerning donations, gifts, hospitality, favors and other benefits for parliamentarians,” “practical measures … to support the implementation of clear parliamentary integrity rules including through the development of dedicated training activities,” and “a restriction on the simultaneous holding of the office of magistrate and that of a member of local government.”

Corruption: In January the trial of 325 members of the ‘Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate began in Calabria. The charges against defendants included murder, extortion, usury, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption, and belonging to a criminal syndicate. The prosecution aimed to expose the deep links between organized crime and other elements of society. The trial continued at year’s end.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination. The Interministerial Committee for Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high-profile domestic cases.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes convicted perpetrators of rape of either gender, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members) and provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women and assistance in shielding abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, while restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to survivors.

Between August 2020 and July, 62 women were killed by domestic partners or former partners. In the same period, authorities reported 11,832 cases of stalking. On June 22, for example, police arrested a man accused of having abused his wife for more than 30 years in Catanzaro. The woman had been repeatedly stabbed, beaten, and raped.

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between January and March, the hotline received 7,974 calls, a 39 percent increase from the same period in 2020. In 72 percent of those cases of violence, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 48 percent of the cases, children were present.

Sexual Harassment: By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

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

Independent observers and NGOs reported that government health authorities did not provide sufficient resources to adequately supply the public with reproductive health services and counseling.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. NGOs reported that in some cases government personnel were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to the requisite sources of assistance.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019, authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, including 234 incidents of incitement to violence, 147 acts of grave desecrations, and 93 acts of physical violence. On September 22, police in Foggia arrested three persons and put three additional persons under investigation for two episodes of violence against a Colombian minor and a Paraguayan who were also insulted for their nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

The European Roma Rights Center reported at least seven evictions of Roma from their unauthorized camps between January and July. On July 1, local authorities closed a Romani camp on the outskirts of Rome. Of the 105 persons living in the camp, 33 found alternative housing and 48 received financial assistance to rent apartments or were hosted in public facilities. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city.

The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2020, 11,500 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,000, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. More than half of persons living in authorized camps were minors. Their average life expectancy was approximately 10 years lower than that of the rest of the population. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, or when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

On March 10, police arrested 29 persons and investigated another 64 suspected of exploiting minors by forcing them to commit robberies and other crimes in Rome. The press reported that most of the victims, who were Romani and younger than age 14, did not attend school.

On September 1, authorities reported a case of a mother abusing an 11-year-old child living in a facility shared by some Romani families. The victim was prevented from attending school and forced to collect reusable items from dumpsters. In 2020 the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered a 41 percent increase in the number of reports of abused minors. In 2020 there were 13,527 reports of missing minors, approximately 70 percent of whom were foreigners. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor. Forced marriage for religious reasons is also penalized. On April 30, a Pakistani woman disappeared in Reggio Emilia after a meeting with her parents, who had attempted to force her to marry a cousin in Pakistan. Prior to her disappearance, she had contacted local social service centers and moved to a protected community. Her parents returned to Pakistan after her disappearance.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting child sexual exploitation, the sale of children, child sex trafficking (offering or procuring a child for commercial sex), and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 4,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 160 in 2019 to 105 in 2020.

On July 26, police arrested a janitor working at a primary school in Brescia on charges of engaging in sexual acts with children. The man also allegedly engaged in child sex trafficking by attempting to force some of the child victims into commercial sex.

There were reports of child pornography. In July authorities arrested four persons and investigated three others in Lombardy for producing videos and photos of exploited minors having sexual intercourse with adults and animals. In 2020 Postal Police reported 1,578 cases of online pedophilia, representing a 232 percent increase compared with 2019. Save the Children Italy reported that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, who were often forcibly trapped unprotected in overcrowded apartments without access to health care.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the age gap with the partner is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 5,101 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 8,382 unaccompanied minors, of whom 97 percent were boys. It also stated that 325 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation, including trafficking.

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 were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in imprisonment from six months to two years, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia were sold online.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including physical violence against Jews, vandalism of Jewish-owned business and synagogues, and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism, part of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, reported 123 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 17, including acts of violence. In March a food delivery rider in Rome stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming anti-Semitic insults. On May 23, three men wearing Palestinian and Algerian flags assaulted and spit on a Jewish man in Milan. The victim required hospitalization. In August a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are murderers!”

On April 29, an estimated 800 neo-Nazis marched in Milan, with groups of persons performing the Nazi salute. On June 7, antiterror police dismantled a far-right extremist group, the Roman Aryan Order, and arrested 12 persons. Police seized photographs of Hitler, swastikas, and a book listing Jewish surnames.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On February 19, a Holocaust survivor’s attempt to encourage older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in anti-Semitic comments on social media. On August 18, the center reported 41 cases of insults on the internet and five cases of graffiti against Jewish residents. Most incidents occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Rome, and Busto Arsizio.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law require authorities to guarantee access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation to persons with disabilities on an equal basis. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges, and government information was not always provided in accessible format. On March 10, the NGO Associazione Coscioni reported that a court ordered the Sperlonga municipality to remove physical barriers preventing persons with disabilities from visiting the historic center of the city. The press reported several cases of escalators and elevators out of order in public buildings and persons with disabilities being denied access to public transportation and other services.

On July 28, police arrested three persons accused of having raped a woman and committed violence against other residents in a nursing home in Serradifalco.

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

NGOs advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech. The website Gay.it received 70 reports of discrimination against gay men between January and July compared with 64 registered in 2020.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 24, a Milan court sentenced a former banker to 18 years in prison for killing a transgender escort from Brazil. When LGBTQI+ persons reported crimes, authorities consistently investigated them but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least one-half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The penalties were commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations that occurred.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Union representatives suffered casualties while raising awareness and advocating for labor interests. In June, during a demonstration, a truck driver ran over and killed a union leader who was protesting for better working conditions in the logistics sector. The truck dragged the labor leader for several yards as the driver drove away from the scene. Police arrested the driver for alleged vehicular homicide and failure to provide assistance to the union leader. Two other protesters were also reportedly hit by the truck driver and suffered minor injuries. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law.

The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes so-called caporalato, the recruitment of agricultural workers who are illegally employed at subminimum wages and required to work long hours without premium pay or access to labor or social protections. Penalties range from fines to the suspension of commercial and business licenses and in some cases imprisonment.

The government continued to focus on forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector. Government labor inspectors and labor organizations expressed concerns during the year that lockdown measures related to COVID-19 made migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Some migrant workers were designated “essential,” which put them at risk of exploitation, including employer blackmail. The government has a system to legalize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers manipulated and blackmailed migrant agricultural workers and care givers to obtain employer signatures on applications. More than 220,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. The government estimated there were 600,000 undocumented migrants in the country.

Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the South. The practice has reportedly spread to other sectors and regions. There were anecdotal media reports that a limited number of Chinese nationals were forced to work in the textile sector and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into beggary. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($17) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

In 2020 a new three-year plan (2020-22) revitalized the government’s efforts to fight labor exploitation and other illegal practices in the agricultural sector. In the same year, the European Commission and the Ministry of Labor funded projects to coordinate labor inspections with law enforcement agencies and the private sector. While the COVID pandemic made labor inspection activities challenging, nationwide in 2020 authorities identified 1,850 potential victims of caporalato and other labor law offenses, of whom 119 were undocumented migrants. Teams in several provinces in central and southern Italy inspected 758 sites, checked 4,767 positions, and identified 1,069 violations of labor rules and 205 potential victims. As a result of the inspections, 22 individuals were summoned for prosecution. The multiagency approach expanded to include an ad hoc group made up of local health officials, inspectors from other regions, and cultural mediators provided by the IOM.

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 employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors as well as all the worst forms of child labor, and there are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 are limited to working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The government generally effectively enforced laws related to child labor in the formal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the South and in family-run agricultural businesses.

There were some reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant and Romani communities. In 2020, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 127 underage laborers, of whom 51 were working in the services sector (hotels and restaurants). The remainder worked in the art, sports, and entertainment sector, wholesale and retail trade, and car and motorbike repair.

The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age of 21 and can support themselves. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to child labor exploitation and worked to prevent abuse by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained volunteer guardians at the juvenile court level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law were not yet fully implemented across the country, although significant progress has been made.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. However, there were media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Office against Racial Discrimination to intervene in discrimination cases and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights, but the number of inspections was insufficient to provide adequate implementation.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases, according to labor unions, victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, due to fear of reprisal. According to a 2021 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 14.1 percent lower than those of men performing the same job in the country in 2019.

In 2020 Ministry of Labor inspectors carried out 309 inspections to protect working mothers and pregnant women. The sectors with the most violations included hospitality, wholesale and retail trade, tourism, and health- and home-care assistance.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. These minimum wages were above the poverty income level.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. The penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector. Labor inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts of government institutions

Occupational safety and health inspections were conducted by the same inspectors as wage and hour violations under the same authorities. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties were commensurate with similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

In 2020 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 103,857 companies (including agricultural firms) and identified 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor law. Migrants in the agricultural sector faced unsafe work conditions, including working outdoors for prolonged periods of time while being exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and receiving wages below legal minimum wage requirements. In addition to farmworkers, unions and workers in the logistic sector expressed concerns regarding the grueling pace of work, work-related pain and injuries, and mental health issues as well as the lack of employment stability and security for temporary workers. In 2020 there were 1,270 workplace deaths due to accidents in the industrial sector as well as 554,340 reported incidents that resulted in injuries.

Informal Sector: Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, a national trade union, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Unions reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions in some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the informal sector of the economy was responsible for more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin.  The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive.  The 2018 presidential election and the September 19 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Investigative Committee, Office of the Prosecutor General, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement.  The Federal Security Service is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption.  The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime.  The National Guard assists the Federal Security Service’s Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities.  The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces.  Except in rare cases, security forces generally report to civilian authorities.  National-level civilian authorities maintained, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which are accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.  There were credible reports that members of the Russian security forces committed numerous human rights abuses.

The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively.  The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.  Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of:  extrajudicial killings and attempted extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement officers that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political and religious prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including violence against journalists and the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent and religious minorities; severe restrictions on internet freedom; severe suppression of the freedom of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence and violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer persons.

The government failed to take adequate steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish most officials who committed abuses and engaged in corruption, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings.  Impunity was a significant problem in investigating whether security force killings were justifiable (see section 1.e.).

Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny in August 2020 with a form of Novichok, a nerve agent that was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom.  In December 2020 investigations published by the independent outlets Bellingcat and The Insider identified eight FSB officers suspected to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning based on telephone records and travel data as well as an inadvertent confession by one of the FSB officials.  On June 11, Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation published the results of an investigation that alleged the doctors who treated Navalny at a hospital in Omsk falsified his original medical records to hide evidence of his poisoning.  At year’s end Russian Federation representatives continued to reject requests to open an investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning and repeated denials that he had been poisoned by a nerve agent.

In an investigation published on January 27, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel implicated several of the same FSB officials in the deaths of at least two other Russian activists between 2014 and 2019:  Timur Kuashev, a journalist critical of Russia’s invasion of Crimea who died in 2014, and Ruslan Magomedragimov, an activist for the Lezgin ethnic minority group who died in 2015.  According to reporting at the time, both died of apparent poisoning, although neither death was investigated by authorities as suspicious.  In another joint investigation, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel reported on February 12 that some of the same FSB officials had followed opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza immediately preceding his poisoning with an unknown substance in two assassination attempts in 2015 and 2017.  On June 10, Bellingcat and The Insider reported that the same FSB officers were also implicated in the 2019 poisoning and near death of writer, journalist, and Russian government critic Dmitriy Bykov.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets continued to publish reports indicating that, from December 2018 to January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.  In February the news outlet Novaya Gazeta published information corroborating previous reports that Chechen security officials extrajudicially executed 27 residents of the Republic of Chechnya in 2017.  As part of its investigation into the abuses, Novaya Gazeta interviewed former Chechen police sergeant Suleyman Gezmakhmayev, who testified that his police regiment, the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, carried out mass arrests and some of the extrajudicial killings of the 27 residents between December 2016 and January 2017.  Media reported that Chechen police officers subsequently sought to force Gezmakhmayev to recant his testimony by putting pressure on relatives who remained in Chechnya.  On March 15, presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told reporters that the government was aware of Novaya Gazeta’s investigations into the extrajudicial executions in Chechnya but did not have the prerogative to investigate.  Media outlets reported that the former head of the regiment, Aslan Iraskhanov, was appointed head of Chechnya’s police at the end of March.  According to human rights organizations, as of December authorities had failed to open investigations into the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTQI+ persons in Chechnya and continued to deny there were any LGBTQI+ persons in the republic.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide.  According to media reports, on February 27, a prisoner, Adygzhy Aymyr-ool, was found dead at the Irkutsk Penal Colony No. 25 (IK-25) prison with signs of torture on his body.  Relatives of Aymyr-ool told media that he had previously complained of beatings and poor detention conditions.  The Federal Penitentiary System Office of the Irkutsk Region told media it would investigate the cause of his death but denied reports detailing signs of a violent death.  On October 5, the human rights group Gulagu.net announced it had obtained more than 1,000 leaked videos showing Russian prison officials torturing and sexually abusing inmates or forcing inmates to subject other inmates to such abuse in the Saratov region and elsewhere.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries.  On February 19, Ukraine filed a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its role in the “political assassinations of opponents.”  Ukraine claimed that “operations to target the alleged opponents of the Russian state are carried out in Russia and on the territory of other states, including the member states of the Council of Europe, outside the situation of armed conflict.”  On December 15, a German court sentenced a Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, to life in prison for killing a former Chechen rebel commander of Georgian nationality, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019.  Prosecutors claimed that Krasikov traveled to Germany under an alias and belonged to a special unit of the FSB.  The presiding judge concluded that “the central government of the Russian Federation was the author of this crime.”

