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Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

Antigua and Barbuda is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of government and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won a majority of seats in 2018 parliamentary elections that were deemed free and fair.

Security forces consist of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, the prison guard service, immigration officers, airport and port security personnel, the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force, and the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy. National security, including police and prison guards, falls under the supervision of the attorney general, who is also the minister of legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Immigration. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for money-laundering policy. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious acts of official corruption, and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct, although the laws were not enforced.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses. The government implemented the law criminalizing official corruption despite prolonged disruptions to the criminal justice system during the pandemic.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh due to inadequate sanitary conditions and overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: The country’s sole prison was built in 1735 to hold 150 prisoners but as of October held 246, of whom 11 were women. According to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representative, overcrowding created serious COVID-19 infection risks for prisoners and staff. The government did not provide information regarding numbers of COVID-19 infections in the prison.

There were no reports of prisoner mistreatment.

Administration: The superintendent of prisons reviews mistreatment reports and forwards them to a prison-visiting committee for further investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers, but no visits occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law permits police to arrest a person without a warrant, based on a suspicion of criminal activity. Police must bring detainees before a court within 48 hours of arrest or detention or file a motion requesting an extension. The law stipulates prisoners must be released if these time limits are not met. There is a functioning bail system, but a person charged with murder cannot obtain bail. The government pays for the cost of a lawyer in capital cases if a defendant is unable to afford one.

Pretrial Detention: The government stated there were 30 criminal cases awaiting trial. There were no in-person court proceedings between March 2020 and July 2021 because of the pandemic.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial by jury, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges, the right to a timely trial, and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to timely access to an attorney of their choice. The government provides legal assistance at public expense to persons without the means to retain a private attorney, but only in capital cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter if needed. They have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies through domestic courts for human rights violations. They may apply to the High Court for redress of alleged violations of their constitutional rights. They may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There were no privately owned print media. There were claims that the government was hostile to independent broadcast media outlets and did not provide them equal access to government officials. Observers claimed that the government and the prime minister in particular owned media outlets that were used exclusively to disseminate government information. Prime Minister Browne stated that although he was the founder of Pointe FM radio, he was no longer a shareholder; however, he did not reveal the ownership. Senior government officials routinely refused to grant interviews to media outlets that were critical of the ruling party and instead used government media exclusively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In August police teargassed individuals protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Police officials stated the protesters were breaking the law because they had not been issued the necessary permit and refused to disperse.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2018 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won 15 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and Gaston Browne was subsequently named prime minister. The Caribbean Community Observation Mission and a Commonwealth Observer Group monitored the election. In their initial report, monitors noted the electoral boundaries had seen only minor adjustments since 1984, leading to large disparities in voter populations in different electoral districts. The monitors stated that despite problems with the electoral process, the results “reflected the will of the people.”

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but full implementation of the law was hindered during the pandemic. Media reported several allegations of corruption against officials during the year. Media and private citizens reported government corruption was widespread and endorsed at the highest levels of government

Corruption: The government pursued corruption cases related to former high-ranking political officials. The Citizenship by Investment Program was a critical source of government revenue. Although the government publishes semiannual public reports on some of the program’s activities, its lack of full transparency led to concerns by civil society and opposition political leaders about oversight and corruption.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: An independent ombudsman appointed by Parliament handles public complaints against police, government officials, and government offices. The ombudsman takes complaints, conducts investigations, and then makes recommendations to the relevant authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes sentences ranging from 10 years’ to life imprisonment for conviction of the rape of women. The law also addresses rape of men and establishes sentences of five years’ to life imprisonment if convicted. Spousal rape is illegal under certain limited circumstances, such as after a legal separation, with a punishment of 15 years’ imprisonment if convicted. No spousal rape cases were filed in 2020. Authorities stated three rape cases were prosecuted in 2020, but the charges were withdrawn in all three. The officials stated that historically a significant percentage of rape cases were dismissed either for lack of evidence or because the victim declined to press charges. Government authorities declared that 12 sexual offenses cases in 2020 were discontinued. In nine of them, the complainants no longer wished to proceed with prosecution, in two there was insufficient evidence, and in the final one the accused died. The sexual offenses cases covered unlawful sexual intercourse, rape, and indecent assault.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a serious problem. The law prohibits domestic violence, but the law was not enforced. Anecdotal media reports suggested that police failed to fully carry out their obligations on domestic violence.

Authorities stated they had several domestic-violence programs, including training for law enforcement officers, health-care professionals, counselors, social workers, immigration officers, and army officers.

Sexual Harassment: The law covers indecent assault, incest, rape, and indecent exposure but does not prohibit sexual harassment. Authorities stated that during the year 10 men were prosecuted for unlawful sexual intercourse: seven were convicted, one was acquitted, and charges were dropped in two cases. The government also stated there were two prosecutions for indecent assault with two convictions and one case where charges were dropped.

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

There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Blue Economy.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Government officials declared that the law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. The labor code stipulates it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of his or her gender. The Ministry of Labour reported that it did not receive any complaints of employment discrimination during the year.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects all citizens from broad forms of discrimination and the law is enforced. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 91 percent of the population is Black, and approximately 87 percent of the Black population is of African descent. According to the government, systemic racial or ethnic discrimination is not a concern. There were no reports of systemic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth in the country, and the government registers all children at birth. Children born abroad to citizen parents may be registered by either parent.

Child Abuse: The law on child abuse includes provisions on child-care services and orders of care placing abused children into the care of government authorities. The law stipulates a significant fine or three years in prison for conviction of child abuse. In extreme cases the government removes children from their homes and puts them in foster care or into a government-run or private children’s home.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Minors ages 16-17 may marry with parental consent; however, marriage when either partner was younger than 18 was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child pornography is illegal and subject to large fines and up to 20 years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits any form of discrimination based on disability and stipulates a moderate fine or two years’ imprisonment for conviction of violations. Authorities stated the law requires that persons with disabilities must be able to access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with all other persons; however, some public areas, including government buildings, were not in compliance with these requirements.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

An NGO representative reported that fear, stigma, and discrimination impaired the willingness of some persons with HIV to obtain treatment. Anecdotal evidence suggested employers dismissed and discriminated against employees with HIV or AIDS.

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

There were no reports of public violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Sodomy is criminalized under indecency statutes, with a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment; however, the law was not enforced. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men or between women is criminalized with a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment. No law specifically prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of public-sector and private-sector workers to form and join independent unions. The law also provides for the right to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, but it imposes several restrictions on the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers illegally fired for union activity.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected for Antiguan workers as well as migrant laborers. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, nor were there any reports of violations of collective bargaining rights.

Workers who provide essential services (including water, electricity, hospital, fire, prison, air traffic control, meteorology, telecommunications, government printing office, and port authority) must give two weeks’ notice of intent to strike. If either party to a dispute requests court mediation, strikes are prohibited under penalty of imprisonment for any private-sector worker and some government workers. The Industrial Relations Court may issue an injunction against a legal strike when the national interest is threatened or affected. The law prohibits retaliation against strikers.

Penalties for violating labor laws range from a minor fine to two months in prison and were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced the right of association and collective bargaining. Administrative and judicial procedures, however, were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government reported that it did not receive any forced labor complaints during the year; however, it opened an investigation into the case of a Chinese national charged with arson as a possible forced labor case.

Media reported that Chinese national Tian Zhao Feng was arrested in June and charged with arson in the burning down of a local supermarket. Although initial media reports said that Feng’s passport was being held at the Chinese embassy, the Ministry of Labour denied this and stated Feng’s passport was in his employer’s possession. The government stated Feng had a valid work permit and was authorized to work in the country. Ministry of Labour officials stated an investigation was underway. Feng was denied bail and as of September was being held in police custody.

The Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy investigates cases of trafficking in persons, including forced labor allegations. The law prescribes penalties of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and significant fines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Laws collectively prohibit the worst forms of child labor, but specific details are not in any single statute. The government enforced child labor laws effectively, and there were no reports of child labor law violations.

The law stipulates a minimum working age of 16, although work prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. In some circumstances children younger than 16 are eligible for employment with restrictions, such as not working during school hours and working a maximum number of hours. Persons younger than 18 may not work past 10 p.m., except in certain sectors, and in some cases must have a medical clearance to obtain employment. No list of types of hazardous work exists for the protection of those younger than 18.

The law requires the Ministry of Labour to conduct periodic inspections of workplaces. There were no reports of illegal child labor; however, there were no child labor inspections. The government said that inspections were reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law allows for a small financial penalty or three months in prison for violations; these were adequate to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, skin color, sex, age, national origin, citizenship, political beliefs, and disability. Penalties include a fine and up to 12 months in prison. The Ministry of Labour did not receive any discrimination complaints during the year.

The law does not prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status, but the government encouraged employers not to discriminate on these grounds.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government does not have an established poverty income level. Most workers earned substantially more than the minimum wage.

The law provides that workers are not required to work more than a 48-hour, six-day workweek. The law requires that employees be paid for overtime work at one and one-half times the employees’ basic hourly wage after exceeding 40 hours in the workweek. The Ministry of Labour put few limitations on overtime, allowing it in temporary or occasional cases, but did not allow employers to make regular overtime compulsory. Penalties for illegal overtime did not always effectively deter labor violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions, but some are out of date. The Ministry of Labour reported that workers were allowed to remove themselves from unsafe situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. The ministry has the authority to require special safety measures not otherwise defined in the law for worker safety. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not always commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as negligence.

Informal Sector: The government estimated that 15 percent of the workforce was in the informal sector and that the informal sector contributed 25-30 percent of economic output. Informal-sector employment is unregulated and unreported. Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and the Industrial Court are responsible for enforcement of labor laws in the formal and informal sectors. The government reported there were eight labor inspectors, which was insufficient to enforce full compliance per International Labor Organization benchmarks. No safety violations were reported. The government reported that it reduced the number of inspections and investigations to ensure the safety of the inspectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bahamas

Executive Summary

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis’s Progressive Liberal Party won control of the government on September 16. International observers found the electoral process to be free and fair.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force maintains internal security. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is primarily responsible for external security but also provides security at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre (for migrants) and performs some domestic security functions, such as guarding embassies. Both report to the minister of national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of significant abuses by the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of degrading treatment of prisoners by prison officers and the existence of a criminal libel law, although it was not enforced during the year.

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At times citizens and visitors alleged instances of cruel or degrading treatment of criminal suspects or of migrants by police or immigration officials.

In April a correctional officer reported that two prison officers beat a male prisoner, resulting in hospitalization. There were four recorded cases of physical abuse by correctional officers. Two officers in these cases had disciplinary charges levied against them. The evidence in the remaining two cases was deemed insufficient to go to trial, according to the government.