The country continued to engage in armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths, widespread displacement of persons, and other abuses to Russia-led forces.  Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s armed forces conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria.  According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).

Since 2017 the country provided the Central African Republic Army unarmed military advisors under the auspices of parameters established by the UN Security Council sanctions regime.  According to a report presented by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic to the UN Security Council Committee on May 20, the Russian advisors actively participated in, and often led, combat operations on the ground and participated in abuses against civilians, including cases of excessive use of force, harsh interrogation tactics, numerous killings of civilians, and looting of homes on a large scale (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the Central African Republic).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 19 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year.  Chechnya was the most affected region, with five law enforcement officers injured and six suspected armed insurgents killed.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification.  Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests.  While some public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located.  Many public demonstrations were restricted or banned due to COVID-19 measures.  Each region enforced its own restrictions.

Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets and required that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other.  By law police officers may stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer.  In December 2020 President Putin approved amendments to the law that placed further restrictions on single-person pickets as well as multiperson protests, rallies, or demonstrations.  The amended law imposes financial reporting requirements, prohibits protests or public demonstrations near agencies that perform “emergency operational services” (such as law enforcement agencies), and imposes further restrictions on journalists covering these events.  In addition, the law prohibits “foreign sources of funding” financing public demonstrations and treats single-person pickets, if held in the general vicinity of other picketers, as “mass demonstrations without a permit,” which are banned.  Authorities regularly detained single-person picketers.  For example, on February 9, Yekaterinburg police arrested Galina Gastrygina, a 79-year-old woman, for holding a placard stating, “Navalny is a hero of our time.”  A court subsequently fined her 1,000 rubles ($13.50) on February 19.  Her lawyer reported that guards pushed witnesses and journalists out of the courtroom during what was to have been a public hearing.  In another example, on May 25, St. Petersburg police detained civil activist Yevgeniya Smetankina for having held a single-person picket in support of the feminist activist Yuliya Tsvetkova (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

The law requires that “motor rallies” and “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission.  It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice.  The law prohibits “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.”  The law allows authorities to prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and to levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events.

Following an amendment to the criminal code signed by President Putin in December, the law imposes a fine for destroying infrastructure facilities and blocking roads and a 10-year prison sentence in the case of death of more than one person.  During demonstrations early in the year, authorities charged dozens of individuals countrywide under the new law penalizing the blocking of roads.  For example, on January 24, the Ministry of Interior opened a criminal case for “blocking roads and sidewalks” during a rally on Pushkin Square in central Moscow.  Under the pretext of its investigation, the Ministry of Interior raided the homes of 30 individuals suspected of involvement and seized their equipment and files, purportedly as evidence.

The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of public assembly law.  Protesters convicted of multiple violations within six months may be fined substantially or imprisoned for up to five years.  The law prohibits “involving a minor in participation in an unsanctioned gathering,” which is punishable by fines, 100 hours of community service, or arrest for up to 15 days.  On June 18, Novaya Gazeta reported that several cities filed lawsuits against the supposed organizers of the January and February demonstrations in their areas in a stated effort to recuperate costs incurred by the Ministry of Interior staff and local authorities who worked on the day of the demonstrations.  In the Kemerovo region, authorities sought 700,000 rubles ($9,500) in compensation from former employees of Navalny’s regional headquarters.

Arrests or detentions for organizing or taking part in unsanctioned protests were common.  Ahead of the January 23 demonstrations, which were unauthorized, authorities preemptively detained Navalny associates, including his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, and his Anticorruption Foundation’s lawyer, Lyubov Sobol, and investigator, Georgiy Alburov.  Ten Navalny associates, including Yarmysh, Sobol, and Navalny’s brother Oleg, were subsequently arrested on January 28 and charged with violating COVID-19-related public health rules in connection with the January 23 demonstration and placed under house arrest through June 23.  Independent media outlets characterized the arrests as an effort to prevent the political opposition from participating in the September Duma elections.  On June 7, a Moscow court extended movement and communications restrictions for Sobol and Oleg Navalny until November, and on July 21, the courts separately extended Yarmysh’s house arrest until January 2022.  Memorial considered the 10 activists of the “sanitary case” to be political prisoners.

According to an FSB internal report leaked to media, approximately 12,000 individuals, including 761 minors, were detained nationwide during the January 23 and 31 demonstrations on charges that included violations of COVID-19 preventive measures, violence against persons in authority, incitement of minors, and organization of an unauthorized protest.  Media outlets reported that of those detained, 1,200 were sentenced to administrative arrest and 2,490 were fined for their participation in the demonstrations.  The independent human rights media project OVD-Info reported that an additional 1,788 individuals were detained on April 21 during countrywide demonstrations after Navalny declared a hunger strike to seek medical care (see section 1.c.).

On February 11, the Ministry of Interior reported that it had opened 90 criminal cases for crimes committed during the demonstrations, with most cases to “illegal actions targeting police officers” or “repeated participation in an unauthorized protest.”  For example, on March 3, a court in the Volga region sentenced a man to 18 months of forced labor for attacking a police officer during the January 23 protest after the man pleaded guilty to the charge.  Based on information provided by the court reporter to OVD-Info, the man intervened in the detention of another protest participant, “causing the latter physical pain and bodily injury.”

Police often broke up protests that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force.  OVD-Info registered at least 140 reports of police brutality against demonstrators and monitored the initiation of 90 criminal cases against demonstrators.  For example, in one instance filmed on January 23, police officers kicked a woman in the stomach, causing her to collapse and require medical assistance.  On February 5, members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights released a statement urging officials to end the use of riot control weapons during the detention of peaceful demonstrators and to investigate “cases of excess of authority and hindrances to the activity of lawyers and journalists.”

There were reports that the government penalized employees for their participation in or support of unsanctioned assemblies.  For example, at least 40 employees of the Moscow metro were dismissed in May for their participation in or support of the January and February protests.  On May 14, Moscow City Duma deputy Mikhail Timonov reported that metro management ordered the dismal of employees whose names or whose relatives’ names appeared in a leaked database of Navalny supporters.

Media reported several instances in which authorities charged individuals for their alleged participation in or other support of the demonstrations even when the individual charged was already detained or the statute of limitations for that particular charge had expired.  For example, an employee of Navalny’s political organization, Aleksandr Kopyev, was charged on February 19 for his alleged participation in a January 31 pro-Navalny demonstration, even though he had already been detained for his earlier involvement in a demonstration on January 23.

The courts occasionally acknowledged violations of citizens’ rights to assemble.  For example, on March 3, the Smolninskiy District Court of St. Petersburg ordered the Ministry of Internal Affairs to pay compensation for moral damage to Sergey Dumtsev, who was detained for holding a single-person picket in 2019.  The court found that the police had no right to stop the picket or to detain the activist and keep him in the police office for more than three hours.  In another example, during the spring the Supreme Court of Tatarstan awarded compensation for moral damages to three activists from Naberezhnye Chelny after the executive committee refused their 2018 request to hold a rally against raising the retirement age.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect it.  Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice.  The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.

The government continued to use the “foreign agents” law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” to harass, stigmatize, and, in some cases, halt their operation, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years.  As of December 7, the Ministry of Justice’s registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 75 NGOs.  The Ministry of Justice maintained separate registries of 111 media outlets and journalists designated as foreign agents as well as 49 “undesirable organizations” (see sections 2.a., Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).  NGOs designated as “foreign agents” are banned by law from observing elections and face other restrictions on their activity.

For the purposes of implementing the “foreign agents” law, the government considered “political activities” to include:  organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions, or presentations; ‎participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempting to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.

To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months.  If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months.  The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.

The law requires that NGOs on the foreign agents list identify themselves as “foreign agents” in all their public materials.  Authorities fined NGOs for failing to disclose their “foreign agent” status on websites or printed materials.  For example, on April 13, the Kuybyshevskiy District Court of St. Petersburg fined the Center for the Development of Nonprofit Organizations and its director, Anna Orlova, for failure to label social media posts appropriately.

Organizations the government listed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press.  At the same time, the “foreign agent” label did not necessarily exclude organizations from receiving state-sponsored support.

The law requires the Ministry of Justice to maintain a list of “undesirable foreign organizations.”  The list expanded during the year to 49 organizations as of December 7.  The Ministry of Justice added three German NGOs involved in efforts to develop relations with Russia, three United Kingdom (UK) affiliates of opposition activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russian Foundation, a French NGO involved in educational exchange, a Czech NGO promoting freedom of information, a foreign college, two Church of Scientology organizations, the investigative outlet Proyekt, the International Partnership for Human Rights, four evangelical Christian groups, and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations.

By law a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if it is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.”  Authorities did not clarify what specific threats these “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country.  Any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities.  Any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found guilty of continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.  On June 29, President Putin signed into law a bill that prohibits Russian citizens in any country from taking part in the work of NGOs designated as undesirable in Russia and from transferring money to Russia from certain countries under monitoring by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, regardless of the transferred amount.  The law became effective on October 1.

Authorities imposed criminal penalties for purported violations of the law on “undesirable foreign organizations.”  On February 18, a court in Rostov-on-Don convicted political activist Anastasiya Shevchenko of violating the “undesirable organizations” law for her work with the UK-based NGO Open Russia.  The court sentenced her to four years of parole and ended her house arrest.  Shevchenko was the first person criminally charged under the “undesirable organizations” law.  Amnesty International considered her a prisoner of conscience.

On March 13, law enforcement authorities detained all 194 participants at a forum for municipal and city council members organized by the unregistered political movement United Democrats.  Authorities charged the detainees with administrative violations for allegedly “cooperating with an undesirable foreign organization,” even though United Democrats had not formally been recognized as such.  Attendees, including anti-Kremlin analyst and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, prominent municipal council members Ilya Yashin and Yuliya Galyamina, and former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeniy Roizman, had gathered at a hotel in greater Moscow to exchange ideas and undergo training to enhance city and municipal governance.  While those detained were released pending court hearings in subsequent months, the courts fined a number of the forum participants, including Galyamina, Roizman, and Yekaterinburg city deputy Konstantin Kiselyov.  The Council of Deputies of the Timiryazevskiy district of Moscow announced its decision March 25 to deprive Galyamina of her status as a municipal deputy due to her repeated participation in unauthorized rallies; a Moscow City Court had sentenced Galyamina to two years’ probation for this offense in December 2020.

Citing the pending changes to legislation regarding “undesirable” organizations, director of the Russia-based Open Russia, Andrey Pivovarov, announced on May 27 that the organization would close all branches and annul memberships to prevent the criminal prosecution of its supporters.  Even though the Open Russia organization was declared “undesirable” in 2017, the Russian political advocacy group with the same name had not been banned as of July.  Despite his announcement, on May 31, Russian security forces boarded a flight prior to its departure from St. Petersburg and arrested Pivovarov.  The Investigative Committee subsequently charged Pivovarov for participating in the activities of an “undesirable organization,” detaining him for two months in a pretrial detention facility in Krasnodar.  On June 1, authorities also searched the premises of, detained, and opened criminal cases against other prominent Open Russia members, including former director Aleksandr Solovyov.  A court in St. Petersburg fined Pivovarov for the production and distribution of materials of an organization acting as a foreign agent, without indicating its status on July 19.  The opposition politician told media that he believed authorities were persecuting him for political reasons.  On July 21, a court in Krasnodar extended Pivovarov’s pretrial detention through the end of October.  He faced up to six years in prison if convicted on the charge of belonging to an undesirable organization.  Memorial considered Pivovarov a political prisoner.

NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that purportedly “pose a threat to the country” or that received support from U.S. citizens or organizations are subject to suspension under the 2012 “Dima Yakovlev” law, which prohibits NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

In February, President Putin signed into law new regulations and restrictions regarding “foreign agents” and those who disseminate information about them.  The Ministry of Justice subsequently announced the creation of a new registry of “foreign agents,” consisting of unregistered NGOs or loosely defined “public associations” that purportedly receive funding from foreign sources and are engaged in political activity in Russia.  Under the new law, individuals and NGOs who meet the criteria of a “foreign agent” are obliged to register or face criminal liability, with penalties of a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), compulsory labor for up to 480 hours, or up to two years of correctional labor or prison.  Under the law the Ministry of Justice may also assign the “foreign agent” status directly to individuals or associations.  On August 18, the election-monitoring group Golos became the first association to be included in the list.  On March 1, when the penalties under the law entered into force, prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov announced the closure of the For Human Rights organization, an unregistered group of human rights activists established in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his rights monitoring and advocacy organization with the same name.  Ponomaryov, who was designated a “foreign agent” in December 2020 (see section 2.a.), filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 3, demanding his removal from the registry.

On March 3, the Ministry of Justice designated the independent trade union Alliance of Doctors as a “foreign agent,” citing its “repeated receipts of foreign funding, as well as the implementation of political activities.”  Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the leader of the trade union and an associate of Navalny, was one of the activists charged as part of the “sanitary case” for violating COVID-19 protocol in the organization of the January 23 protest (see section 2.b.).  Memorial considered her a political prisoner.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism to stifle freedom of association.  On June 4, President Putin signed a law that prohibits members of “extremist” organizations from participating in elections at all levels – municipal, regional, and federal.  An organization’s founders and leaders are barred from running for elected office for five years from the date of the organization’s ban, while members and others “involved in its work” are barred for three years.  In addition to direct membership, a person may be considered by the courts to be “involved” in the organization if that individual makes a statement of support for the group, including on social media, transfers money to it, or offers any other form of “assistance.”  The ban may also be applied retroactively, barring individuals from running for office if they were involved with the group up to three years prior to the extremist designation.  Experts and both “systemic opposition” (effectively progovernment) and independent politicians decried the law as politically motivated and unconstitutional, citing the law’s retroactive nature and ability to disenfranchise thousands of individuals as evident violations of the constitution.

On June 9, a Moscow city court designated Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation, his political operations, and the affiliated Citizens’ Rights Protection Fund as “extremist” in a move that experts said was designed to prohibit those affiliated with Navalny and the Anticorruption Foundation from running for office.  In April the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office had filed a lawsuit seeking the organizations’ designation as “extremist,” which led to an injunction to freeze the organizations’ bank accounts and the suspension of their activities.  Experts characterized this designation and legislative changes to the “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” legislation as targeted political repression against opposition groups ahead of the September elections (see section 3).

In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTQI+ community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Authorities misused antiterrorism and antiextremism laws, as well as other measures to label wrongfully peaceful religious groups and their practices “terrorist,” “extremist,” and “undesirable.”  Among those designated without any credible evidence of violent actions or intentions were two foreign-based Church of Scientology organizations, four Protestant groups from Latvia and Ukraine, a regional branch of Falun Gong and seven Falun Gong-associated NGOs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of the Muslim theologian Said Nursi, and Hizb ut-Tahrir.  These designations effectively banned their worship and activities, and members were subject to prolonged imprisonment, harsh detention conditions, house arrest and house raids, discrimination, harassment, and criminal investigation for participating in the activities of a “banned extremist organization” (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

There were reports civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that in most cases law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents.  For example, on July 1, an ecological activist in Tambov Oblast, Roman Gerasimov, was attacked and stabbed three times by assailants after he filmed a video for President Putin’s annual call-in press conference requesting that a planned new landfill not be built in his region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement:  Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a different location.  To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status.  Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel:  The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups.  The law stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country.  A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material.  The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts.

The government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit.  The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Federal Prison Service, Federal Drug Control Service, Federal Bailiff Service, General Administration for Migration Issues, and Ministry of Emergency Situations.  On July 7, media outlets reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree stating that prior to traveling abroad, his deputies and ministers must obtain his written permission.  The travel restriction would also apply to lower-ranking officials, such as heads of agencies, who must obtain permission from their supervisors before travel.

Citizenship:  There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis.  For example, in April 2020 the Internal Affairs Ministry stripped the citizenship of Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov, two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of “extremism” on the basis of their religious beliefs.  Makhammadiyev was left stateless as a result.  In January authorities deported Makhammadiyev to Uzbekistan.  Media outlets reported that authorities revoked the residency permits of several foreign nationals who had participated in the January and February protests in support of Aleksey Navalny and the people of Belarus, including individuals married to Russian citizens.

In another example, on October 26, authorities deported Tajikistan-born Bakhtiyor Usmonov, separating him from his wife and children.  Usmonov’s deportation followed his successful case in the ECHR against the Russian state, which annulled his citizenship and held him in a detention center for foreign citizens for two years.  The ECHR ordered the Russian government to restore Usmonov’s citizenship and to pay him compensation in the amount of 11,000 euros ($12,700).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated the country was home to 1,230 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 2020.  Of these, the center asserted that 130 IDPs were displaced due to weather-related events, such as floods, and 1,100 were displaced because of conflict and violence.

According to the government’s official statistics, the number of “forced” migrants, which under the government’s definition includes refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, decreased from 9,485 in 2019 to 5,323 in January 2020 and again in January 2021 to 2,512.  The government indicated that most forced migrants came from Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Reliable information on whether the government promoted the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs was not available.  According to the independent NGOs Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial, most IDPs in the country were displaced by the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992 and the Chechen wars in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.  The Ossetian-Ingush conflict displaced Ingush from the territory of North Ossetia-Alania, and the Chechen wars displaced Chechens.  The government provided minimal financial support for housing to persons registered as IDPs.  The Civic Assistance Committee criticized the government’s strict rules for qualifying for assistance and long backlog of persons waiting for housing support.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had a working relationship with the government on asylum, refugee, and stateless persons problems.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported, however, that the government failed to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.  On April 5, President Putin signed a law adopting the charter of the International Organization for Migration, which promotes the organized movement of migrants and refugees.

Access to Asylum:  The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.  NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($445) to General Administration for Migration Issues adjudicators to have their application reviewed.  Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter.  Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas.  NGOs also noted difficulty in applying for asylum due to long queues and lack of clear application procedures.  The General Administration for Migration Issues approved only a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum, with exception of applications from Ukrainians, who had a much higher chance of approval.

Human rights organizations noted the government’s issuance of refugee and temporary asylum status decreased over the previous few years, pointing to the government’s systematic and arbitrary refusal to grant asylum.  NGOs reported that authorities encouraged applicants to return to their countries of origin.

Authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians, but local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that the General Administration for Migration Issues had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians and, in some cases, encouraged applicants to return to Syria.

Refoulement:  The concept of nonrefoulement is not explicitly stated in the law.  The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  The responsible agency, the General Administration for Migration Issues, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers may request access to the agency.  Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials.  Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution.

According to Memorial, on March 23, Russian authorities rejected the asylum request of Rozgeldy Choliyev, a citizen of Turkmenistan facing prosecution for public criticism of his home country’s government.  Choliyev had arrived in Moscow from Istanbul and spent three weeks in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport waiting for a response to his request before being deported back to Turkey because all flights from Moscow to Ashgabat were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Memorial said that Choliyev faced extradition from Turkey to Turkmenistan, where he could be prosecuted for his public criticism of the government.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states.  This system, enforced by informal ties among senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants.  For example, on July 21, a Russian court ruled that Alyaksey Kudzin, world champion kickboxer and outspoken critic of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, could be extradited to face charges for assaulting a security officer during prodemocracy protests in Belarus in August 2020.  Despite an earlier ECHR opinion that banned his extradition over concerns that he may be politically persecuted and tortured, Kudzin was handed over to Belarusian authorities and sentenced on August 11 to two and one-half years in prison.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:  NGOs reported that police detained, fined, and threatened migrants and refugees with deportation.

In some cases temporary asylum holders who received refugee status from third countries were not granted exit visas or allowed to depart the country.

Employment:  Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration.  UNHCR reported that employers frequently were not familiar with laws permitting employment for refugees and asylum seekers without work permits and refused to hire them.  NGOs reported that refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were vulnerable to exploitation in the form of forced labor because of the lack of proper documents and insufficient Russian language skills.

Access to Basic Services:  By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, to receive medical care, and to attend school.  The government considered Ukrainian asylum seekers to be separate from asylum seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.  NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service, including access to medical care and food banks.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration or who did not speak Russian.  The Civic Assistance Committee reported that approximately one-third of the children of refugees were enrolled in schools.  When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem.

Temporary Protection:  The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.  As of January 1, a total of 19,817 persons, 92 percent of whom were citizens of Ukraine, held a certificate of temporary asylum in Russia.  A person who does not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who for humanitarian reasons could not be expelled or deported, may receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application.  There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the 2010 population census, the country was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons.  Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance.  UNHCR data showed 60,185 stateless persons, including forcibly displaced stateless persons, in the country at the end of 2020.  Law, policy, and procedures allow stateless persons and their children born in the country to gain nationality.  The Civic Assistance Committee noted that most stateless persons in the country were elderly, ill, or single former Soviet Union passport holders who missed the opportunity to claim Russian citizenship after the Soviet Union broke up.  The NGO reported various bureaucratic hurdles as obstacles to obtaining legal status in the country.  On February 24, President Putin signed a law authorizing temporary identity certificates for stateless persons that would be valid for 10 years or until the holder receives citizenship or a residence permit in another country.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government acknowledged difficulty in enforcing the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.  There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption:  Corruption was widespread throughout the executive branch, including within the security sector, as well as in the legislative and judicial branches at all levels.  Its manifestations included bribery of officials, misuse of budgetary resources, theft of government property, kickbacks in the procurement process, extortion, and improper use of official position to secure personal profits.  While there were prosecutions for bribery, a general lack of enforcement remained a problem.  Official corruption continued to be rampant in numerous areas, including education, military conscription, health care, commerce, housing, social welfare, law enforcement, and the judicial system.  According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, at the start of the year, corruption-related crimes increased by approximately 12 percent compared with the previous year, with the total amount of material damage caused by corruption crimes exceeding 63 billion rubles ($851 million) in 2020.  Bribery accounted for half of the detected corruption crimes.  The Prosecutor General’s Office reported that approximately one-third of bribery cases related to “petty bribery” of less than 10,000 rubles ($135) given by citizens to police officers, schoolteachers, and prison authorities.  Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, published in January, assessed corruption in the country as high.

There were reports of corruption by government officials at the highest level.  During the year Aleksey Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation and other investigative news outlets reported on previously undisclosed properties owned by President Putin, his family, and his close associates.  In a widely viewed video expose released on January 19, Navalny’s investigative team documented the excesses of a luxury estate on the Black Sea coast that they traced back to President Putin and his inner circle.  The investigation tracked corrupt proceeds from illicit deals and the president’s own alleged misuse of office to fund the property’s construction, which Navalny’s team estimated cost 74 billion rubles (one billion dollars) to construct and furnish.

Authorities selectively sentenced officials on corruption-related charges.  For example, on March 22, a court in Moscow sentenced the governor of the Penza region, Ivan Belozertsev, to two months in prison on allegations that he accepted 31 million rubles ($420,000) in bribes in 2020.  The Investigative Committee also opened investigations into Belozertsev for embezzlement of three billion rubles ($40.5 million) and falsification of election results in the 2020 election for governor.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operating in the country investigated and published their findings on human rights cases.  Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns.  Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and, in many instances, intensified, particularly of groups that focused on monitoring elections, engaging in environmental activism, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses.  Some officials, including Tatyana Moskalkova, the high commissioner for human rights, and her regional representatives regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).  In an investigation published in February, the investigative outlet Proyekt reported that the harassment of renowned historian of the gulag and human rights activist Yuriy Dmitriyev had been supervised by Anatoliy Seryshev, an assistant to President Putin and former head of the FSB in Karelia.  Proyekt noted that Dmitriyev began to receive threats after Memorial, the human rights organization he led, published a list in 2016 of individuals who had participated in the Stalinist repressions, which included Vasiliy Mikhailovich Seryshev, a suspected relative of Anatoliy Seryshev.  On February 16, a court rejected Dmitriyev’s appeal and ordered him to serve out his 13-year prison sentence on charges that many observers assessed to be in retaliation for his work to expose Stalin-era crimes.  Memorial considered Dmitriyev to be a political prisoner (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020).

Officials often displayed hostility toward the activities of human rights organizations and suggested their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security.  Authorities continued to apply several indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of government activities or listed as a foreign agent.  International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains or in the North Caucasus.  A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.  One NGO in this region reported that the organization’s employees sometimes had to resort to working in an individual capacity rather than as representatives of the organization.