Law enforcement investigated four alleged cases of rape at the government’s only safe house for victims of domestic violence, which was also used to hold migrant detainees who are women and children. Two investigations resulted in the discharge of the immigration officers involved. Prosecutors dropped a third case because the alleged victim declined to press charges. Prosecutors dropped a fourth case when the accuser died from COVID-19.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at the government’s only prison, the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) facility commonly known as Fox Hill Prison, were harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, inadequate sanitation, and inadequate medical care. Conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre for migrants were adequate for short-term detention only.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate access to medical care were problems in the BDCS men’s maximum-security block. The facility was designed to accommodate 1,000 prisoners but was chronically overcrowded. Juvenile pretrial detainees were held with adults at the BDCS remand center, a minimum-security section of the prison. At the end of November, eight juveniles were incarcerated.

Due to COVID-19, authorities suspended the ability of family members to bring meals to prisoners. Authorities also limited food sales by independent vendors. Prisoners reported infrequent access to nutritious meals and long delays between daily meals. Maximum-security cells for men measured approximately six feet by 10 feet and held up to six persons with no mattresses or toilet facilities. Inmates removed human waste by bucket. Prisoners complained of the lack of beds and bedding. Some inmates developed bedsores from lying on bare ground. Sanitation was a general problem, and cells were infested with rats, maggots, and insects. The government claimed to provide access to toilets and showers one hour a day to prisoners in maximum-security areas. The women’s facilities were generally more comfortable, with dormitory-style quarters and adequate bathrooms.

Individuals detained in jails complained they were denied access to medical care and food. The availability of and access to medical and psychological care were sporadic. Prisoners consistently complained that prison authorities did not take their health concerns seriously. Sick male inmates and male inmates with disabilities had inadequate access to the medical center. Correctional officers and civil society accused prison management of contributing to COVID-19 outbreaks by failing to quarantine COVID-19-positive prisoners from the general population and failing to provide prisoners with timely access to the vaccine.

While the law prohibits persons serving a prison sentence from voting, persons who are detained but not convicted are permitted to vote. Individuals in the main prison who were detained but not convicted, however, were denied the ability to vote in the September election.

Administration: The Internal Affairs Unit and a disciplinary tribunal at the BDCS facility were responsible for investigating any credible allegations of abuse or substandard conditions. The prison commissioner was placed on leave beginning October 1 pending an investigation into several allegations including poor management of the Department of Corrections, the unapproved release of a prisoner, and gross negligence concerning the transmission of COVID-19 between prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The BDCS facility stated it was not granting access to visitors, including human rights organizations, due to COVID-19 protocols. Independent observers, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were restricted to virtual meetings with detainees who were held at the migrant detention center and the government’s safe house.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. The constitution provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, although this process sometimes took several years.

In August the Court of Appeals increased the amount of compensation due to a Kenyan national found by the Supreme Court in 2020 to have been unlawfully detained at the migrant detention center for six years and four months. The individual was to receive $750,000 instead of the $641,000 originally awarded to him in December 2020.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The government respected the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Police generally obtained judicially issued warrants when required for arrests. Serious cases, including suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. The law states authorities must charge a suspect within 48 hours of arrest. Arrested persons must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours (or by the next business day for cases arising on weekends and holidays) to hear the charges against them, although some persons on remand claimed they were not brought before a magistrate within the 48-hour period. Police may apply for a 48-hour extension upon simple request to the court and for longer extensions by showing sufficient need.

The constitution provides the right for those arrested or detained to retain an attorney at their own expense; the Public Defender’s Office and local law professors and alumni provide free legal representation to defendants on a limited basis. Access to legal representation was inconsistent, including for detainees at the detention center. Minors receive legal assistance only when charged with offenses heard by the Supreme Court; otherwise, there is no official legal representation of minors before the courts.

A functioning bail system exists. Individuals unable to post bail were held on remand until they faced trial. Judges sometimes authorized cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges; however, foreign suspects generally preferred to plead guilty and pay a fine.

Pretrial Detention: Attorneys and other prisoner advocates complained of excessive pretrial detention due to the failure of the criminal justice system to try even the most serious cases in a timely manner. The constitution provides that authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for a “reasonable period of time,” which was interpreted as two years. Authorities released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the condition that the persons adhere to strict guidelines defining their movements within the country.

The Department of Immigration detained irregular migrants, primarily Haitians, until they were repatriated or obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, by the willingness of other governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and by the availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities aimed to repatriate Haitians within one to two weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic initially impeded repatriation flights, but repatriation flights to Haiti resumed on October 3.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with criminal cases, and there was a continued backlog, estimated by the chief justice at 12 to 18 months.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and free public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Although defendants generally have the right to confront adverse witnesses, in some cases the law allows witnesses to testify anonymously against accused perpetrators to protect the witnesses from intimidation or retribution. Defendants have the right to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal.

Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided free legal representation, but only on a limited basis, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some suspects lacked the means to advance their cases toward trial.

Numerous juvenile offenders appeared in court with a child-welfare social worker who was court-appointed to protect the juvenile’s interests (guardian ad litem). Conflicts arose when the magistrate requested the social worker to prepare a probation report and include a recommendation on the sentence for the child. In essence the social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child was also tasked with recommending an appropriate punishment for the child, a conflict of interest.

A significant backlog of cases was awaiting trial, with delays reportedly lasting years. The government suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering its efforts to address the backlog. Once cases went to trial, they were often further delayed due to poor case and court management, inaccurate handling or presentation of evidence, and inaccurate scheduling of witnesses, jury members, and defendants for testimony. The judiciary took concrete steps toward procuring and implementing a digital case-management system, in addition to hiring five new justices to help alleviate the backlog.

Local legal professionals attributed delays to a variety of long-standing systemic problems, such as inadequate coordination between investigators and prosecutors, insufficient forensic capacity, outdated file management, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There was an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there was access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or relief from, human rights violations.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

While the law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, a police inspector or senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause exists to suspect a weapons violation or drug possession.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

New press guidelines released by the Prime Minister’s Office in October drew criticism from local journalists, who called them “unnecessary” and “inappropriate.” According to the guidelines, journalists “should” wear business attire and use specific titles when addressing ministers. The guidelines limited simultaneous accreditation to two journalists and two videographers per media house and required that journalists who requested “specific responses to issues” communicate with the press secretary by 6 p.m. the night before the briefing. The government stated the guidelines were intended to ensure timely responses to journalists’ questions, expand access to new voices in journalism, and facilitate the observance of COVID-19 health protocols.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years’ imprisonment for the latter. The government did not apply the criminal libel law during the year.

Internet Freedom

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

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 freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution 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

In April the government demolished 10 residential structures housing internally displaced citizens and migrants on the hurricane-ravaged island of Abaco. Before the government continued with its plan to remove more than 200 total structures, the Supreme Court issued an injunction, which remained under appeal. Officials made little to no effort to shelter the displaced residents. In one instance media reported that police confiscated personal property, including generators and small refrigerators. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) requested that the items be returned where proof of ownership existed, but the government did not respond.

In response to the demolition orders, the special UN rapporteur for human rights of internally displaced persons urged the government to “immediately cease further evictions and housing demolitions,” calling them “a serious violation of the human right to adequate housing.”

f. Protection of Refugees

The government sometimes cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: While the law does not provide protection for asylum seekers, the government may issue special refugee cards allowing them to work. It did not issue any such cards to the approximately 50 asylum seekers during the year. Access to asylum in the country was informal, since there is no legal framework under which legal protections and practical safeguards can be implemented. The lack of refugee legislation, formal policy, and a point of contact in the government complicated UNHCR’s work to identify and assist asylum seekers and refugees.

Government procedure required the Department of Immigration to forward approved applications to the cabinet for a final decision on granting or denying asylum. The government met with UNHCR to discuss pending asylum cases, including asylum seekers who were detained at Carmichael Road Detention Centre for more than one year.

Authorities did not systematically involve UNHCR in asylum proceedings but allowed UNHCR to interview detained asylum seekers.

Refoulement: The government had an agreement with the government of Cuba to expedite removal of Cuban detainees. The announced intent of the agreement was to reduce the amount of time Cuban migrants spent in detention; however, concerns persisted that the agreement heightened the risk of oppression of detainees and their families by the Cuban government.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government provided COVID-19 medical assistance to all, regardless of immigration status. For months, however, the government required individuals to present Bahamian identification to register for the COVID-19 vaccine; the government later lifted the requirement. The government’s lack of clear guidance enabled rumors and fear to spread among migrants that presenting oneself for vaccination would result in deportation. Migrants accused police and immigration officers of soliciting bribes. Human rights organizations alleged bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, including through eviction notices in informal settlements.

g. Stateless Persons

Not all individuals born in the country are automatically afforded citizenship. For example, children born in the country to non-Bahamian parents, to an unwed Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother, or outside the country to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father do not acquire citizenship at birth. The government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain long-term residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a nondiscriminatory basis. There was little progress in advancing legislation intended to address the issue of statelessness.

Under the constitution, Bahamian-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month period following their 18th birthday, but applicants sometimes waited many years for a government response. The short period for application, difficult documentary requirements, and long waiting times left multiple generations of persons, primarily persons of Haitian descent, without a nationality. Government policy allows individuals who missed the 12-month window to gain legal permanent resident status with the right to work, but some Haitian residents lacked the necessary documents.

There were no reliable estimates of the number of persons without a confirmed nationality. The government asserted a number of “stateless” individuals who had a legitimate claim to Haitian citizenship refused to pursue it due to fear of deportation or loss of future claim to Bahamian citizenship. Such persons often faced waiting periods of several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, as a result, in the interim lacked proper documentation to secure employment, housing, and other public services. The lack of a passport also prohibited students from accessing higher education outside the country.

In two separate cases, persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents were still awaiting the government’s determination on their nationality – one had waited 19 years and another 21 years – after submitting their applications. In both situations the individual relied on their employer to sponsor and renew their work permits each year to maintain legal status.

Minors born in the country to non-Bahamian parents were eligible to apply for “belonger” status that entitled them to reside in the country legally and access public education and health insurance. Belonger permits were readily available. The government does not bar children without legal status from government schools. To facilitate online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education provided computer tablets to students enrolled in the government-subsidized school lunch program, including children without legal status. Community activists alleged some schools continued to discriminate by falsely claiming to be full to avoid admitting children of Haitian descent.

The law denies mothers the right to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis with men. Specifically, women with foreign-born spouses do not automatically transmit citizenship to their spouses or children. Many of the provisions that preclude full gender equality in nationality matters are entrenched in the constitution; to change them would require a constitutional referendum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

The government’s sudden announcement of a snap election in September immediately closed the voter registry, effectively excluding any citizen who had not yet registered to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On September 16, Prime Minister Philip Davis took office after his Progressive Liberal Party defeated the incumbent Free National Movement in a snap general election in September. The Progressive Liberal Party won 32 of the 39 parliamentary seats, with 56 percent of the popular vote. The incumbent Free National Movement won the remaining seven seats. Election observers from the Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, and Commonwealth Secretariat found the election to be generally free and fair. Critics argued, however, that the abrupt announcement of the early election, which immediately suspended the voter registration process, disenfranchised those who had not yet registered, particularly youth and first-time voters. Furthermore, critics complained that holding the election during the COVID-19 pandemic led to historically low voter turnout (65 percent of registered voters, compared with more than 80 percent in other recent elections).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. While a record seven women were elected to Parliament, fewer than 20 percent of the candidates presented by the two major parties were women. Leadership from both parties noted difficulties in recruiting female candidates. Other observers cited obstacles such as patriarchal traditions, expectations of personal attacks, and inflexible attitudes regarding gender roles.

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 was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts. There were reports of government corruption during the year where officials sometimes engaged in cronyism and accepted small-scale “bribes of convenience” with impunity.

Corruption: The campaign finance system was largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence. The procurement process was susceptible to corruption since it contained no requirement to engage in open public tenders. In February the government passed the Public Procurement Bill (2020) to improve transparency and accountability in the public procurement process.

Corruption in the BDCS and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre was a long-standing problem, with allegations by both detainees and officials. There were widespread, credible reports that immigration officials solicited bribes to prevent detention or grant release. Human rights organizations and media reporting alleged that officials demanded payment in exchange for telephone calls and sanitary napkins.

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

Human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views. The government had yet to establish an ombudsman, although legislation was pending. The Ministry of Social Services had a council to investigate abuses directed at women, children, and persons with disabilities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women is illegal, but the law does not protect against spousal rape unless the couple is separated or in the process of divorce, or unless there is a restraining order in place. The maximum penalty for an initial rape conviction is seven years in prison. The maximum sentence for subsequent rape convictions is life imprisonment; however, the usual sentence was 14 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law effectively, except at the detention facility and the safe house (see section 1.c.).

Violence against women worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic due in part to lockdowns and curfews that prevented victims from seeking safe havens or other assistance. The government did not implement long-standing civil society recommendations to address gender-based violence.

The government generally enforced the law on gender-based violence, although women’s rights groups cited reluctance by police to intervene in domestic disputes. The Ministry of Social Services sponsored temporary, privately owned safe-house shelters, but there was a shortage of transitional housing. The Bahamas Crisis Centre provided a counseling referral service, operated a toll-free hotline, and managed a WhatsApp hotline during the year.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a serious problem. The law prohibits sexual harassment in employment and authorizes moderate penalties and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. The government generally enforced the law effectively; however, sexual harassment was underreported. The government did not have any permanent programs on sexual harassment but conducted educational campaigns.

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

Barriers affecting access to contraception included limited access to sexual and reproductive health services on all but the two most-populated islands (New Providence and Grand Bahama) and sociocultural stigma regarding premarital sex. The age for heterosexual consent is 16 (18 for homosexual consent), but the age for receiving contraception and other health services without requiring parental consent is 18. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including the provision of emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender. Women with foreign-born spouses do not have the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their spouses or children (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). In addition a child adopted by a married Bahamian couple may acquire citizenship only through the adoptive father.

Women were generally free from economic discrimination within public service, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work. The law provides for the same economic legal status and rights for women as for men. The government generally enforced the law effectively within the public sector; however, it did not enforce the law within the private sector. Pay discrepancies rendered female defendants less able to afford legal representation.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws protect racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. The government generally enforced these laws effectively. According to unofficial estimates, between 30,000 and 60,000 residents were Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, making them the largest ethnic minority. Many persons of Haitian origin lived in informal settlements with limited sewage and garbage services, law enforcement, and other public services. Authorities generally granted Haitian children access to education and social services, but ethnic tensions and inequities persisted.

Members of the Haitian community complained of discrimination in the job market, specifically that identity and work-permit documents were controlled by employers seeking advantage by threat of deportation.

The government enforced the law requiring noncitizens to carry their passport and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin and that expedited deportations did not allow time for due process.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government subsidized persons with the right to work through short- and long-term food assistance, housing assistance, and assistance for children in elementary schools. The government provided school lunches through community centers for families affected by job loss during the pandemic, regardless of immigration status.

Children

Birth Registration: Children born in the country to married parents, one of whom is Bahamian, acquire citizenship at birth. In the case of unwed parents, the child takes the citizenship of the mother. All children born in the country who are noncitizens may apply for citizenship upon reaching their 18th birthday. All births must be registered within 21 days of delivery.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates severe penalties for child abuse and requires all persons having contact with a child they believe has been physically or sexually abused to report their suspicions to police; nonetheless, child abuse and neglect were serious problems, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Social Services provided services to abused and neglected children through a public-private center for children, the public hospital’s family violence program, and The Bahamas Crisis Centre. The ministry also operated a 24-hour national abuse hotline.

In January a video surfaced of apparent child abuse in a government-owned children’s facility. After an investigation, the government charged six employees of the children’s facility with child cruelty.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although minors may marry at 15 with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual heterosexual sex is 16. The law considers any association or exposure of a child to commercial sex or an establishment where commercial sex takes place as cruelty, neglect, or mistreatment. The offense of having sex with a child carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Child pornography is illegal. A person who produces child pornography is subject to life imprisonment; conviction for dissemination or possession of child pornography calls for a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

The penalties for rape of a minor are the same as those for rape of an adult. While a victim’s consent is an insufficient defense against allegations of statutory rape, it is a sufficient defense if the accused had “reasonable cause” to believe the victim was older than age 16, provided the accused was younger than age 18.

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 local Jewish community consisted of approximately 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 Equal Opportunities Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, public buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively. All policy and legislation documents were provided at a government bureau for persons with disabilities in braille, large print, and MP3 downloadable formats.

The law affords equal access for students, but only as resources permit, as decided by individual schools. There were several segregated schools for children with disabilities in Nassau; however, on less-populated islands, children with learning disabilities often lacked adequate access. The government tried to facilitate distance learning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic but faced problems in providing equal access. A mix of government and private residential and nonresidential institutions provided education, training, counseling, and job placement services for adults and children with disabilities.

Several persons with disabilities submitted complaints concerning the lack of parking spaces available near buildings for persons with disabilities, as persons without disabilities were using the spaces with impunity. The government was unable to enforce the Equal Opportunities Act due to a lack of inspectors to monitor parking availability and to ensure that new building specifications aligned with accessibility requirements.

The lack of accessible transportation for persons with disabilities was a long-standing problem, particularly on the public bus service. As a result persons with disabilities had to spend more money on private transportation options, which were not regulated by the government. Additionally, concerned citizens filed complaints about the exploitation of children with disabilities forced into street soliciting by their parents or legal guardians.

The government designated a full day of voting for specific groups, including persons with disabilities, one week ahead of the general election.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on HIV and AIDS status. Public school protocols advised personnel how to treat the wounds of all children in a way that eliminated the need to know the child’s HIV or AIDS status. While the societal attitude to HIV and AIDS improved considerably, there were episodes of discrimination.

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

The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is legal. The law defines the age of consent for same-sex individuals as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual individuals.

NGOs reported LGBTQI+ individuals faced social stigma and discrimination and did not believe they were adequately protected by law enforcement authorities. There was generally low social tolerance for same-sex relationships. There was widespread condemnation of well known citizens who identified as homosexual or who supported the LGBTQI+ community. Homophobic epithets were both common and socially acceptable.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, participate in collective bargaining, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. To be recognized, trade unions must register with the Ministry of Labour and Immigration (hereafter Ministry of Labour); the registrar has authority to refuse registration. Union representatives said the registration process caused delays but was otherwise not a barrier to union formation. By law employers may be compelled to reinstate workers illegally fired for union activity. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards may not organize or join unions, although police used professional associations to advocate on their behalf. To be recognized by the government, a union must represent at least 50 percent plus one of the affected workers.

By law labor disputes must first be filed with the Ministry of Labour. If not resolved there, disputes are transferred to an industrial tribunal which determines penalties and remedies, up to a maximum of 26 weeks of an employee’s pay. The tribunal’s decision is final and may be appealed in court only on a question of law.

There are significant restrictions on the right to strike.  To proceed with a strike action, the law first requires negotiations between the employer and union leaders.  If there is a stalemate, the union must notify the minister of labor at least two days before a vote to strike.  The employer and union leaders sometimes engaged for months before the minister got involved.  The minister of labor can supervise a secret strike ballot.  The government has the authority to intervene in a strike action to ensure the delivery of essential services and uphold the “national interest.”  Workers who engage in illegal strikes can be subject to imprisonment for up to two years.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and so did most private-sector employers. The government did not restrict union activity or use targeted layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic for union busting. Union leaders, however, complained the government did not consult them on policy decisions that affected redundancy, furlough, and nonpayment to staff. One union leader said some government entities did not consult with unions or the Ministry of Labour as legally required before deciding which employees to make redundant during layoffs caused by the pandemic.

The government generally enforced the law, although the Ministry of Labour stated the government, in coordination with labor unions, relaxed labor laws and standards due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Penalties for violating labor laws varied by case but were generally commensurate with penalties for similar violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The ministry provided its annual report to Parliament during the national budget debate but did not include updated statistics on enforcement.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government took no significant action to combat forced labor and did not enforce the law in all sectors. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Isolated incidents of forced labor occurred. Local NGOs noted that exploited workers often did not report their circumstances to government officials due to fear of deportation and ignorance of available resources. Irregular migrants, especially domestic employees and agricultural workers, were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in outlying islands. There were reports that migrant laborers, often of Haitian origin, were vulnerable to compulsory labor and suffered abuse at the hands of their employers, who were responsible for endorsing work permits on an annual basis. The risk of losing the permit and the desire to work legally within the country were reportedly used as leverage for exploitation and created the potential for abuse.

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. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 for industrial work and any work during school hours or between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children ages 14-17 may work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. but only in hotels, restaurants, food stores, general merchandise stores, and gas stations. Children ages 14-17 may work outside school hours under the following conditions: on a school day, for not more than three hours; in a school week, for not more than 24 hours; on a nonschool day, for not more than eight hours; and in a nonschool week, for not more than 40 hours. The government did not have a list of jobs that were considered dangerous, although it intervened when children were working in dangerous environments, such as selling peanuts at a dangerous intersection. The government did not have a list of light work activities permitted for children ages 12 and older.