In November authorities initiated legal proceedings to close two key branches of the country’s most prominent and widely cited human rights association, Memorial.  On November 8, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office filed suit in Moscow City Court to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Center on the grounds that the group had “hidden information about the performance of the function of a foreign agent.”  The center was also accused of “justifying extremism and terrorism” by maintaining its widely referenced list of political prisoners, which included individuals Memorial assessed had been labeled as extremists or terrorists for political reasons.

On November 11, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a parallel lawsuit seeking to liquidate International Memorial for alleged “systemic” violations of the country’s “foreign agent” NGO law.  On December 28, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of International Memorial, and the Moscow City Court concluded its proceedings and ordered the Memorial Human Rights Center to close the next day.  Russian and international human rights organizations widely decried the moves to close the branches of Memorial as politically motivated, incommensurate to the alleged offenses, and a grave blow to independent civil society in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies:  Authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya in 2018 and did not permit him to visit the country.  Three years after the release of the rapporteur’s report, the government had not provided the OSCE a substantive response to the report.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 168-member Civic Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation.  The president appoints some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently.  Experts noted that the head of the council and senior member of the ruling United Russia party, Valeriy Fadeyev, worked closely with government authorities and often echoed their assessment of well known human rights cases.  The high commissioner for human rights, Tatyana Moskalkova, was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy.  The country had regional ombudspersons in all regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s.  Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including a spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative.  The penalty for conviction of rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors.  According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases.  NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.  Authorities typically did not consider rape or attempted rape to be life threatening.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem.  There is no domestic violence provision in the law and no legal definition of domestic violence, making it difficult to know its actual prevalence in the country.  The law considers beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment.  The anti-domestic-violence NGO ANNA Center estimated that 60 to 70 percent of women who experienced some form of domestic violence did not seek help due to fear, public shame, lack of financial independence from their partners, or lack of confidence in law enforcement authorities.  Laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint.  The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims.  The law prohibits threats, assault, battery, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor’s Office.  The law does not provide for protection orders, which experts believed could help keep women safe from experiencing recurrent violence by their partners.

Open Media reported in January that the government “drastically cut” funding for domestic violence initiatives in the previous year, from 16.5 million rubles ($223,000) in 2019 to two million rubles ($27,000) in 2020.  During the year the government provided a grant to only one NGO of dozens of domestic violence crisis centers and legal aid organizations that sought government funding.  According to Open Media, the government instead funded projects aimed at preventing divorce or promoting “Orthodox Christian traditions to strengthen families.”

In December 2020 the Ministry of Justice added the prominent women’s rights NGO Nasiliu.net – Russian for No to Violence – to the registry of “foreign agents,” a move media attributed to the organization’s support of a draft bill to recriminalize domestic violence introduced to the State Duma in 2019.  Director Anna Rivina characterized the designation as a political reaction by the government and an effort to silence dissent and criticism of its stance on domestic violence, which experts said was influenced by conservative “traditional values.”

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders and general restrictions on movement trapped many women experiencing domestic violence in the same space as their abusers.  Many survivors noted they could not leave their homes due to fear of being punished for violating the stay-at-home order.

There were reports that women defending themselves from domestic violence were charged with crimes.  In March authorities recognized three sisters accused of murdering their abusive father in 2018 as victims after the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the father on charges of sexual assault, coercion into sexual acts, and torture.  Their lawyers expressed hope this “breakthrough” in the case would result in the dismissal of the sisters’ murder charges.

According to the ANNA Center, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles under the country’s criminal law were usually applied that employed the process of private prosecution.  The process of private prosecution requires the victim to gather all necessary evidence and bear all costs after the injured party or his or her guardian took the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge.  The NGO noted that this process severely disadvantages survivors.  Experts estimated that seven of 10 such cases were dropped due to reconciliation of the parties as a result of the abuser pressuring, manipulating, and intimidating the survivor who often had to continue living in the same house.

According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, saying that cases were “family matters,” frequently discouraged survivors from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers.

Most domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator.  NGOs estimated that only 3 percent of such cases eventually reached the courts.  Survivors of domestic violence in the North Caucasus experienced difficulty seeking protection from authorities.

NGOs noted government-operated institutions provided services to affected women such as social apartments, hospitals wards, and shelters.  Access to these services was often complicated, since they required proof of residency in that municipality, as well as proof of low-income status.  In many cases these documents were controlled by the abusers and not available to survivors.  A strict two-month stay limit in the shelters and limited business hours of these services further restricted survivors’ access to social services.  After COVID-19-related restrictions forced many shelters to close temporarily, NGOs rented out apartments and hotels to shelter the survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C.  NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages.  On October 23, media outlets reported that the first case of FGM/C to be prosecuted in a Russian court was likely to end without resolution due to procedural delays that extended proceedings beyond the two-year statute of limitations for the offense stipulated by law.  Criminal charges of “causing minor harm to health” were brought against a doctor in Ingushetiya who performed an FGM/C operation on a nine-year-old girl at her father’s request in 2019.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women persisted in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus, but the cases were rarely reported or acknowledged.  Local police, doctors, and lawyers often collaborated with the families involved to cover up the crimes.  In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including early and child marriage), legal discrimination, virginity testing before marriage, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.  Women in the North Caucasus often lost custody of their children after the father’s death or a divorce due to traditional law that prohibits women from living in a house without a man.

Sexual Harassment:  The law contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator.  There is no legal definition of harassment, however, and no comprehensive guidelines on how it should be addressed.  Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, but courts often rejected victims’ claims due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Reproductive Rights:  There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities during the year, although there had been such reports in previous years.

There were significant social and cultural barriers to family planning and reproductive health in the North Caucasus republics, including cases of FGM/C.

There are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, but very few citizens received any kind of sexual education, hampering their use.  Senior government officials and church and conservative groups in the country stridently advocated for increasing the birth rate, and their opposition to family planning initiatives contributed to a social stigma that also affected the use of contraceptives.

Access to family planning and skilled medical attendance at birth varied widely based on geography and was often extremely limited in rural areas.

According to various human rights groups, COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected accessibility for the full range of reproductive health services.

The government did not deny access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but survivors did not always seek needed treatment due to social stigma.  Emergency contraception was readily available as part of clinical management of rape in urban centers, but not necessarily in rural areas.

Discrimination:  The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions.  Women experienced discrimination in the workplace, in pay, and in access to credit.  At the start of the year, the government lifted Soviet-era gender-based employment restrictions, enabling women to do approximately 350 types of jobs that had previously been forbidden, such as truck driving.  The Ministry of Labor ruled 100 jobs to be especially physically taxing, including firefighting, mining, and steam boiler repair, which remained off-limits to women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a 2017 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia and the Caucasus.”  Activists reported that police officers often stopped individuals who looked foreign and asked them for their documents, claiming that they contained mistakes even when they were in order, and demanded bribes.

Hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities continued to be a problem.  According to a 2018 report by the human rights group Antidiscrimination Center Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources and basic utilities; demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low-quality schools); deprivation of parental rights; and other forms of structural discrimination.

During the year the government sought to repress expressions of ethnic identity, including calls for the preservation of minority languages and cultures.  In February the City Court of Naberezhnye Chelny fined the writer and public figure Fauziya Bayramova for incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia.  Bayramova was convicted after authorities reviewed the translated transcript of her speech at a scientific conference organized by the All-Tatar Public Center of Kazan in 2020 in which she had spoken of the need to preserve Tatar culture and identity.  In another example, in 2019 law enforcement authorities forcibly broke up a protest in Ingushetiya against government efforts to cede disputed territory to Chechnya and detained 51 individuals on charges related to use of violence against security forces.  According to Memorial, as of July, 38 individuals had been convicted in relation to the protest, including Magomed Khamkhoyev, who was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison in February.  On December 15, seven leaders of the Ingushetiya protest movement were found guilty of forming an extremist group and assaulting law enforcement, and they received prison sentences ranging from seven to nine years.  Memorial considered them to be political prisoners.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution and various statutes provide support for members of “small-numbered” indigenous groups of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands.  The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life.  A 2017 report by Antidiscrimination Center Memorial noted that the major challenges facing indigenous persons included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”

Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by security services as well as employment discrimination.  Such treatment was especially acute in areas where corporations wanted to exploit natural resources.  By law indigenous groups have exclusive rights to their indigenous lands, but the land itself and its natural resources belong to the state.  Companies are required to pay compensation to local inhabitants, but activists asserted that local authorities rarely enforced this provision.  Activists stated that interests of corporations and indigenous persons were in constant conflict.

Children

Birth Registration:  By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child may not claim the parents’ citizenship.  Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.

Education:  Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.

Child Abuse:  The country does not have a law on child abuse, but the law prohibits murder, battery, and rape.  The penalties for conviction of such crimes range from five to 15 years in prison and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in prison.  The law makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children as well.  Some State Duma deputies claimed that children needed discipline and authority in the family, condoning beating as a mode of discipline.

Studies indicated that violence against children was common.  According to a report published in 2019 by the National Institute for Child Protection, one in four parents admitted to having beaten their children at least once with a belt.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women.  Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances.  More than a dozen regions allow marriage from the age of 14 under special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the birth of a child.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The age of consent is 16.  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring of children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography.  Authorities generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law.  Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children younger than 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or three to 10 years in prison if children younger than 14 are involved.  Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.

Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography.

Institutionalized Children:  There were reports of neglect as well as physical and psychological abuse in state institutions for children.  NGOs reported that children with disabilities were especially vulnerable to low-quality care at institutions due to a lack of resources and inadequate reforms.  NGOs pointed to the closing of schools and strict stay-at-home orders during the height of COVID-19 measures as especially detrimental to at-risk children, including children in institutions.  NGOs noted that many had limited access to social services and teachers or counselors.

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

The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000.  The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimated the Jewish population at 172,500, while the Federation of Jewish Communities estimated there were 1.5 million persons of Jewish heritage.

In the most recent data available, the RJC reported a slight decline in the level of anti-Semitic violence in 2020, compared with previous years, and reported similar downward trends in anti-Semitism in the public sphere, with only a few notable anti-Semitic posts on social media sites that caused a negative reaction among the public and journalistic community.  The RJC reported, however, that limited political pressure on Jewish organizations continued in 2020.  There were no reported cases of anti-Semitic attacks against the Jewish community during 2020.  There was one instance in which law enforcement intervened to thwart an attempt to kill a Jewish leader that resulted in the arrest of the would-be killer.  There was only one reported instance of anti-Semitic expression on state television and a small number of anti-Semitic statements and publications by journalists and in social media posts by private citizens online.  By the end of 2020, the RJC reported 10 criminal sentences had been issued against individuals for statements that directly or indirectly related to anti-Semitism, with the most common sentence a fine for hate speech or “propaganda through the internet.”

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 provides protection for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services.  The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights.  Activists reported that courts declared tens of thousands of individuals “legally incompetent” due to intellectual disabilities, forcing them to go through guardians to exercise their legal rights, even when they could make decisions for themselves.  Courts rarely restored legal capacity to individuals with disabilities.  By law individuals with intellectual disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.

In many cases persons with intellectual or physical disabilities were confined to institutions where they were often subjected to abuse and neglect.  Roszdravnadzor, the Federal Service for Surveillance in Health Care, announced that it found abuses in 87 percent of institutions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities during a 2019 audit.

Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities.  While there were improvements, especially in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities did not effectively enforce the law in many areas of public transportation and in buildings.  Many individuals in wheelchairs reported they continued to have trouble accessing public transportation and had to rely on private cars.  Wheelchair-accessible street curbs were not widely available in many regions throughout the country.

Election law does not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and most of them were not.  Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.

The government began to implement inclusive education, but many children with disabilities continued not to study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs.  Many schools did not have the physical infrastructure or adequately trained staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities, leaving them no choice but to stay at home or attend segregated schools.  Even when children were allowed to attend a mainstream school, many staff and children lacked understanding to meet the educational needs of the child.  While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood.  Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.

There appeared to be no clear standardized formal legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities.  The classification of children with intellectual disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives.  The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by commissions that assess children with developmental delays at the age of three, signified that authorities considered the child uneducable.  These designations were almost always irrevocable.  The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.

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

During the year there were reports state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya (see section 1.b.).

There were reports that government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTQI+ activists.  For example, Meduza reported that Dagestani police forcibly returned Khalimat Taramova, a 22-year-old woman and victim of domestic violence, to Chechnya after she escaped to a women’s shelter in Makhachkala following threats by her family and local police due to her sexual orientation.  In a statement on June 12, Chechen minister Akhmed Dudayev praised law enforcement for having “foiled an attempted kidnapping” by “instigators.”  On the same day, the Russian LGBT Network said it would file a complaint with the ECHR about Taramova’s abduction and expressed concern that her sexual orientation placed her at risk of further abuse in Chechnya.

LGBTQI+ persons were targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents.  For example, in March an LGBTQI+ activist from Murmansk, Valentina Likhoshva, reported to police that she had received threats after receiving an international award recognizing her contributions to social justice and human rights in the Barents region.  Media outlets reported that police subsequently refused to investigate her claims, commenting that because the threats came by email, their validity could not be determined.

During the year authorities acted on a limited basis to investigate and punish those complicit in societal violence and abuses by the state.  For example, on January 12, a court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Pavel Zuyev to five years in prison on robbery charges after he beat and robbed two gay men in September 2020.  The court determined that Zuyev assaulted the men due to their sexual orientation and ordered him to compensate them financially for emotional damages.

In 2020 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that showed 12 percent of LGBTQI+ respondents in a survey had experienced physical violence, 4 percent had experienced sexual violence, and 56 percent had experienced psychological abuse during their lifetime.  The report noted that LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in their place of study or work, when receiving medical services, and when searching for housing.  The report also noted that transgender persons were uniquely vulnerable to discrimination and violence.  The Russian LGBT Network claimed that law enforcement authorities did not always protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and were sometimes the source of violence themselves.  As a result, LGBTQI+ individuals had extremely low levels of trust in courts and police.

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others derided LGBTQI+ persons as “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.

There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons.  In April a St. Petersburg court ordered a transgender man, Innokentiy Alimov, to undergo a gynecological examination to determine his gender, on the basis of which he was transferred to a women’s detention center.  Alimov was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison in a drug trafficking case and spent at least two months in a “punishment cell,” which prison authorities argued was a safer place than among the general population.

The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.

The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for LGBTQI+ rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal.  Examples of what the government considered LGBTQI+ propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.).  Authorities charged feminist and LGBTQI+ rights defender Yuliya Tsvetkova with the criminal offense of disseminating pornography online after she shared images depicting female bodies on her social media accounts.  Tsvetkova’s trial began on April 12 and continued as of December.

The law does not prohibit discrimination by state or nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, or access to government services such as health care.

LGBTQI+ persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.  In July a large health-food retail chain, VkusVill, ran and later apologized for an ad featuring a gay couple shopping in the store, which was part of a campaign featuring shoppers who visit the chain.  Media outlets reported that the initial reaction to the ad was generally positive.  As responses became increasingly critical, however, the chain was accused of promoting homosexuality.  Its leadership removed the ad and apologized for “hurting the feelings of a large number of buyers, employees, partners and suppliers.”

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons reportedly persisted.  Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTQI+ persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes, as well as the risk of violence.  LGBTQI+ students also reported discrimination at schools and universities.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTQI+ persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice.  The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTQI+ individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.  According to a poll conducted in July by the government-controlled Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 23 percent of respondents considered members of the LGBTQI+ community to be “sick people who need help,” an opinion mainly held by men and persons older than age 60.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests.  When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports LGBTQI+ persons also faced discrimination in parental rights.  The Russian LGBT Network reported LGBTQI+ parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children.  On February 15, the ECHR inquired with Russian authorities on behalf of a transgender man who lost guardianship of his two foster children when authorities in Yekaterinburg learned that he had begun to change his gender.  The man was granted asylum in Spain.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.  The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity.  The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers.  Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that includes lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy.  The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified.  Active-duty members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges, prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize.  The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.

The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively.  For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively.  The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union.  The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.

The law prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services.  It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers.  The law additionally prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers, as well as public servants in roles other than law enforcement.

Laws regulating workers’ strikes remained extremely restrictive, making it difficult to declare a strike but easy for authorities to rule a strike illegal and punish workers.  It was also very difficult for those without a labor contract to go on a legal strike.

Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike.  Solidarity strikes and strikes on matters related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law.  Employers may hire workers to replace strikers.  Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike:  a list of the differences of opinion between employer and workers that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike is intended to start, its duration, and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike.  In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.

The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor law and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers.  Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, Prosecutor’s Office, RosTrud, and Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law.  These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were common.  Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those under other similar laws related to civil rights.

Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them.  Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties.

In March the medical professional trade union Alliance of Doctors was put on a “foreign agent” list.  Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the head of the union, had previously treated Aleksey Navalny.  Vasilyeva was detained again in January and again in September.  In October, Vasilyeva was convicted of breaching COVID-19 safety protocols for joining protests demanding Navalny’s release, which resulted in one year of restrictions, including a curfew and travel limitations.

In April and May, an estimated 200 workers with the Moscow Metro subway system were fired for registering online to participate in a protest in support of Aleksey Navalny.  As of August, 42 of the workers had sued the company and at least two of the workers had been reinstated.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor but allows for it as a penal sentence, in some cases as prison labor contracted to private enterprises.

The government did not effectively enforce laws against forced labor, although prescribed penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.  Compulsory prison labor occurred, which in some cases was used as punishment for expressing political or ideological views.  Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the prison system being used in the construction sector in remote regions, due to insufficient numbers of Central Asian migrant workers.  Instances of labor trafficking were reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging (see section 7.c.).  Serious problems remained in protecting migrant laborers, particularly from North Korea, who generally earned 40 percent less than the average salary.  Migrant workers at times experienced exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, nonpayment for services rendered, physical abuse, unsafe working conditions, and extremely poor living conditions.

Under a state-to-state agreement, North Korean citizens worked for many years in the country in a variety of sectors, including the logging and construction industries in the Far East.  To comply with the 2017 UN Security Council resolution prohibiting the employment of North Koreans, Russia had largely eliminated from the workforce North Korean laborers working in the country legally and continued to affirm its commitment to do so.  Many North Korean laborers, however, continued to enter the country via fraudulent channels to work informally, for example by obtaining tourist or student visas.  Authorities failed to screen departing North Korean workers for human trafficking and indications of forced labor.

There were reports of forced labor in the production of bricks, raising livestock, and at sawmills, primarily in Dagestan.  While both men and women were exploited for forced labor in these industries in the Northern Caucasus region, victims were primarily male job seekers recruited in Moscow.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all worst forms of child labor, explicitly prohibiting work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, underground work, or jobs that might endanger a child’s health and moral development.  The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 in most cases and regulates the working conditions of children younger than 18.  The law permits children at age 14 to work under certain conditions and with the approval of a parent or guardian.  Such work must not threaten the child’s health or welfare.  RosTrud is responsible for inspecting enterprises and organizations to identify violations of labor and occupational health standards for minors.  The government effectively enforced the law, although penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were no available nationally representative data on the prevalence of child labor in the country, although children reportedly worked in the informal and retail sectors.  Some children, both Russian and foreign, were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, forced participation in the production of pornography, and forced begging (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, age, and refugee status, but does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, gender identity, or disability.  Although the country placed a general ban on discrimination, the government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other civil rights-related laws.

Discrimination based on gender in compensation, professional training, hiring, and dismissal was common, but very difficult to prove.  Employers often preferred to hire men to save on maternity and child-care costs and to avoid the perceived unreliability associated with women with small children.  The law prohibits employer discrimination in posting job vacancy information.  It also prohibits employers from requesting workers with specific gender, race, nationality, address registration, age, and other factors unrelated to personal skills and competencies.  Notwithstanding the law, vacancy announcements sometimes specified gender and age requirements or a desired physical appearance.

According to the Center for Social and Labor Rights, courts often ruled in favor of employees filing complaints, but the sums awarded were often seen as not worth the cost and time required to take legal action.

Women are restricted from employment in certain occupations in the chemical industry, metallurgy, oil production, coal mining, manufacturing of insulation, and some others owing to the harmful effects of certain compounds on women’s reproductive health.  In January an amended law went into effect that reduced the number of labor categories prohibited to woman from 456 to 98.  According to the Ministry of Labor, women on average earned 39 percent less than men in 2019.  The legal age requirements for women and men to access either their full or partial pension benefits are not equal.

Sexual harassment in the workplace continued.  The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and there are no criminal or civil remedies for sexual harassment experienced in the workplace.

The law requires applicants to undergo a mandatory pre-employment health screening for some jobs listed in the labor code or when enrolling at educational institutions.  The medical commission may restrict or prohibit access to jobs and secondary or higher education if it finds signs of physical or mental problems.  The law prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities, but they were often subjected to employment discrimination.  Companies with 35 to 100 employees have an employment quota of 1 to 3 percent for persons with disabilities, while those with more than 100 employees have a 2 to 4 percent quota.  An NGO noted that some companies kept persons with disabilities on the payroll to fulfill the quotas but did not actually provide employment for them.  Inadequate workplace access for persons with disabilities also limited work opportunities.

Many migrants regularly faced discrimination and hazardous or exploitative working conditions.  The COVID-19 pandemic more severely impacted migrant workers.  Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a problem, especially in the public sector and education.  Employers fired LGBTQI+ persons for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or public activism in support of LGBTQI+ rights.  Primary and secondary school teachers were often the targets of such pressure due to the law on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” targeted at minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Persons with HIV or AIDS were prohibited from working in areas of medical research and medicine that dealt with bodily fluids, including surgery and blood drives.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs does not hire persons with HIV or AIDS, although persons who contract HIV or AIDS while employed are protected from losing their job.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws:  The law provides for a minimum wage for all sectors, which was above the poverty income level.  Some local governments had minimum wage rates higher than the national rate.

Nonpayment of wages is a criminal offense and is punishable by fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment.  Federal law provides for administrative fines of employers who fail to pay salaries and sets progressive compensation scales for workers affected by wage arrears.  The government did not effectively enforce the law, and nonpayment or late payment of wages remained widespread.  According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Rosstat, as of November 1, wage arrears amounted to approximately 1.34 billion rubles ($18.1 million).

The law provides for standard workhours, overtime, and annual leave.  The standard workweek may not exceed 40 hours.  Employers may not request overtime work from pregnant women, workers younger than 18, and other categories of employees specified by federal law.  Standard annual paid leave is 28 calendar days.  Employees who perform work involving harmful or dangerous labor conditions and employees in the Far North regions receive additional annual paid leave.  Organizations have discretion to grant additional leave to employees.

The law stipulates that payment for overtime must be at least 150 percent for the first two hours and not less than 200 percent after that.  At an employee’s request, overtime may be compensated by additional holiday leave.  Overtime work may not exceed four hours in a two-day period or 120 hours in a year for each employee.

RosTrud is responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws and generally applied the law in the formal sector.  The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law in all sectors.  Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, although there were significant restrictions on inspectors’ authority to inspect workplaces.  Experts generally pointed to prevention of these offenses, rather than adequacy of available punishment, as the main challenge to protection of worker rights.  RosTrud noted state labor inspectors needed additional professional training and that the agency needed additional inspectors to enforce consistent compliance.  Although the labor inspectorate frequently referred cases for potential criminal prosecution, few of these cases were instituted by the Prosecutor’s Office.  In addition, courts routinely cancel decisions and penalties imposed by labor inspectors.

The government made efforts to effectively enforce minimum wage and hour laws, although resources and inspectors were limited.  Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health:  Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate within the main industries.  The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but it does not explicitly allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous workplaces without threat to their employment.  The law entitles foreigners working in the country to the same rights and protections as citizens.

RosTrud is also responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws.  The government made efforts to effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws, although resources and inspectors were limited.  Serious breaches of occupational safety and health provisions are criminal offenses, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

No national-level information was available on the number of workplace accidents or fatalities during the year.  According to Rosstat, in 2019 approximately 23,300 workers were injured in industrial accidents, including 1,060 deaths.

Informal Sector:  As of September an estimated 15 million persons were employed in the shadow economy, an 11.5 percent increase from the same period in 2020.  Employment in the informal sector was concentrated in the southern regions.  The largest share of laborers in the informal economy was concentrated in the trade, construction, and agricultural sectors, where workers were more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions.  Labor migrants worked in low-skilled jobs in construction but also in housing, utilities, agriculture, and retail trade sectors, often informally.  Labor law and protections apply to workers in the informal sector.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy, led by a president. The country held regular elections for seats in the unicameral National Assembly (parliament) in June 2020 and for the presidency in 2017. International observers stated the country efficiently organized the 2020 elections in difficult circumstances, but the dominance of the ruling party, the opposition parties’ lack of access to the media, and the lack of media diversity overall limited voters’ choice. A coalition led by President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party won an overwhelming majority with more than 60 percent of the vote. The Republic Electoral Commission ruled that elections had to be rerun in 234 of 8,253 municipalities – an unusually high number – due to calculation errors in the voting and other confirmed irregularities. In 2017 Vucic, as leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, was elected president, winning approximately 55 percent of the vote in the first round. International observers stated that the 2017 presidential election was mostly free but noted that campaigning ahead of these elections was tilted to benefit the ruling party.