The government generally enforced the law. The penalties for violating child labor laws on forced labor were generally commensurate with those for analogous crimes.

Incidents of child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children worked on family farms and as street vendors. The Ministry of Labour lacked sufficient inspectors to follow up on reports of child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, skin color, national origin, creed, sex, marital status, political opinion, age, HIV status, and disability, but not based on language, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights. Women’s pay lagged behind men’s pay in the private sector. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workspace. While the law allows victims to sue for damages, most lacked the financial resources to counter wealthy defendants in court. The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There was a significant backlog of cases, with delays reportedly lasting years. The government suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering its efforts to address the backlog.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the established poverty income level.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, a 24-hour rest period, and time-and-a-half payment for hours worked beyond the standard workweek. The law stipulates paid annual holidays and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law does not place a limit on overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set health and safety standards appropriate to the main industries. According to the Ministry of Labour, the law protects all workers, including migrant workers, with respect to wages, working hours, working conditions, and occupational health and safety standards. Workers cannot remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labour is responsible for enforcing labor laws, including minimum wage, work hours, safety, health, and child labor. The ministry enforced the law inconsistently, especially in the informal sector. Ministry inspectors conducted random site visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and to investigate employee concerns and complaints. Inspections occurred infrequently. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Labour conducted additional workplace inspections to enforce compliance with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 workplace guidelines. Inspectors have the right to conduct unannounced visits and levy fines, but the ministry sometimes announced inspection visits in advance. Employers generally cooperated with inspectors to implement safety standards. Some employees who worked in the construction, agriculture, hospitality, engineering, and informal sectors endured hazardous conditions. In addition officials at the main prison complex complained of a lack of hazard pay for working close to inmates with communicable diseases, including HIV, AIDS, and COVID-19.

Informal Sector: The law protects all workers and calls for decent work standards for all, even outside legal employment structures. Where informal work contravened labor laws, the government effectively enforced the law. The informal sector accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the country’s GDP. The primary job sector in the informal segment consisted of home-based workers, such as hair braiders, clothing vendors, domestic workers, beauticians, tailors, and seamstresses. Persons in the informal sector were typically not employed, were self-employed, or worked more than one job. Many irregular migrants worked in landscaping and agriculture.

Barbados

Executive Summary

Barbados is a parliamentary democracy led by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party. The Barbados Labour Party won all 30 parliamentary seats in the 2018 election, which was considered free and fair. A former Barbados Labour Party member of Parliament became an independent to serve as the formal leader of the opposition. Until November 30, Queen Elizabeth II was the head of state and was represented by the governor general, who certified all legislation on her behalf. On November 30, the country became a republic with a nonexecutive president as the ceremonial head of state.

The Barbados Police Service is responsible for domestic law enforcement, including migration and border enforcement. The police and all other law enforcement agencies report to the attorney general. The Barbados Defence Force protects national security and may be called upon to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific needs. Authority over the defense force is shared between the president and prime minister, with the president overseeing strategic direction and the prime minister responsible for operational leadership. The law provides that the police may request defense force assistance with special joint patrols. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and defense forces. There were no reports that the security forces committed any serious abuses.

Significant human rights issues included the existence of criminal libel laws and the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults (although authorities did not enforce the law during the year).

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

Administration: Two agencies, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Prison Advisory Board, investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. The superintendent of prisons stated no mistreatment reports were submitted during the year.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights organizations may request access to monitor prison conditions; however, the superintendent of prisons reported that no visit requests were received during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law authorizes police to arrest persons suspected of criminal activity; a warrant issued by a judge or justice of the peace based on evidence is typically required. Authorities may hold detainees without charge for up to five days, but once persons are charged, police must bring them before a court within 24 hours, or the next working day if the arrest occurred during the weekend. There was a functioning bail system. Criminal detainees receive prompt access to counsel and are advised of that right immediately after arrest. The law prohibits bail for those charged with murder, treason, or any gun-related offense that is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years or more.

Official procedures require police to question suspects and other persons only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer to do so elsewhere. An officer must visit detainees at least once every three hours to check on their condition. After a suspect has spent 48 hours in detention, the detaining authority must submit a written report to notify the deputy police commissioner and the police commissioner that the suspect is still in custody.

Pretrial Detention: Legal authorities expressed concern regarding lengthy stays in pretrial detention. Civil society representatives and media reports indicated that delays of five to seven years before cases went to trial were common, and in extreme cases detainees could wait up to 10 years before trial. On October 12, the chief justice stated that holding persons in extended pretrial detention without any indication of a trial date was inconsistent with the constitution. He announced that the superintendent of prisons would be required to submit a quarterly report of all persons being held in pretrial detention. The chief justice also said that he would prioritize cases involving murder, firearms, and sexual assault.

The Court of Appeal launched a new, automated, court case management system in September to replace the existing paper-based system, with the goal of improving the judiciary’s operating efficiency and reducing case backlog.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to be informed promptly of the charges against them. The constitution provides that persons charged with criminal offenses receive a timely, fair, and public hearing by an independent, impartial court, and a trial by jury. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. The government provides free legal aid to indigents in family matters (excluding divorce), child support cases, serious criminal cases such as rape or murder, and all cases involving minors. The constitution prescribes that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Timelines may be set by the court on arraignment. Defendants have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants may confront and question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right of appeal. The government generally respected these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Lower-level courts have both civil and criminal jurisdiction, but the civil judicial system experienced heavier backlogs. Citizens primarily sought redress for human rights or other abuses through the civil court system, although human rights cases were sometimes decided in criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment. The local media association raised concerns about intimidation of media by government ministers due to the media’s reliance on income from government advertising. There were no reports of any defamation or libel cases initiated by any government officials against media personnel.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for 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. Married women must provide a copy of their marriage certificate when applying for a passport; married men are not required to provide this.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Information on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Immigration Department was responsible for considering refugee and asylum claims.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2018, when the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in Parliament’s House of Assembly, and the governor general appointed BLP leader Mia Mottley as prime minister, with the support of the BLP members of the House of Assembly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The president, prime minister, and six cabinet ministers were women. The leader of the opposition political party was a woman.

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. In October the government passed the Prevention of Corruption Act, which provides for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of acts of corruption, and applies to persons in both the public and private sectors. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were no formal investigations of government corruption during the year.

A former government minister in a previous administration was convicted by a U.S. court in January 2020 of money laundering and was sentenced in April to two years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder bribe payments from a Barbadian insurance company through bank accounts in New York.

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

A variety of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and were able to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office hears complaints against government ministries, departments, and other authorities for alleged injuries or injustices resulting from administrative conduct. The president appoints the ombudsman on the recommendation of the prime minister and in consultation with the opposition. Parliament must approve the appointment. The ombudsman submits annual reports to Parliament that contain recommendations on changes to laws and descriptions of actions taken by the Ombudsman’s Office.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and applies to both men and women. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment but judges have the discretion to impose shorter sentences.

The law prohibits domestic violence and protects all members of the family, including men and children. The law applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships. The law empowers police to make an arrest after receiving a complaint, visiting the premises, and having some assurance that a crime was committed. The government did not consistently enforce the law. A nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that the commissioner of police was very concerned about complaints raised by victims of domestic violence, and that the commissioner put mechanisms in place to improve victims’ experience with police. The NGO also reported this high level of support and recognition was not consistently evident throughout the police department, at all police stations, or at the officer level. The NGO reported that the judicial system revictimized victims of domestic abuse involving child custody disputes. It cited instances where reports of physical abuse and assault were not considered by courts when making determinations of child visitation and coparenting rights. The NGO said this led to situations where a victim had to continue to interact with their abuser in order to fulfill court visitation orders.

Penalties for domestic violence depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) to the death penalty for cases where the victim died. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts may sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. An NGO alleged that corruption impeded legal action on domestic violence cases, making it difficult for victims to obtain timely resolution of their cases.

In July an NGO reported the government did not measure domestic violence. The NGO said there was insufficient legal support for women, exposing them to abuse and exploitation.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and establishes civil penalties. Media reports indicated that sexual harassment was a problem. A union representative said he was not aware of any reports of workplace sexual harassment cases being filed or prosecuted during the year. Human rights activists, however, reported that workplace sexual harassment was widespread. In August an NGO reported that young girls and women were verbally harassed in the streets, faced sexual advances from men, and were verbally and emotionally abused when sexual advances were refused.

Media reported on a foreign woman participating in the country’s teleworker visa program. Although she intended to stay for at least 12 months, the woman abruptly departed the island after only a few months, citing intolerable sexual harassment. In another incident, a man sexually harassed two women on a public beach. When police responded to the women’s call for assistance, the officer was caught on video in a “blame the victim” moment, saying that he could see why the man was harassing the women.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage. The government provided access to health care for all persons who required it, including victims of sexual violence. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assisted victims of sexual violence.

An NGO reported that some girls in police custody as runaways were subjected to vaginal exams without their consent, and in some instances without the consent of their parents or guardians, to prove whether the girls were sexually active. The NGO said that some parents or guardians were coerced by police to consent to these exams and were not fully informed of their rights. The NGO also reported that police forced girls to take tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Discrimination: The law prohibits employment discrimination based on age, skin color, creed, disability, domestic partnership status, marital status, medical condition, physical features, political opinion, pregnancy, race, trade, sex, sexual orientation, social status, or union affiliation. The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men.

Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors, although some discrimination persisted. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated women earned significantly less than men for comparable work. There are laws limiting types of work that women can do in factories.

The government stated that employers cannot mandate employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that the government would not tolerate any discrimination against employees based on their vaccination status.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The country’s charter and laws protect racial, ethnic, and minority groups from broad forms of discrimination. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 93 percent of the population is Black and primarily of African descent. The government does not consider systemic racial or ethnic discrimination to be a problem in the country. There were no reports of any systemic discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: A child born in the country is a citizen by birth. There was universal birth registration, and all children are registered immediately after birth without any discrimination. An NGO reported that some foreign women had difficulty accessing health care and welfare services for their Barbados-born children after the woman’s relationship with her Barbadian partner ended.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse but does not prohibit corporal punishment of children. No law requires a person to report suspected child abuse, but the government encouraged the public to report cases where they believed abuse may have occurred. Child abuse remained a problem. An NGO representative reported that their NGO frequently encountered situations involving molestation and incest.

The Child Care Board had a mandate for the care and protection of children, which involved investigating daycare centers, investigating allegations of child abuse or child labor, and providing counseling services, residential placement, and foster care.

Media reported a 61-year-old man was sentenced to four years in prison for a sexual act on a five-year-old girl. Media also published a report on the abuse of a 14-year-old girl at the government’s reform school. The report included a photograph leaked by a staff member that showed the girl lying naked on a cement floor in a solitary confinement cell at the school. According to an NGO, the girl was charged with wandering (the legal charge applied against underage runaways) and was placed in the school as a runaway. Although the government launched an investigation into the incident, the minister in charge of the school complained about the staff member’s release of the photograph. Civil society activists cited the abuse incident as evidence of the school board’s mismanagement of the facility.

An NGO reported an increase in reports of molestation and incest affecting girls.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Persons ages 16 and 17 may marry with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Child pornography is illegal, and the authorities effectively enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.

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 disabilities in employment, but it does not extend protection to education or other state services. A separate law requires employers to ensure the safety and health of persons with disabilities. A union representative said that despite these legal protections, persons with disabilities faced various forms of discrimination.

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing discrimination against persons with disabilities, and it slowed the development of improved facilities. For example, the Barbados Council for the Disabled said some persons with disabilities who were unable to go to a bank because of COVID restrictions faced challenges using online services.

The council also stated that disability benefits were available only for blind, visually impaired, or deaf persons, and that persons with other disabilities were ineligible. The council said that personnel at vaccine clinics were insensitive to persons with nonapparent disabilities. The council reported that it prioritized mental health assistance and basic needs such as food packages.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled, the Barbados National Organization for the Disabled, and other NGOs reported that public transportation remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Many public areas lacked the ramps, railings, parking, and bathroom adjustments needed to accommodate persons with disabilities. The Town and Country Planning Department set standards for all public buildings to include accessibility for persons with disabilities. Most new buildings had ramps, reserved parking, and accessible bathrooms.

The Barbados Council for the Disabled engaged with various governmental and nongovernmental entities to represent the interests of disabled persons. The council had a supportive relationship with the National Disabilities Unit, a government office that facilitated, advocated, and promoted the advancement and empowerment of persons with disabilities. The council operated transportation services to assist persons with disabilities.

The council also provided disability sensitivity training to businesses, particularly in the tourism sector. The council’s flagship program, Fully Accessible Barbados, facilitated government and private-sector organizations creating recognized accessible and inclusive spaces and services for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education catered to the educational needs of children with disabilities in three ways: in regular classrooms, in special classrooms in the regular school, and in special units or special education schools. Specially equipped classrooms (special units) were offered in eight public primary schools. Children who were deaf, hearing impaired, blind, or visually impaired attended the Irving Wilson School. The Ann Hill School catered to secondary school-age children with developmental delays and other disabilities.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, with penalties for conviction up to life imprisonment for men, and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for men and women convicted of “acts of serious indecency.” There were no reports of the law being enforced during the year.

An NGO reported that authorities did not take seriously reports of sexual and homophobic harassment. In some cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons identified perpetrators of harassment but were deterred from reporting these experiences or prevented from seeking justice.

Civil society groups reported that LGBTQI+ persons faced verbal abuse at home and in public.

In September the High Court heard Holder-McClean-Ramirez and Ors versus Attorney General. Two individuals and the civil society organization Equals brought the case as a challenge to the criminalization of same-sex conduct.  As of year’s end, a decision was pending.

In November the government introduced a new charter to Parliament that states, “All Barbadians are born free and are equal in human dignity and rights regardless of age, race, ethnicity, faith, class, cultural and educational background, ability, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.”  The LGBTQI+ movement welcomed the inclusive references to gender and sexual orientation while noting the need for strong protections on the basis of gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and conduct legal strikes but does not specifically recognize the right to bargain collectively. Moreover, the law does not obligate employers to recognize unions or to accept collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers engaged in union activity. A tribunal may order reinstatement, rehiring, or compensation for antiunion discrimination. The law permits all private-sector employees to strike but prohibits strikes by workers in essential services such as police, firefighting, electricity, and water. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

A labor union representative reported that the government generally tried to enforce labor laws but did not have enough labor and safety inspectors to enforce all labor regulations effectively. Generally, the government effectively enforced labor law in the formal sector. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law gives persons the right to have allegations of unfair dismissal tried before the Employment Rights Tribunal. The process often had lengthy delays.

A tripartite group of labor, management, and government representatives met regularly to discuss labor topics. The group dealt with social and economic problems, formulated legislative policy, and worked towards harmonious workplace relations.

Although employers were under no legal obligation to recognize unions, most major employers did so when more than 50 percent of the employees made a request. Companies were sometimes hesitant to engage in collective bargaining with a recognized union, but in most instances they eventually did so. Smaller companies often were not unionized.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. A union official said the government generally enforced such laws, which were sufficient to deter violations.

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 governing child labor states that education is compulsory for children up to age 16 or 17, depending on when the student took the secondary school entrance exam. Exemptions to educational requirements are allowed for children receiving special education; children receiving instruction at home in a manner and to a standard satisfactory to the minister of education; children unable to attend school because of illness or health reasons; sudden or serious illness of a parent; or religious observance. The law also states that no child shall be allowed to work during school hours or between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. in any occupation.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for a minimum working age of 16 in certain sectors but does not cover sectors such as agriculture or family businesses. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in work likely to harm their health, safety, or morals, but it does not specify which occupations fall under this prohibition. The law was effectively enforced, and child labor laws were generally observed. Parents are culpable under the law if their children younger than 16 are not in school. By law children ages 14-16 may engage in light work with parental consent. The law does not provide a list of occupations constituting light work.

Ministry of Labor inspectors may initiate legal action against an employer found employing underage workers. Employers found guilty of violating this law may be fined or imprisoned for up to 12 months. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on grounds of age, skin color, creed, disability, domestic partnership status, marital status, medical condition, physical features, political opinion, pregnancy, race, trade, gender, sexual orientation, social status, or union affiliation. A union official said employment discrimination was not a serious concern. The government generally enforced the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is a minimum wage for housekeepers and shop assistants. There is no official poverty income level. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in five days. The law provides employees with three weeks of paid holiday annually for persons with less than five years of service and four weeks of paid holiday annually after five years of service. The law requires overtime payment of time and a half for hours worked more than the legal standard and prescribes that all overtime must be voluntary. The law does not set a maximum number of overtime hours.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational safety and health standards that were current and appropriate for its industries.

The Ministry of Labor was responsible for minimum wage, work hour, and health and safety standards. According to a union official, the government does not have sufficient inspectors to enforce compliance as effectively as they should. The ministry used routine inspections, accident investigations, and union membership surveys to monitor and prevent labor violations, and to verify that wages and working conditions met national standards. Penalties include small fines, imprisonment for up to three months, or both. These penalties were inadequate to ensure compliance. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations are higher than penalties for analogous violations, such as negligence.

Trade unions monitored safety problems to verify the enforcement of safety and health regulations, as well as the correction of problems by management. Labor inspectors are required during an inspection to notify employers of their presence, except where the inspectors consider that such a notification would impinge on the performance of their duties. The law gives inspectors the power to initiate proceedings against employers for any violation or offense.

The law provides for the right of workers to refuse dangerous work without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected employees in this situation. A labor union representative reported there were no formal complaints concerning hazardous or exploitative working conditions during the year nor did the union receive any complaints about workplace fatalities or accidents.

Informal Sector: An Inter-American Development Bank study estimated the informal economy in the country at approximately 33 percent of total economic activity. The informal economy was not subject to government labor or safety regulations. Informal workers may apply for public assistance or public housing but are not guaranteed any benefits.

Belize

Executive Summary

Belize is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In the most recent national election, held in November 2020, the People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly and selected John Briceno as prime minister. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is represented by a governor general. On May 27, Froyla T’zalam assumed the post of governor general following the forced retirement of Sir Colville Young, who held the role for 27 years.

The Ministry of National Defence and Border Security is responsible for oversight of the military and the Coast Guard, while the Ministry of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries has responsibility for police and prisons. The Belize Police Department is primarily responsible for internal security. The small military focuses on external security but also provides limited support domestically to civilian authorities. The Belize Defence Force has limited powers of arrest within land and shoreline areas, and the Coast Guard has arrest powers and jurisdiction within coastal and maritime areas. 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: inhuman treatment by security and prison officers; widespread and serious corruption by government officials; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps both administratively and through the courts to prosecute some public officials who committed abuses, but there were few successful prosecutions. The government did not effectively implement the laws on corruption, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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.

On September 5, off-duty Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldier Jessie Escobar was shot by a soldier in a joint police-BDF patrol that stopped a group of men outside a store. The shooter, BDF Private Raheem Valencio, was arrested and charged with murder. Police officer Juan Carlos Morales and another BDF soldier in the patrol, Ramon Alberto Alcoser, were both charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice by providing inaccurate statements to the investigators. Morales was also charged with aggravated assault on one of the men at the store. The commissioner of police noted Morales would face Belize Police Department (BPD) disciplinary charges for an “act of prejudice to good order and discipline” and “breach of department policy” for using force during the incident.

On the night of July 14, police corporal Kareem Martinez shot and killed 14-year-old Laddie Gillett while Gillet and a friend were fleeing from police officers. According to Gillett’s friend Thomas Palacio, he and Gillett ran because they believed the two men in dark clothing confronting them with guns intended to rob them. Palacio said the men had not identified themselves as police officers. Palacio claimed the officers beat him, and he feared he would be killed. Two days after the incident, Martinez was charged with manslaughter by negligence and granted bail while awaiting trial. A police investigation led to Martinez’s dismissal from the police force. Following the incident, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams said the shooting was not a justifiable use of force. The Belize Progressive Party condemned the “recurrent issues of brutality” by the police and “diminished charges assigned to officers involved … the scandalously low rate of successful prosecution of said officers, and the light sentences accorded to the few that would be found guilty.” The Human Rights Commission of Belize (HRCB), an independent, volunteer-based, nongovernmental organization (NGO), denounced the killing and stressed that “this kind of systematic abuse of authority by some police officers and their disregard of the humanity and dignity of Belizean citizens can no longer be countenanced.”

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture or other inhuman punishment, but there were reports of abuse and use of excessive force by law enforcement agents. During the first half of the year, 25 percent of the complaints received by the Office of the Ombudsman were filed against police for abuse of power, harassment, and brutality. The ombudsman also received complaints against the central prison for allegations of inhuman treatment.

In January police constable Edgar Teul was charged for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman who went to the Succotz police station to sign bail documents for the release of her common-law husband. The woman reported that while she waited to sign the bail documents, Teul sexually assaulted her three times. Teul was criminally charged and subsequently dismissed from the BPD following an internal investigation.