The national police maintain internal security and are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists; numerous acts of serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes, including violence, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, both in the police force and elsewhere in the government, following public exposure of abuses. Nevertheless, many observers believed numerous cases of corruption, social and domestic violence, attacks on civil society, and other abuses went unreported and unpunished.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There was no specialized governmental body to examine killings at the hands of the security forces. The Security Information Agency and the Directorate for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions examined such cases through internal audits.

Throughout the year media outlets reported on the 1999 disappearance and presumed killing of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar-American brothers taken into custody in Serbia on the Kosovo border by Serb paramilitary groups and buried on the grounds of a police training center in Petrovo Selo, Serbia, a facility commanded by Goran Radosavljevic. According to the war crimes prosecutor, the Bytyqi case was in the investigative phase, and officials were gathering new facts to establish the perpetrators’ identity and raise the indictment for crimes against prisoners of war. Nevertheless, the government made no significant progress toward providing justice for the victims, and it was unclear to what extent authorities were actively investigating the case.

During a public ceremony on June 30, Ministry of Interior official Dejan Lukovic awarded a public service medal to Goran Radosavljevic, who was credibly implicated as having been involved in the killing of the Bytyqi brothers when he was a Ministry of Interior official. In December the Ministry of Defense decorated with a military service medal retired General Vinko Pandurevic, who was convicted in 2010 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for his involvement in crimes against humanity and war crimes, including killings, persecution, and forced displacement. Human rights organizations criticized this action as indicative of the country’s continued glorification of war criminals and historical revisionism regarding the conflicts of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. Criminal proceedings related to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina continued, with three hearings held during the year. The proceedings took place before the Higher Court in Belgrade against eight individuals, charged by the war crimes prosecutor, for war crimes against civilians in Srebrenica/Kravica in 1995.

Trial and appeals courts passed several sentences related to wartime atrocities in the 1990s. Hearings that occurred often resulted in further delays and limited tangible progress, according to independent observers. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international bodies criticized the slow pace of war crimes prosecutions in the country.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but threats and attacks on journalists, a lack of transparency of media ownership, and the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector undermined these freedoms.

The Nations in Transit 2021 report from the watchdog organization Freedom House labeled the country as a “transitional or hybrid regime” and assessed that “the state of fundamental freedoms and democratic institutions in Serbia continued to deteriorate, with no sign of improvement.”

The NGO Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym, RSF) in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index report stated, “Serbia is a country with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media” and that the government used the COVID pandemic to limit press freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution prohibits the expression of beliefs that provoke or incite religious, ethnic, or racial hatred. Those who provoke or incite this intolerance face various degrees of punishment, ranging from months to years in prison under the Criminal Code. Article 75 of the Law on Public Information and Media bans hate speech noting, “ideas, opinions, and information published in media must not incite discrimination, hatred or violence against individuals or groups based on their (non)belonging to a certain race, faith, nation, sex, due to their specific sexual preferences, or other personal quality, regardless of whether their publishing constituted criminal offence.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but were limited in their ability to express a wide variety of views by the oversaturation of the media market and government support of progovernment outlets. The media market was oversaturated with more than 2,500 registered outlets, many of which were not profitable.

Television was the most influential media format due to concentration of viewership and popularity. The largest distributors of paid media content were the United Group and Telekom Serbia, a majority state-owned firm. General regulations on the protection of competition were applied by government regulators, but they did not prevent the creation of a duopoly in media content distribution, with the United Group and Telekom Serbia fighting for audiences by limiting content availability on competing networks. Media dependence on government advertising revenue strongly benefited political incumbents, who observers noted could leverage this for their political gains, and made it difficult for opposition leaders, who lacked broad access to media outlets and finances, to reach potential voters.

Tabloids remained popular and powerful conduits of disinformation. Many of the targets of tabloid “hit pieces” were political leaders of opposition parties or civic activists and independent journalists. Such stories were often presented with false or misleading headlines on the front page. A detailed analysis published in April by the Belgrade-based fact-checking portal Raskrikavanje showed Belgrade’s five major tabloids published a total of 1,172 “fake, unfounded, and manipulative” news stories on their front pages in 2020. There were no effective sanctions for unprofessional journalism.

One new daily newspaper, Nova, owned by the United Group, began publishing during the year, despite being unable to find a printing press in the country willing to print its editions. Nova is printed in Croatia.

Violence and Harassment: The law prohibits threatening or otherwise putting pressure on public media and journalists or exerting any other kind of influence that might obstruct their work. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia reported 95 registered attacks on journalists during the year, of which one was a physical attack, one was an attack on journalists’ property, one was a threat to a journalist’s property, and the remaining were verbal or online threats or intimidation. In 2019, authorities detained Aleksandra Jankovic Aranitovic without bail for vulgar criticism of President Vucic on Twitter. In January 2020 the High Court of Belgrade gave her a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment. According to the court verdict, the judge determined the tweet constituted a threat. Authorities released Aranitovic on the day of the verdict since she had been held in detention during the six-month procedure. On March 16, the Appellate Court in Belgrade overruled the High Court’s conviction and issued a final judgment acquitting Aranitovic of the charges. Aranitovic was seeking damages for time spent in prison.

On February 23, the Second Basic Court in Belgrade sentenced former Grocka mayor Dragoljub Simonovic to four years and three months of prison for ordering an arson attack on journalist Milan Jovanovic’s house in 2018. The court also sentenced two of Simonovic’s associates to four years in prison. Simonovic appealed his conviction, and on December 24, the Court of Appeals in Belgrade overturned the verdict, and the case was expected to go to trial again.

On April 16, attackers pepper-sprayed radio host Dasko Milinovic while he was walking to work in the city of Novi Sad and knocked him to the ground and beat him with metal rods. Milinovic hosted a daily talk show, where he commented on local and national political issues. Police quickly arrested the perpetrators. The Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Novi Sad charged two individuals with violent behavior and one individual with incitement to violent behavior related to the attack.

In March, following a widespread smear campaign against the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) during which government-affiliated tabloid media accused KRIK journalists of cooperating with organized crime elements to endanger the country’s president, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, the Media Association, the Online Media Association, and the Association of Independent Local Media withdrew from the government’s Working Group on Security and Protection of Journalists. These associations accused the working group of ignoring serious attacks and endangering the safety of journalists and media in the country.

In 2019 four former members of the security apparatus were sentenced to 100 cumulative years of detention for their role in the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija. Curuvija, a vocal critic of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, was shot and killed outside his house in Belgrade. In September 2020 the verdict sentencing the four officers for his murder was overturned on appeal. According to the Belgrade Appeals Court, the trial court verdict convicting the men was quashed “due to significant violations of the provisions of the criminal procedure.” A new trial started in October 2020. On December 2, the Special Court in Belgrade again convicted and sentenced these individuals to 100 cumulative years in prison for their role in Curuvija’s murder.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on several issues. Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government due to a fear of government harassment or economic consequences, according to media association representatives.

In part due to the saturation of the media environment, outlets continued to rely heavily on public funding to stay afloat. Direct government funding to media outlets was distributed in an opaque manner that appeared aimed at supporting entities loyal to the ruling party rather than bolstering independent journalism.

Government representatives continued to receive far more media coverage than opposition politicians. The law mandates equal coverage during campaign periods, but the Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM) often considered campaign-style rallies by government officials to be official activities and therefore outside the scope of the law. Opposition leaders and civil society activists contended REM did not pursue its mandate effectively and continually sided with the ruling party, ensuring an unfair media environment. According to the NGO Bureau for Social Research media monitoring, most outlets were openly progovernment in their coverage, with President Vucic being presented positively in 85 percent of his appearances. In one five-month period, for example, Vucic received five hours of coverage on the main news program of Radio Television Serbia, while the nine largest opposition parties were given a total of nine minutes, according to analysts cited by independent daily Danas.

A member of REM resigned in December 2020 due to the way in which the new president of the council was elected, calling it a violation of democratic procedures in the council and emphasizing that analyses by both domestic experts and relevant international organizations indicated that REM was not performing its basic function.

Nongovernmental Impact: During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. NGOs and their employees received frequent threats that often mirrored or amplified rhetoric employed by public figures on social media. They were often targeted by distributed denial of service attacks against their websites.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights in some cases. The platform Three Freedoms for Preserving the Space for Civil Society in Serbia continued to register and report cases of alleged violations of freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected the right. The law obliges protesters to apply to police for a permit, providing the exact date, time, and estimated number of demonstrators. Police generally issued a permit if a protest was not likely to disturb the public or public transportation; otherwise, police consulted with city authorities before issuing a permit. Higher-level government authorities decided whether to issue permits for gatherings assessed as posing high-security risks.

The law on public assembly was updated in 2016; civil society organizations opposed the law because it establishes penalties and fines for organizers of unauthorized assemblies to a point where organizations considered it overly restrictive of the right to free assembly established in the constitution. The law gives the government broad authority to identify organizers and impose misdemeanor sanctions or fines against individuals or organizations. The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report noted that while the laws on freedom of assembly are generally in line with EU standards, no progress was made to align them with the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) or on the adoption of secondary legislation to fully implement the law on freedom of assembly.

On November 27, several thousand persons blocked roads and bridges in Belgrade and several other cities to draw attention to environmental issues. There were some reports of minor physical confrontations between police officers and protestors. These demonstrations continued December 4, as tens of thousands of persons blocked roads and bridges in Belgrade and approximately 50 other cities and towns throughout the country. The demonstrations were peaceful, and there were no reports of altercations between protesters and police. There were some reports that police visited potential protesters ahead of the December 4 demonstrations to discourage them from participating and warn that they could face criminal charges if they did. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia reported four incidents of police visiting journalists’ homes and verbally warning them not to report on or show up at the protests.

Freedom of Association

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

All companies continued to pay mandatory annual membership to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The law provides protection to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, but implementation fell short in some areas. According to data from the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM), 196,140 displaced persons from Kosovo resided in the country during the year. These displaced persons were predominantly Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, Egyptians, Ashkali, Gorani, and Bosniaks who left Kosovo, then an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, because of the 1998-99 war. Of these displaced persons, the SCRM considered more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance, because they met one or more of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) vulnerability criteria. The criteria included households that had income below the poverty line; persons living in undignified conditions; persons with mental or physical disabilities; single parents; and elderly persons, women, and children or adolescents at risk.

According to UNHCR research, the 20,000 displaced Roma were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country. They lived in informal settlements without access to basic infrastructure, electricity, water, and sanitation and were in constant fear of forced evictions. Internally displaced Roma had a 74 percent unemployment rate, and 98 percent of displaced Romani households were unable to satisfy basic nutritional needs or pay for utilities, health care, hygiene, education, and local transport. According to UNHCR, almost 90 percent of displaced Roma lived in substandard housing, and the vast majority had not been able to integrate into society or return home. The Romani communities were mostly in urban areas; some of the most vulnerable were in the informal settlements Cukaricka Suma in Belgrade, Veliki Rit in Novi Sad, and others in urban areas.

The situation of Romani communities worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s subsequent state of emergency. Vulnerable IDPs’ earnings, especially members of the Romani population, had almost completely disappeared due to limited freedom of movement during the state of emergency and the subsequent lack of work opportunities.

IDP children faced difficulty in accessing education when it switched to distance learning models such as television broadcasts and online platforms. This especially affected those who lived in informal settlements and collective centers and did not have access to internet or even electricity. According to UNICEF, less than 2 percent of IDP students had access to alternative modes of education, such as studying from printed materials. Of the 2 percent, approximately 25 percent were Roma, 20 percent were children with disabilities, and 13 percent were students from other vulnerable groups.

During the past 21 years, the SCRM, with financial support from the international community, implemented measures to provide adequate living conditions to displaced persons from Kosovo. According to the SCRM, as of 2020 the government provided displaced persons from Kosovo 5,759 housing units, generally defined as living spaces for one family. The SCRM did not have records on how many of the units were given to displaced Romani families.

While government officials continued to state publicly that displaced persons from Kosovo should return, senior government officials also claimed that it was unsafe for many to do so.

To assist refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as displaced persons from Kosovo, the government established a National Strategy on Refugees and Internally Displaced People, but it expired. The strategy was not comprehensive and failed to provide the technical and financial capacity to ensure durable solutions for displaced persons.

In 2020 the government provided 194 housing units (153 building material packages and 41 village houses) to displaced persons. There were no income-generation packages provided during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local NGOs and international organizations provided additional housing, economic assistance, and free legal assistance for civil registration, resolution of property claims, securing work rights, and obtaining personal documents.