Through the end of August, the BPD Professional Standards Branch, the internal investigative unit of the police department, registered 105 complaints against members of the BPD and concluded 60 investigations with recommendations. Through June the BPD dismissed 14 officers after internal tribunals found them guilty of offenses which ranged from excessive absence to drug trafficking and abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports of harsh conditions in the central prison and police detention center due to inadequate sanitation.

Physical Conditions: The Kolbe Foundation, a local Christian nonprofit organization, administered the country’s only prison, which held men, women, and juveniles. The government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility and provided funding.

In February amateur video showed inhuman treatment of prisoners by guards at the central prison. The video showed guards spraying pepper spray directly in the faces of handcuffed prisoners, guards forcing an inmate to ingest large quantities of water until the inmate vomited, and a paralyzed inmate suffering from bedsores. An anonymous letter directed to the HRCB listed other human rights violations at the prison, including inmates being fed stale or spoiled food. The chief executive officer of the prison, Virgillo Murrillo, told the press that the mistreatment featured in the video did not occur at the prison, and that the inmate with bedsores received treatment and assistance from an NGO. The HRCB categorized the incidents as “atrocious inhumane acts” and called on the minister of home affairs to appoint visiting justices to the central prison as mandated by law.

Prisoners in pretrial detention and held for immigration offenses continued to be held with convicted prisoners. Officials used isolation in a small, poorly ventilated punishment cell to discipline inmates.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. Relatives of inmates claimed that prison authorities were occasionally reluctant to provide information about family members in prison and did not allow direct communication with the imprisoned relative.

Independent Monitoring: The prison administrator generally permitted visits from independent human rights observers. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the HRCB was unable to carry out inspections of police detention cells and the central prison. The HRCB, however, met with inmates who requested assistance and guidance with the legal process.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, there were several allegations made to media that the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.

On August 19, the government instituted a 30-day state of emergency for a section of Belize City in response to an increase in criminal gang activity. The measure allowed the BPD and BDF to target criminal gangs through house raids, arrests, and imprisonment. Normal due process rights related to timely habeas corpus were suspended under the state of emergency.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must obtain search or arrest warrants issued by a magistrate except in cases of hot pursuit, when there is probable cause, or when the presence of a firearm is suspected. Police must inform detainees of their rights at the time of arrest and of the cause of their detention within 24 hours of arrest. Police must also bring a detainee before a magistrate to be charged officially within 48 hours. The BPD faced allegations that at times police arbitrarily detained persons for more than 24 hours without charges, did not take detainees directly to a police station, and used detention as a means of intimidation.

Police usually granted detainees timely access to family members and lawyers, although there were reports of persons held in police detention without the opportunity to contact family or seek legal advice.

By law a police officer in charge of a station or a magistrate’s court may grant bail to persons charged with minor offenses. The Supreme Court may grant bail to those charged with more serious crimes, including murder, gang activity, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and specific drug-trafficking or sexual offenses. The Supreme Court reviews the bail application within 10 working days.

In July the Supreme Court ruled the BPD cannot profile citizens and treat them as criminals without a clear cause for suspicion. The ruling followed a civil suit brought against the BPD by Greg Nunez and Bryton Codd, who claimed they were returning from a basketball practice when police officers stopped and searched them because of their appearance and took pictures of them and of their identification cards. These pictures were then sent to an informal police social media group in WhatsApp. The court stated the officers’ actions were arbitrary, oppressive, and unconstitutional. The claimants were jointly awarded 28,000 Belize dollars ($14,000). The practice by police of profiling persons, especially young black men, was used by the BPD for years. Following the ruling, the minister of home affairs and the commissioner of police announced that profiling would be discontinued.

In July, two police officers, Wilton Justin Montero and Jerome Ingram, were secretly videotaped while abusing an unarmed man who was in handcuffs and appeared unconscious. Both officers were criminally charged with harm, granted bail, and faced internal disciplinary penalties for their conduct. At the end of the year, the trial had not started.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law bars arbitrary arrest. According to the Professional Standards Branch, no formal report was made during the year of officers making unlawful arrests, detentions, or searches. The HRCB raised concerns that several immigration offenders remained imprisoned despite completing their prison sentence. In February, South African national Rupert Lulofs sued the government for illegally keeping him detained at the central prison beyond his sentence. Lulofs was detained in January 2020 for immigration offenses and was sentenced to seven days in prison. Prison authorities failed to release him until February 2021.

Pretrial Detention: There were lengthy trial backlogs, particularly for serious crimes such as murder. Problems included delays in police completing investigations, lack of evidence collection, court delays in preparing depositions, and adjournments in the courts. The COVID-19 pandemic closed the court system for all cases several times during the year, increasing the case backlog. Judges were typically slow to issue rulings, in some cases taking a year or longer. The time between arrest, trial, and conviction ranged from six months to four years. Pretrial detention for persons accused of murder averaged three to four years. In April the legislature approved the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act, which sets a time limit of no more than 120 days for judges to deliver judgments once the full hearing has concluded. The act includes provisions to remove a judge who consistently fails to provide written decisions and reasons for decisions within the time specified. In June the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal introduced an electronic program to facilitate the submission of legal documents and thus improve the efficiency of case management by the courts. As of September, 364 persons, representing 35 percent of the prison population, were being held in pretrial detention, an increase from the previous year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Due to substantial delays and a backlog of cases in the justice system, the courts did not bring some minors to trial until they reached age 18. In such cases the defendants were tried as minors.

In July, Ramiro de la Rosa was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for the possession of an unlicensed firearm. De la Rosa, his wife, and two children were at home when police officers, without a court warrant, conducted a search of their residence and found the unlicensed firearm that belonged to his father-in-law, who had died a few days before, in the attic. To avoid his wife being charged, De la Rosa pled guilty to the offense, but instead of being granted bail per standard practice, he was immediately sentenced to prison. De la Rosa was not afforded adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense prior to sentencing. After applying for a stay of execution through an attorney, De la Rosa was released pending the outcome of his appeal.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred.

The law stipulates trials by judge alone (without a jury) are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated the law protects jurors from retribution. Other serious crimes are heard by a Supreme Court judge with a jury. For lesser crimes, a magistrate generally issues decisions and judgments without a jury after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. The defendant has the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them and to be present at the trial. If defendants are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if there are language barriers, they are informed of the reason of arrest at the earliest possible opportunity. Defendants have the right to defense by counsel and appeal, but the prosecution may apply for the trial to proceed if a defendant skips bail or does not appear in court.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar is responsible for appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide an attorney to defendants, and defendants sometimes represent themselves. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including domestic violence and other criminal cases up to and including attempted murder. These legal aid services were overstretched and did not reach rural areas or districts. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants can request an adjournment. The court provides Spanish, Mandarin, or Hindi interpreters for defendants upon request. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses may submit written statements into evidence in place of court appearances. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including the Supreme Court. Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the region’s highest appellate court. Individuals may also present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports that the government sometimes failed to respect these prohibitions (see section 1.e.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides 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.

The press was largely independent of government influence, although most radio stations, television stations, and newspapers had strong editorial ties to either the United Democratic Party or the People’s United Party. The press was often critical of government officials, with few signs of repercussions.

Violence and Harassment: In May police assaulted and falsely charged Vejea Alvarez, a reporter with Love FM radio, as he covered a protest by nurses at the Northern Regional Hospital. The protesting nurses invited the reporter and his cameraman to cover the event. At the hospital compound, a hospital security officer stopped them, stating they were not allowed to be there. When the reporter insisted on covering the event, police were called. Police sergeant Evaristo Cobb threatened to beat the reporter if he did not leave and punched him in the chest. The incident was captured on video. Alvarez continued to cover the protest from outside the compound. Cobb arrested Alvarez for assault and detained him at the police station. When Alvarez complained about the incident, he was ignored and then threatened by the officer in charge of the station. After reviewing the video, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams disciplined Cobb for lying about the incident and falsely accusing the reporter. The Professional Standards Branch investigation of the incident also led to internal disciplinary charges of “act to the prejudice of good order and discipline” against Corporal Gaspar Tuz and Constable Walter Leonardo.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Narda Garcia, the chief executive officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, threatened well known painter Alex Sanker with a civil lawsuit in April for featuring Garcia in a painting. The artwork depicted Garcia at the Social Security Board during a period when funds were mismanaged. Garcia was subsequently investigated.

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.

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. As part of the COVID-19 measures, land borders remained closed except for necessary travel for medical services, education, trade, and foreign tourist arrivals. During the year several foreign nationals who were imprisoned for immigration offenses were unable to exit the country due to the closures and were kept in prison beyond the end of their sentence.

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), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other international organizations to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern. The Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration share responsibility in handling the refugee process and in providing for their protection and needs.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not recognize a legal status of “asylum” and treats all applicants as potential refugees. The courts and executive offices use procedures for refugees to cover both refugees and asylum seekers.

The Ministry of Immigration’s Department of Refugees handled all refugee applications, investigations, and interviews. Previously, the department would not accept refugee applications from persons who had been in the country for more than 14 days. During the year, in response to a legal challenge from the HRCB and a subsequent court ruling, the department adjusted its procedures to accept applications from persons applying for refugee status beyond the law’s 14-day limit.

UNHCR and its partners had a resource center near the western border that provided information on the refugee process to new arrivals. UNHCR also provided limited basic services including shelter, clothing, food, counseling, and assistance with processing legal documents. Reports from NGOs indicated that during the year, groups of fewer than a dozen Haitians and Hondurans entered the country unofficially via Arenal and Calla Creek; the official border crossing in Benque Viejo del Carmen remained closed.

The Refugee Eligibility Committee, a nine-member taskforce made up of pertinent government agencies and social partners, reviews applications for refugee status. Once the committee recommends approval to the Ministry of Immigration, the file is sent for signature and formal approval. Despite the committee’s having recommended approval for 640 persons, the government granted refugee status to only 15 percent of them by the end of September. By October the Refugee Department registered 4,104 persons applying for refugee status. The HRCB stated that from June to August it registered six cases involving a total of 20 persons. HRCB claimed these persons were denied from applying for asylum because they entered the country illegally.

Through its Assisted Voluntary Return program, the IOM office assisted in the repatriation of 189 migrants between June 2020 and September 2021. The migrants were in an irregular status for more than three years: persons stranded by the pandemic, persons who were in the asylum-seeking process and decided to withdraw and return home, unaccompanied minors, and persons who were detained while transiting the country.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country. Through a new government policy, however, 546 persons who were approved for refugee status and awaiting the minister’s decision were offered permits to work in the sugar, citrus, and banana industries.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women. UNHCR reported that several refugees claimed health providers discriminated against them when the refugees accessed public clinics and hospitals.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status. A government policy allowed for the renewal of protection status every three months for persons who had been approved by the Refugee Eligibility Committee but awaited the minister’s approval.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2020 an estimated 82 percent of registered voters participated in parliamentary elections. The People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly. Party leader John Briceno was sworn in as prime minister in November 2020. Diplomatic observers reported isolated cases of vote buying and violations of campaign rules, but the election in general was free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In August the Supreme Court ruled that the suspension of legislator Julius Espat by the then speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Peyrefitte was unconstitutional. In 2016 Peyrefitte ordered Espat to vacate the legislative chamber during a session for what he described as “disregarding the rules of conduct in parliament.” Espat refused to leave willingly and was forcibly removed by police officers. As a result of his suspension, Espat did not receive a salary or benefits until his return to the House of Representatives five months later. The court awarded Espat 95,000 Belize dollars ($47,500), to be paid by the government. Espat and Peyrefitte had disagreed in the past, especially when Espat intended to question the actions of the then government for perceived acts of corruption.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. Women remained a clear minority in government, making up only 13 percent of the 31-member House of Representatives. In the November 2020 parliamentary elections, 12 women candidates participated, an increase from past elections. A by-election was held on March 3 for the Corozal Bay electoral division that resulted in the election of a fourth woman to the House of Representatives. Of the 160 candidates in the March municipal election, 45 were women, of whom 51 percent were elected to office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, and chief executive officers, were numerous, although in most cases no substantial proof was presented.

In February the government instituted a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the sale of government assets between October 2019 and November 2020, including office equipment, furniture, and vehicles. The commission included a chairperson appointed by the government and one representative each from the Public Service Union (PSU) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. During the first phase of public hearings, the commission publicly questioned several high-ranking government officials, including former prime minister Dean Barrow, who was responsible for government property. In April the commission’s work was suspended after PSU representative Luke Martinez recused himself from the inquiry. Martinez stepped down in protest of the continued sale of public assets by the new administration; the same actions the commission was investigating. The commission’s investigation resumed on August 16.

On September 6, the BPD issued a wanted notice for the apprehension and arrest of former minister of works Rene Montero for the crime of “willful oppression.” The Ministry of Works investigated Montero’s use of human resources and government property to develop private property in which Montero had a personal financial interest. The commissioner of police stated Montero tried to leave the country on September 4 but was denied exit by immigration agents. As of November 15, Montero was presumed to be out of the country and there was a warrant for his arrest.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, appointed by the government, acts as an independent check on governmental abuses. The Office of the Ombudsman holds a range of procedural and investigative powers, including the right to enter any premise to gather documentation and the right to summon persons. The office operated under significant staffing and financial constraints. The law requires the ombudsman to submit annual reports. The office does not have the power to investigate allegations against the judiciary or private entities. While the Office of the Ombudsman has wide investigative powers, it lacks effective enforcement authority; noncompliance by the offices being investigated severely limited the effectiveness of the Office of the Ombudsman. As of April the post of ombudsman remained vacant after the government did not renew the contract of Lionel Arzu and failed to name a replacement. In August, Arzu sued the government for making amendments to his three-year contract, signed under a former administration in 2020, without his consent. The changes included reductions in salary, allowances, and vacation days.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government generally enforced the law. The law states that a person convicted of rape should be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although on occasion sentences were much lighter. Problems facing the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape. Victims frequently requested the charges be dropped, often citing spousal support from the perpetrators as key to providing for their children’s well-being.

Data from the BPD indicated that 62 percent of reported sexual violence was against girls between the ages of 10 and 19. The Belize Crime Observatory, a unit of the BPD, indicated that women were the victims in 77 percent of the 1,794 domestic violence cases registered by the BPD through the end of September. Public perception was that complaints may be filed without repercussion but that insufficient numbers of police officers and inadequate funding hampered investigations.

Some NGOs working with the BDF indicated that sexual assault was a problem in the BDF. In August a BDF soldier accused a male captain of spanking him on his buttocks during a social event on BDF grounds. The matter was referred to the BPD for investigation.

Domestic violence is prohibited, and the law was generally enforced. Victims noted the procedure was lengthy but that nevertheless, perpetrators were convicted. Domestic violence is considered a civil matter; however, perpetrators were often prosecuted with criminal charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury as evidence of domestic violence. Penalties include fines and imprisonment. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.

In August, Mercedez Pais killed his mother-in-law, 64-year-old Angela Flores Rodriguez. Pais was beating two of Flores Rodriguez’s daughters when Flores Rodriguez intervened. Pais turned himself in to police, was charged with murder, and at the end of the year awaited trial.

The government had awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence. It had a domestic violence hotline and shelters for victims. Major police stations designated domestic abuse officers. Due to understaffed police stations, however, these measures were not always effective. The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a study that found 20 percent of respondents indicated women feared for their safety at certain times and places.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government enforced the law, but officials noted that no criminal cases had ever been brought under the law’s sexual harassment provisions. The Women’s Department, under the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, recognized sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence. A representative of local NGO Tikun Olam Belize noted that some victims did not report sexual harassment due to fear of further victimization or losing their job.

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

Some NGOs said that in socially conservative communities, women seeking tubal ligation sought the permission of the husband for cultural and religious reasons.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, but the government lacked rape response kits, including emergency contraception.

Reports noted some religiously affiliated educational institutions did not allow pregnant girls to attend school. Because of the stigma and discrimination of underage pregnancy, some families opted not to report the matter to the authorities and instead enrolled the young girl at another institution following the birth. Male adolescents involved in the case normally did not face expulsion. Because school attendance is by law compulsory only to age 14, educational institutions are not obligated to enroll pregnant girls older than 14.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but the labor commissioner verified that men on average earned more per month than women did, often because men held higher positions. There are restrictions on women working in certain industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation. The law provides for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the workplace, pregnancy, or HIV status, but the law was not enforced.

Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although women participated in all spheres of national life, outnumbered men in university classrooms, and had higher graduation rates from high school, women held relatively few top managerial or government positions.

In January the Supreme Court ruled that female police officers of African descent may wear their hair in dreadlocks, contrary to the instructions of the commissioner of police. The court noted that the commissioner’s interpretation of the BPD policy against dreadlocks infringed on the officers’ freedom of expression.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination and violence based on race and skin color, but there are no specific laws or regulations prohibiting violence or discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. The population is approximately 47 percent Hispanic, 26 percent of African descent, and 16.5 percent indigenous. The remainder is Asian or of unknown descent. There were anecdotal reports of racial discrimination in the workplace and in wider society against ethnic minority groups and against members of the migrant community. While there were no reports of any systemic racial or ethnic discrimination or violence, there were no government programs designed specifically to counter racial or ethnic biases.

Indigenous Peoples

No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous peoples, since the government maintains that it treats all citizens equally. Both public and private employers generally treated indigenous peoples equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance monitored development in the Toledo District, with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. The Maya in the southern part of the country and the government worked to implement the 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice consent order on Maya customary land tenure. In January the government appointed indigenous rights activist Gregory Ch’oc as commissioner of indigenous affairs to oversee the implementation of the consent order of the Maya land rights case and other matters related to indigenous peoples. Ch’oc consulted indigenous communities for a report to be prepared for the government to highlight the concerns of the indigenous peoples. The Maya Leaders’ Alliance and the Toledo Alcalde Association raised concerns that the government would not implement the commitments made by the previous administration regarding Maya customary land practices.

In June the Supreme Court ordered the government to compensate the Maya community of Jalacte and Estevan Caal 6.3 million Belize dollars ($3.15 million) for damages on customary Maya land during the construction of a road without obtaining the proper consent from the indigenous community. The court also ordered that the government return unoccupied lands previously taken from villagers in Jalacte.

In August the NGO and advocacy group Garifuna Nation raised concerns that the government and private investors were infringing upon communal lands of the indigenous Garifuna people in Punta Gorda Town and Seine Bight Village in Stann Creek. Garifuna Nation stated that Garifuna fishermen were blocked from lands in Punta Gorda where they traditionally docked their boats. In Seine Bight, developers were building a gas station where Garifuna people conducted sacred cultural rites. Garifuna Nation noted the activities were happening without their free, prior, or informed consent. According to Minister of Public Utilities and Logistics Rodwell Ferguson, a survey was conducted to gather the opinion of villagers regarding the construction of the gas station. Ferguson said the survey found that 81 percent of residents supported the project. Once the necessary building requirements were met, the project resumed in October. By the end of the year, there was no comment from the authorities on the indigenous lands in Punta Gorda.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the parents’ nationalities. Citizenship may be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen. The standard requirement is for births to be registered no later than one week after birth; registration after one month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. Failure to register does not result in denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card to access services such as health care. Children without birth certificates had trouble registering for school and often had to move from school to school. Government experts from the Ministry of Human Development indicated that 4 percent of children up to age five were not registered, making them legally stateless. The government’s Vital Statistics Unit, with support from the embassy of Mexico, UNHCR, and UNICEF, continued its mobile registration program that provided services across the country.

In September a 20-year-old woman in Ladyville sought the public’s assistance after she discovered her parents, now deceased, had not registered her at birth. As a result, the woman could not access basic documents such as a birth certificate and social security registration in order to be legally employed.

Child Abuse: The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until age 18. Abuse of children occurred. There were publicized cases of underage girls being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own or a relative’s home.

The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development was the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s matters. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and UNICEF to promote children’s welfare.

The ministry reported that by midyear it had registered 220 cases of sexual abuse and assaults on minors; in 2020 there were 366 reported cases for the entire year. Following several crimes against minors, the government, with the Office of the Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children and the National Committee for Families and Children, affirmed their “commitment to protect girls and boys from predators” by working with partner agents and NGOs to ensure that laws, policies, and services were responsive to the needs of families and children.

In June police arrested and charged a man for raping a 14-year-old girl while she slept. In August another girl reported a man, who was later criminally charged with rape of a child, sexually abused her.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons ages 16-17 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authorities. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabitating before reaching age 18. Early marriage was more prevalent in certain areas – Toledo, Corozal, and Orange Walk – and among the Maya and Mestizo ethnic groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child trafficking, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone younger than 18. The law allows 16- and 17-year-old children to engage in sexual activity. NGOs and experts noted that this provision makes children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16 but prostitution is not legal under age 18. Sexual intercourse with a minor younger than age 14 is punishable with 12 years to life imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a minor age 14-15 is punishable with five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited through child trafficking, including through “sugar daddy” arrangements whereby older men provided money to minors, the families of minors, or both for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increased child trafficking, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” younger than 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender can receive eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.

The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.