The housing situation of many displaced persons remained a source of concern. As of 2020, the last year that data was available, many of the more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable displaced persons from Kosovo lived in substandard private accommodation. In 2020 the SCRM reported 68 displaced persons from Kosovo (all of whom were Roma) remained in the “Salvatore” collective center in Bujanovac, a minimally habitable facility originally constructed for only temporary accommodation. These individuals were particularly marginalized and, according to UNHCR, did not have access to social assistance or economic empowerment programs. According to the SCRM, an additional 600-800 displaced persons continued to live in 22 informal collective centers scattered throughout the country in 2020; these centers were not funded by the state. According to research by UNHCR’s local NGO partner, the A11 Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, living conditions of displaced persons in informal collective centers were extremely difficult due to the lack of or limited electricity, drinking water, and access to bathrooms, as well as health problems, lack of health care, and unemployment.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status or subsidiary protection, and the government has established a system for giving protection to refugees. The Asylum Office within the Ministry of Interior (Border Police Department) is responsible for refugee status determination but lacked sufficient capacity, resources, and trained staff to do so effectively. Additionally, the law does not provide for a court assessment of appeals, making the appeals procedure ineffective and cumbersome. A rejected asylum seeker can only file a lawsuit before the Administrative Court after an unsuccessful appeal before the Asylum Commission.

Through September a total of 1,326 persons expressed the intention to seek asylum, and 127 submitted asylum applications initiating the formal asylum procedure. UNHCR estimated that most unaccompanied children did not have adequate protection services due to the government’s lack of capacity, especially regarding accommodation. UNHCR noted improvements regarding the provision of guardianship services, but appropriate models of alternative childcare, including effective fostering arrangements, were not established. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy was responsible for overseeing three government institutions for unaccompanied migrant children with a total capacity of 45 beds and two NGO-run institutions with a combined capacity of 30 unaccompanied minor children. In August 2020, 163 unaccompanied children were accommodated in two SCRM asylum centers and 21 in social protection institutions and NGO-run shelters.

The government had the capacity to accommodate approximately 6,000 persons in the 19 state-run asylum and reception centers, where the population of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants was mixed, although only 13 centers were operational. The number of asylum seekers and migrants fluctuated through the year from as low as 4,700 in July to more than 7,100 in January.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under the asylum law, UNHCR reported the Asylum Office had only applied the “first country of asylum” or “safe third country” concepts to reject two asylum cases since 2018. All other cases had been judged based on the merits of the individual claim. For example, the Asylum Office granted international protection to a stateless Palestinian fleeing persecution from Hezbollah in Lebanon, although the individual had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Hungary, which rejected his case on appeal. Rather than also rejecting the case based on the “first country of asylum” or “safe third country” concept, the Asylum Office granted the individual refugee status.

Refoulement: Humanitarian organizations noted the government lacked the resources and expertise to consistently provide sufficient protection against refoulement. Various press and humanitarian reports indicated that authorities pushed back irregular migrants without screening them to determine whether they were seeking asylum and in at least one case even expelled them from an asylum center into a neighboring country. The situation at the Belgrade International Airport had not materially changed since the 2018 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture, who noted several problems regarding the assessment of needs for international protection and risk of refoulement. There was no systematic monitoring of the situation at the airport. Providers of free legal aid, however, were at times granted access to the transit zone for counselling of asylum seekers upon request.

The government’s Mixed Migration Group met in March to adopt the group’s annual contingency plan.

Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work nine months after an asylum application is submitted. Employment is also available once an applicant is recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees have the right to access health and education services, although barriers including language and cultural differences limited access. The country provided accommodation, food, and basic health assistance to all migrants and asylum seekers in need. These activities were mostly EU-funded. Children had access to government-funded education. Refugees and asylum seekers generally needed support from NGOs to access these services.

Durable Solutions: The government provided support for the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees from other countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration in Serbia rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services such as health care and education, and had access to simplified naturalization in the country. They did not have the right to vote unless their naturalization process was complete.

Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, Serbia participated in the Regional Housing Program (RHP) to provide housing for vulnerable refugee families who had decided to integrate into their countries of residence. In 2020, 1,089 housing units were provided in Serbia (236 building material packages, five prefabricated houses, 39 village houses, and 809 apartments). As of 2020 a total of 5,103 houses were built through the RHP since its inception.

For refugees who originated from countries outside the former Yugoslavia, refugee status did not provide a pathway to citizenship. The government did not issue travel documents to recognized refugees, although it is provided for under the law. The government provided integration assistance that included financial assistance for accommodation for a period of one year and obligatory Serbian language courses. Despite harmonization of bylaws providing for individualized integration plans, which UNHCR considered a good model, coordination between relevant line ministries remained insufficient.

Temporary Protection: The government made no decisions on temporary protection during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, an estimated 2,141 persons, primarily Roma, Egyptians, and Ashkali, were at risk of statelessness in the country; several hundred of these remained without birth registration. The country has laws and procedures that afford the opportunity for late birth registration and residence registration as well as the opportunity to gain nationality. Children whose parents lacked personal documents (identification cards) could not, however, be registered into birth registry books immediately after birth, creating new cases of persons at risk of statelessness.

Poverty, social marginalization, lack of information, cumbersome and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, difficulty in obtaining documents, lack of an officially recognized residence, and lack of birth registration limited the ability of those at risk of statelessness to gain nationality. The Romani population needed legal assistance in the civil registration procedure, obtaining documentation, and the procedures for acquisition of nationality needed to access basic socioeconomic benefits of citizenship and be fully included into society.

Under existing regulations, children of undocumented parents can be without birth registration for upwards of a year. Until they are registered, children remained legally invisible, at risk of statelessness, and deprived of access to numerous rights, such as health care and social protection. The Ministry for Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and UNHCR have a memorandum of understanding to resolve problematic birth registration cases through a case-by-case approach proposed by UNHCR and NGOs.

Persons at risk of statelessness do not have access to social protection rights such as cash assistance, child and parental allowances, or soup kitchen services. They also were excluded from COVID-19 response measures since they were not included in the social protection records and lacked identification cards.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively, and convictions for high-level official corruption were rare. According to an April public opinion survey by the CRTA, 65 percent of citizens believed there was significant corruption in the country, the majority believed the state was ineffective in fighting corruption, and 62 percent believed the government put pressure on individuals, media, or organizations that identified cases of corruption in which members of the government were reportedly involved. There was a widespread public perception that the law was not being implemented consistently and systematically and that some high-level officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government reported an increase in prosecution of low- to mid-level corruption cases, money laundering, and economic crimes cases. High-profile convictions of senior government figures for corruption, however, were rare, and corruption was prevalent in many areas and remained a problem of concern.

The Freedom House Nations in Transit 2021 report described the country as a “hybrid regime” rather than a democracy due to reported corruption among senior officials that had gone unaddressed in recent years. While the legal framework for fighting corruption was broadly in place, anticorruption entities typically lacked adequate personnel and authority and were not integrated with other judicial, legal, or other entities, which inhibited information and evidence sharing with the prosecution service. Freedom House’s 2020 report on the country noted the work of the Anticorruption Agency (ACA) was undermined in part by the ambiguous division of responsibilities among other entities tasked with combating corruption. Freedom House downgraded the country’s political pluralism and participation score in part based on the credible reports that the ACA did not thoroughly investigate dubious political campaign contributions, including the use of thousands of proxy donors to bypass legal limits on individual campaign donations and disguise the true source of funding. The GRECO 2020 Annual Report found that the country had not fully implemented anticorruption measures related to the recruitment and rules of conduct governing members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors.

EU experts noted continuing problems with the overuse of the vague “abuse of office” charge for alleged private-sector corruption cases. Despite the government’s publicly stated commitment to fight corruption, both the country’s Anticorruption Council and the NGO Transparency Serbia continued to point to a lack of governmental transparency.

Corruption: There were numerous reported cases of indictments or convictions for corruption during the year, although rule-of-law-focused NGOs noted that convictions in high-profile cases were exceedingly rare, which they claimed led to impunity for corrupt high-ranking public officials. Between March 2018 and July 2021, the Specialized Prosecutorial Anticorruption Department reported 2,061 convictions for corruption and financial crimes. From October 1, 2020, through September 30, the Anticorruption Departments reported 718 indictments and 526 convictions. The number of cases proceeding through the courts indicated the anticorruption prosecutorial departments made progress in working with other government agencies, investigating malfeasance, and indicting suspects.

The Anticorruption Department within the Ministry of Interior was created to investigate corruption and economic crimes. In the first eight months of the year, the department filed 49 criminal charges for suspicion of committing crimes of corruption.

During the year a high-profile investigation into an organized criminal group led by Veljko Belivuk led to numerous arrests and indictments on charges of homicide, extortion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Some NGOs and media outlets alleged the group had close connections to high-level figures in the government. There were no arrests or indictments against any public officials who were alleged to be connected to the group, and the government denied the accusations.

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

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without major government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Cooperation between civil society groups and government institutions remained limited despite the establishment of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue. Several international watchdog groups, such as Freedom House, continued to publish reports downgrading the country’s human rights and democracy ratings. This did not, however, prompt a significant response or action by government officials.

Civil society groups continued to be subject to criticism, harassment, investigation, and threats from some public officials as well as nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets and several suspected government-organized NGOs. The number of threats and attacks against organizations, activists and journalists increased during the year, with a few activists and journalists experiencing physical attacks and questioning by police. In most cases of physical attacks against activists, police responded, and charges were filed. Prominent NGOs and media associations called on the minister for human and minority rights to condemn attacks against them. Some of the verbal attacks and threats against activists, such as those made by members of parliament against the CRTA and KRIK, prompted a response by the international community, which resulted in President Vucic publicly condemning the attacks.

In March, Aleksandar Martinovic, a parliamentarian from the ruling Serbian Progressive party, claimed in a session of parliament that some NGOs in the country were criminal enterprises; he also accused them of not paying taxes. Martinovic alleged that these organizations worked on behalf of foreign governments and mentioned the name, residence location, and car type of a director of one prominent NGO, which the individual believed increased their personal risk.

There was constructive cooperation between NGOs and the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue on certain human rights issues during the year, although cooperation between civil society and the ministry was limited in other areas.

Tensions continued between civil society and the government’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering (APML) due to unresolved issues from a 2020 investigation of civil society organizations and individuals. The APML argued this action was part of a legitimate risk analysis into vulnerabilities in the nonprofit sector, but several civil society organizations and some media outlets claimed it was a politically motivated “probe” of civil society finances. In protest, many civil society groups stopped cooperation and participation in APML-organized activities, including the 2021 National Risk Assessment for money laundering and terrorism financing and an APML-led working group’s questionnaire for a risk analysis of the nonprofit sector. In response to the 2020 investigation, in April the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism called on all members, including Serbia, to ensure that all Financial Action Task Force recommendations were not intentionally or unintentionally used to suppress the legitimate activities of civil society, noting that the monitoring body will pay particular attention to such situations arising among its membership.

In May, on the day celebrating Serbia’s victory over fascism in World War II, several graffiti messages with threatening profascist content were sprayed on the walls of the premises of two civil society organizations. While the incident was reported to police, the perpetrators were not found. In October and again in November, unknown perpetrators sprayed graffiti on the headquarters of Women in Black in Belgrade. The group is an all-women, antiwar movement. The graffiti included the names of several convicted Serbian war criminals, including Ratko Mladic, and discriminatory language. Numerous civil society organizations expressed solidarity with the organization, which called for an investigation into the attack and a condemnation from the government. According to a report on the implementation of the 2019 Law on Free Legal Aid presented in February by the NGOs Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, A11, and Praxis, the introduction of the new law, which banned NGOs without a lawyer registered with the bar association from providing free legal aid, had negative effects. They claimed that more than two-thirds of local self-governments did not establish free legal aid services. Of the 45 self-government units that had such services, only 11 advertised the service through social welfare centers, which left traditional users of the service uninformed.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2020 the European Commission for Human Rights (ECHR) dealt with 1,421 human rights related cases concerning the country, of which 1,413 were declared inadmissible or were dismissed. The ECHR delivered five judgments (concerning eight applications), four of which found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the first half of the year, there were 1,827 human rights-related cases pending before an ECHR judicial formation. On June 8, the president of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) addressed the UN Security Council and expressed concern regarding the country’s failure to arrest and transfer to the IRMCT defendants Petar Jojic and Vjerica Radeta to face charges of contempt of court. The defendants were accused of witness tampering, bribery, and intimidation while serving on the defense team for convicted Serbian war criminal Vojislav Seselj. Serbia argued that its agreement on cooperation with the IRMCT’s predecessor court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, did not apply to nonwar crimes cases like contempt of court, and pointed to a ruling in Serbia’s courts on the Jojic and Radeta case that confirmed this interpretation. The IRMCT disputed this interpretation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Government bodies dedicated to the protection of human rights included the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, and the Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue. All were active during the year.

The Office of the Ombudsman was responsible for responding to citizen complaints, identifying problems within state institutions, and making recommendations on remedies. The ombudsman was contacted in 2020 by 18,165 citizens, an increase of 67 percent from the previous year. In 2020, 5,056 official complaints were filed, an increase of approximately 54 percent from the previous year. The greatest number of citizen complaints concerned the work of the executive branch, most notably the work of ministries on measures to counter COVID-19.

On November 3, parliament adopted a new Law on the Ombudsman that extended the term in office from five to eight years. The new law also tasked the ombudsman with managing a national independent mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to serve as the National Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

In November 2020 the commissioner for the protection of equality, Brankica Jankovic, was re-elected to office after a six-month gap following the expiration of her previous mandate that significantly impacted the functioning of her office. Despite this, in 2020 the office received more than 3,000 citizens’ referrals and acted in 1,188 cases, of which 674 were based on complaints involving the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. Most of the complaints alleged discrimination based on health status and age, followed by national affiliation or ethnic origin, gender, and disability. During the year Commissioner Jankovic was vocal in her public condemnation of threats against civic activists and promotion of violence in the country’s media.

The commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection was active in issuing opinions and advisories during the year. In 2020 the commission received 9,218 complaints.

The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue organized 16 events as of September to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between state and nonstate actors on issues related to human and democratic rights. The ministry also drafted a new Law on Gender Equality and amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, both of which were adopted in May. The Law on Gender Equality strengthened institutional mechanisms to ensure gender equality and specifies employers’ and public authorities’ obligations to implement related measures. The amendments to the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination expanded the list of those who can face discrimination.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media outlets reported that through late June, 11 women had been killed in family/partnership violence. From November 2018 to October, the Ministry of Justice registered 64,335 victims of violence. In 73 percent of cases (47,136 persons) the victims were women, and in 27 percent (17,199 persons) cases the victims were men.

The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. NGOs criticized the government’s lack of a single electronic database on gender-based violence and femicide despite a legal obligation to have them. Women’s groups and independent institutions reported that fear from reprisal and lack of trust in institutions were the main obstacles to women reporting instances of violence. NGOs called for authorities to take urgent action to provide accommodation for women who leave abusers and hence lose shelter. The NGOs Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC) and Joint Action Roof over One’s Head warned that women who could not provide alternative accommodation and quality of life for themselves and their children were at greater risk of becoming victims of violence and not reporting violence and its perpetrators. The AWC noted that less than one-third of women who received legal assistance from the organization reported having shared or exclusive ownership of the residence where they lived.

The ombudsman stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of violence against women with disabilities, older women, women in rural areas, and Romani women. In May, Ana Ilic was killed in front of her apartment in Valjevo. Her former partner, an unnamed former police officer, was suspected in her killing and had previously stalked Ilic. The man had previously been given a suspended sentence, banned from approaching and communicating with Ilic, and was removed from his police job. He committed suicide the day after Ilic’s killing.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women and men is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not considered serious harassment.

The former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic, who was sentenced in 2020 to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic in the country’s first prominent prosecution of a powerful individual for harassment, served his sentence and was released.

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

According to a 2018 UN report on sexual and reproductive rights in the country, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked equal and equitable access to information regarding reproductive health. There were no legal barriers to contraception. According to research conducted in 2017 by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by the age of 15 and 31 percent before the age of 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population with a maternal mortality rate 10 percent higher than average.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were subject to discrimination, both at home and in the labor force, regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to employment, labor, access to credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, inheritance, and access to housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women on average did more than twice as many hours of domestic work as men.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to the equality commissioner, Roma were subject to many types of discrimination; independent observers, and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. According to the report Roma in the Republic of Serbia: Challenges of Discrimination, funded by the EU’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program, Roma usually do not report discrimination except when it is accompanied with violence. Roma perceived discrimination “as a usual life situation” and refrained from reporting it to avoid subsequent confrontation and pressure from perpetrators.

Ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination and disproportionate unemployment. The addresses of numerous Albanians from three municipalities in southern Serbia were “passivized” (rescinded), resulting in the loss of personal documents and access to health, educational, and social services.

According to the Council of Europe’s Report on Use of Hate Speech in Media in Serbia, the use of hate speech was on the rise and many politicians and officials used offensive and inflammatory language. Roma, Albanians, and Croats were most often targeted by hate speech and discrimination. The report also noted that prosecutors often did not recognize hate speech, criminal charges were dismissed without grounds, and regulatory bodies rejected citizens’ complaints. Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin continued to publicly use a pejorative term for Albanians.

On November 30 during a live program, a guest commentator on TV Pink criticized an opposition leader because of her Romanian heritage and said she was an enemy of the state. The incident was widely condemned, including by President Vucic, who said individuals should not be insulted because of their nationality. On December 1, the National Regulatory Body for Electronic Media launched an investigation of TV Pink regarding this incident.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. There were 23 National Minority Councils representing the country’s ethnic minority groups. The councils had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. New council members were seated following the 2018 minority council elections and were to serve four-year terms.

The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against members of minority groups. The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue supported minority communities. Its department for antidiscrimination and national minorities prepared, monitored, and analyzed the implementation of regulations and strategic documents pertaining to the advancement and protection of minority rights and supported the work of National Minority Councils. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 45,683 school children in elementary and secondary schools (5.6 percent of all schoolchildren in the country) received education in their mother tongue. There were no textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary school students.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care, education, and social welfare. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 99.9 percent of children overall and 98.5 percent of Romani children were registered at birth.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through the age of 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age. Romani children were also disproportionately identified as having mental or intellectual disabilities and were often sent to segregated schools that limited their educational outcomes. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 92 percent of Romani children enrolled in elementary school and 64 percent completed it, while only 28 percent continued to secondary education, and only 61 percent of that group completed it. Access to and quality of education differed in urban and rural areas, often disadvantaging rural students.

By law ethnic minority populations have the right to be educated in their minority language, but this right was not always respected.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse with penalties for the offense ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect within family, schools, institutions for protection of children, digital space, and the wider community. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 45 percent of children younger than age 14 suffered abuse in their family; in Romani communities, 67 percent of children younger than 14 suffered abuse. According to the Justice Ministry, 1,715 children were registered from 2017 to 2020 as either victims or at risk of becoming victims of family violence. Children also suffered violence stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization of children and made them vulnerable to child abuse, discrimination, child marriage, and child labor.

Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. The country’s efforts to prevent child abuse largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court may allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities but were not legal marriages. The National Statistical Bureau reported that 16 percent of Romani women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married for the first time before age 16 and 56 percent before age 19.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law but abuses nonetheless occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.

Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of neglect and physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, and their placement in foster families, but the country had not adopted a comprehensive deinstitutionalization strategy.

According to the Disabilities Rights International Serbia branch (MDRI-S), 80 percent of institutionalized children were those with developmental disabilities, and 79 percent of children remained in institutions for more than 10 years, with death being the main cause of ‘leaving’ the institution. The MDRI-S report Serbias Forgotten Children, released in June and based on findings from 2019, alleged numerous ongoing violations of children’s rights and inhuman living conditions in social welfare institutions and the lack of government measures to sanction those responsible for the abuse, neglect, and inhuman treatment.

Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced additional problems, including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. In one institution, MDRI-S researchers reported finding approximately 100 children, mostly with cerebral palsy, lying in metal beds with bars and only able to leave when they were bathed and fed. The report also noted that some institutes used tube feeding despite the risks it posed if used for extended periods. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. Most children with mental disabilities remained excluded from the educational system due to structural obstacles and prevalent discrimination that prevented them from entering formal education.

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

According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. The World Jewish Congress estimated the number of Jews in the country to be between 1,400 and 2,800. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or used bookshops or posted online. Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature. In May posters with anti-Semitic content appeared in downtown Belgrade. The Federation of Jewish Communities filed charges with the public prosecutor and Ministry of Interior against the unknown perpetrator. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue condemned the incident and called on citizens to demonstrate zero tolerance for hate and anti-Semitism in the country. In June an anti-Semitic message was written on a basketball playground in the Novi Beograd municipality in Belgrade, but authorities have not found the perpetrator.

In February 2020 the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the occupation by Nazi Germany was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services on an equal basis with others. Laws requiring such access exist, but the government did not enforce them. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. In April the government adopted an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy to Improve the Status of Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2022. The plan focuses on promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities; equal rights and protection from discrimination, violence, and abuse; inclusion from the perspective of persons with disabilities in child adoption; and the implementation and monitoring of public policies. The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report noted continued government delays in adopting a strategy on deinstitutionalization and a law to protect persons with mental disabilities in social welfare institutions.

In May the equality commissioner stated that persons with disabilities filed the highest number of complaints and highlighted accessibility as the biggest issue in their daily lives. Information and communication in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities was also problem. A high number of persons with disabilities were poor or at risk of becoming poor, had difficulty getting a job, and lacked adequate education.

The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated. According to UNICEF, children with developmental disabilities were accommodated in institutions for long periods and often together with adults. Three of four children in institutions (73.9 percent) had developmental disabilities.

During the 2020-21 school year, there were 18,319 children with disabilities in elementary schools in the country. Of these, 15,184 attended regular schools and 3,135 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. There were 2,356 students with disabilities in secondary schools; 670 attended regular schools and 1,686 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. Some NGOs observed that schoolteachers were not trained to work with children with developmental disabilities and did not have professional assistance from trained individuals who could help them learn how to approach work with these children.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities.

The National Employment Agency funded several employment programs for persons with disabilities.

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

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, sex characteristics and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but was generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community were serious problems. According to available research, most LGBTQI+ persons experienced psychological problems, physical attacks, problems in family and school, in employment, public spaces, and institutions. They also reported suffering from depression, anxiety, and receiving death threats.

NGOs stated that members of the LGBTQI+ community were exposed to threats, violence, discrimination, marginalization, and rejection but also noted a positive change in public perception of LGBTQI+ persons. Research by the civil rights NGOs Geten and the Center for Rights of LGBT Persons, respectively, noted increased support for the protection of the community from discrimination and violence and the adoption of gender identity laws. On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the ombudsman stated that existing laws needed to be amended and new laws adopted to allow members of the LGBTQI + community to fully enjoy their rights, including legal regulation of adjusting sex and gender identity. On May 27, the antidiscrimination law was amended to include recognition of sex characteristics as a basis for the prohibition of discrimination.

In response to a recommendation from the commissioner for equality, the Health Ministry removed persons with a history of homosexual relations from the list of “banned” donors of reproductive cells and embryos. NGOs noted that despite this positive step, discrimination against gay and bisexual men continued as persons who self-declared as engaging in anal sex remained banned as donors. In 2018 the courts issued their first verdict under the country’s hate-crime provisions. Hate crimes are not stand-alone offenses but can be deemed an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. The case involved multiple episodes of domestic violence perpetrated against a gay man by his father in the family home. The perpetrator received a three-year suspended sentence. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light because the perpetrator would not serve prison time if he met the conditions of his suspended sentence.

The annual Belgrade Pride parade was held on September 18 without the incidents of violence that had marred previous parades. Right-wing organizations held a protest march in which individuals shouted slurs against the LGBTQI+ community and burned rainbow flags, but police prevented them from interfering with the Pride Parade. On three separate occasions during Belgrade’s September 14-20 Pride Week, the office of an organization whose members participated in Pride Week events was vandalized with spray-painted homophobic slurs and Nazi symbols.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, and employers must verify that union leaders are full-time employees. The government designated more than 50 percent of the workforce as “essential,” and these workers faced restrictions on the right to strike. Essential workers must provide 10 days advance notification of a strike as well as provide a “minimum level of work” during the strike. By law strikes may be staged only on the employer’s premises. The law prohibits discrimination based on trade union membership but does not provide any specific sanctions for antiunion harassment, nor does it expressly prohibit discrimination against trade union activities. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, and fired workers generally returned to work quickly.

The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, a federation of unions that operated independently but was generally supportive of government policies, had more members than independent labor unions in both the public and private sectors. Independent trade unions were able to organize and address management in state-owned companies on behalf of their members.

The labor law protects the right to bargain collectively, and this right was effectively enforced and practiced. The law requires collective bargaining agreements for any company with more than 10 employees. To negotiate with an employer, however, a union must represent at least 15 percent of company employees. The law provides collective bargaining agreements to employers who are not members of the employers’ association or do not engage in collective bargaining with unions. The law stipulates that employers subject to a collective agreement with employees must prove they employ at least 50 percent of the workers in a given sector to apply for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to employers outside the agreement.

The government generally enforced the labor law with respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Both public- and private-sector employees may freely exercise the right to strike