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 Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not mandate accessibility accommodations for persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses and government departments had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring persons with disabilities in the public or private sectors. The government did not provide all information in accessible formats, and there were a few anecdotal reports of violence against persons with disabilities.

Mental health provisions and protections were generally poor. Informal government-organized committees advocating for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. The country did not have a reliable system for identifying persons with disabilities who needed services. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology maintained the National Resource Center for Inclusive Education (NaRCIE), which offered screening, diagnostic assessments, teacher training, parent and school support, specific therapies for students with special needs, and segregated education programs within the mainstream school system.

Children with disabilities attended specific classrooms with no more than 15 pupils for every two teachers, all of whom were specially trained to work with learners with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. One private school, one public school, and five education centers across the country specialized in working with children with disabilities. The special education centers were attached to public schools under the same management. Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools through the secondary level at a significantly lower rate than other children and were placed with nondisabled peers. NaRCIE collaborated with UNICEF to deliver school packages to special-needs students and special-education classrooms countrywide during the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Packages included instructions for parents and students. Social media chat groups were created for ease of teacher-parent communication. Special-education officers conducted home visits to provide support.

The special envoy for the development of families and children continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for them. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities, especially in rural areas of the country. The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a survey that found approximately 95 percent of respondents believed persons with disabilities should be protected in the workplace, and 50 percent of respondents agreed that persons with disabilities were treated unfairly, compared with the rest of the population.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. The government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development.

The law provides for the protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status.

In July lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activist Caleb Orozco spoke out against Saint Martin’s Credit Union in San Ignacio, a financial institution that denied a funeral benefit for persons who died of HIV complications. Orozco pointed out that a significant number of AIDS victims were members of the LGBTQI+ community and the institution’s benefit plan denied them an equal opportunity to benefit.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination specifically against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services, such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.

The law prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The LGBTQI+ advocacy NGO UniBAM said that discrimination and assault based on sexual orientation and gender identity were substantially underreported. UniBAM’s director noted that in communities with strong religious affiliations, police often refused to take reports from LGBTQI+ victims of discrimination. According to UniBAM, LGBTQI+ persons were denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.

The NGO Live and Let Live conducted a survey showing 65 percent of respondents were tolerant of LGBTQI+ persons. One-third of respondents agreed that LGBTQI+ persons sometimes feared for their safety and were treated unfairly, compared with the rest of the population.

In June the government reconstituted the National Committee for Families and Children to include a member of the LGBTQI+ community and a representative for persons with special needs. The committee functions as a special advocate for policy development, monitoring, and evaluation of government responsibilities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides for the right to establish and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, and Local Government (Ministry of Labor) recognizes unions and employers associations after they are registered. The law establishes procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employer organizations and for collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, dissolution or suspension of unions by administrative authority, and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The unions, under their umbrella organizations the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the Civil Society Steering Group (CSG), are represented in the legislature by a senator designated by the NTUC and CSG. This senator provides direct input into the political and legislative process for labor organizations.

In disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services,” the law allows authorities to refer the dispute to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate labor actions. The postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation, petroleum sector, port authority personnel (stevedores and ship pilots), and security services are deemed essential services by local laws. This list was more extensive than the International Labor Organization’s definition of essential services.

On April 1, the PSU, Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), and Nurses Association of Belize (NAB) jointly initiated industrial action against the government to protest a 10 percent salary reduction and a three-year salary freeze as part of the government’s COVID-19 pandemic austerity plan. These organizations collectively represented 85 percent of government employees and public-school teachers across the country. The industrial action included go-slows at government offices and hospitals, public demonstrations, and teachers not teaching. The government implemented the measures despite the protests and after five weeks, the PSU, NAB and BNTU members returned to work. During the strike, the government ministries instructed its departments to compile a daily list of absent employees. While employees feared retaliation, the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Human Development, Tanya Santos, stated the procedure was to collect information to ensure that critical government services remained available. In August the nurses at the central health region returned to industrial action in protest of the government’s failure to pay overtime for more than three months.

In February, Director of Health Marvin Manzanero was placed on administrative leave (suspension) after he refused to accept a demotion to make way for an appointee by the new government administration. Manzanero, who was recovering from COVID-19, returned to his job to find his post occupied and was offered a demotion. When Manzanero refused the demotion, Ministry of Health and Wellness CEO Deysi Mendez informed Manzanero he would be placed on administrative leave while he was investigated for misconduct. The law requires the PSC to review demotions. In October the government introduced a law to replace Manzanero’s position as director of health services with two separate positions: director of public health and wellness, and director of hospital services. This legal change would effectively lower the rank of Manzanero’s position without formally demoting him.

Reports abounded of government employees who were unfairly terminated from central government and municipal posts when the new government administration came into power. PSU president Dean Flowers said the terminations were for “political reasons.” A memorandum from the government’s accountant general instructed administrative officers not to pay certain retirement benefits for terminated long-term government employees originally hired as general “open vote” workers and thus classified as temporary employees rather than as public servants; the law provides those benefits only for permanent government employees who retire or resign. Flowers noted that the PSU was providing legal counsel to the affected employees and formal complaints were being filed with the Labor Department. Through October no decision had been made on the cases. Prominent among the terminated officers was National Sports Director Ian Jones. In February, Jones announced that he was suing the government for breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Workers may file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts for wrongful termination because of union activity, although it was difficult to prove that terminations were in retaliation for union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals through arbitration outside the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity but provided monetary compensation instead.

The government generally enforced labor law in the formal sector but did not effectively enforce it in the large informal sector due to lack of registration from employers. There were complaints of administrative and judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Penalties were not commensurate with other violations.

On July 16, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) initiated a go-slow at the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) after the CWU was unable to resolve issues with PBL. Among the issues were salary reductions due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PBL not being willing to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with CWU members, and the decision of American Sugar Refining to export a substantial portion of its sugar through another port. On October 6, the CWU and the PBL signed a new collective bargaining agreement for PBL staff. Both entities continued to engage on resolving outstanding matters on behalf of the stevedores.

Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred and, as a result, on several occasions unions threatened or carried out strikes. NGOs working in migrant communities in the informal sector asserted that in certain industries, particularly the banana, citrus, and construction sectors, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers continued to be denied labor rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and are commensurate with those for similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources and inspections to enforce compliance were insufficient. Forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service. Migrant men, women, and children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and the service sector, including restaurants and shops, particularly in the South Asian and Chinese communities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14, except for work in wholesale or retail businesses, for which the minimum age is 12. “Light work,” which is not defined in the law, is allowed for children ages 12 and 13. Children ages 14 to 17 may be employed only in an occupation that a labor officer determines is “not injurious to the moral or physical development of nonadults.” Children older than 14 are explicitly permitted to work in certain “industrial undertakings,” which can include mining, manufacturing, and construction. Children younger than 16 are excluded from work in factories, and those younger than 18 are excluded from working at night and in certain kinds of employment deemed dangerous. The Labor Department used a list of dangerous occupations for young workers as guidance, but the list was not adopted as law.

The law permits children to work on family farms and in family-run businesses from the age of 10, taking into consideration the well-being of the child and continued enrollment in school. National legislation does not address a common situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and an employer. The National Child Labor Policy distinguishes between children engaged in work that is beneficial to their development and those engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The policy identifies children involved in the worst forms of child labor as those engaged in hazardous work, human trafficking, child slavery, commercial sexual activities, and illicit activities.

The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies, but it did not effectively enforce the law. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. Penalties were not criminal nor commensurate with those for similar crimes. There is a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.

Schooling is mandatory until age 14, and many poorer parents withdrew their children from school on their 14th birthday to put them to work in the informal sector. Children working for their parents are exempt from many of the protections provided in the formal system. Officers of the Ministry of Education are unable to act legally against parents who withdraw their child from school against their child’s wishes.

Some children were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in informal agriculture and the service sector. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). According to the most recent data available (2013) from the Statistical Institute of Belize, the country’s child labor rate was 3.2 percent, with half of those children involved in hazardous work. The problem was most prevalent in rural areas. Boys accounted for 74 percent of children illegally employed, mostly engaged in hazardous activities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

There were reports that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to hiring persons with disabilities and LGBTQI+ applicants. One NGO reported that members of the LGBTQI+ community often had problems gaining and retaining employment due to discrimination in the workplace.

There were no officially reported cases of discrimination at work based on ethnicity, culture, or skin color, although anecdotal evidence suggested such cases occurred. NGOs note that in most cases victims did not make formal reports due to fear of further victimization such as loss of employment.

The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but women lagged men in wages and promotions (see section 6). There were also restrictions on women working in certain industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation.

There were no formal reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were reports that workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined. This situation occurred predominantly in the agricultural sector, where a significant number of the workers were from Central America, working in the country on temporary work permits.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage was above the poverty-limit income level. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks of paid annual holiday. Additionally, there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate. In June the government implemented fiscal austerity measures that shortened the workweek for government employees by 10 percent along with reducing their pay by 10 percent. While employees in the private sector also received salary cuts, reportedly their working hours remained the same.

Occupational Safety and Health: Health and safety regulations for all industries provide that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees. The regulations further provide that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or near a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements.

The Ministry of Labor did not consistently enforce minimum wage, hour, and health and safety regulations. Inspectors could make unannounced visits and initiate penalties, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspections were curtailed during the year because of COVID-19 mitigation measures but were slowly reinstated at the end of the year as health measures were lifted.

The minimum wage was generally respected. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence from NGOs and employers suggested that undocumented Central American workers, particularly young service workers and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. As of October, no major accidents caused death or serious injury.

Informal Sector: The International Monetary Fund in 2015 estimated the informal economy generated 47 percent of GDP. In September the Statistical Institute of Belize estimated there were 72,433 persons in informal employment, approximately 42 percent of the total employed population.

Most labor violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector, but authorities were not able to properly monitor and carry out inspections. Workers in the informal economy were not afforded social protection by government entities. The country does not have a specific occupational safety and health law, but the Factories Act and the Labour Act contain provisions in relation to occupation, safety, and health in the workplace.

Dominica

Executive Summary

Dominica is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of government. The House of Assembly elects the president, who serves as the head of state. In the 2019 election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labour Party prevailed over the opposition United Workers Party by a margin of 18 seats to three. Election observers from the Organization of American States, United Nations, and Caribbean Community found the election generally free and fair.

The Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security oversees the police, the country’s only security force. The Financial Intelligence Unit reports to the Ministry of Legal Affairs; some of its officers have arrest authority. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports that members of the security forces committed significant abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: an alleged unlawful killing, the criminalization of libel, and the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although there were no reported cases of enforcement during the year.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, but some cases remained unresolved. During the year the government did not open an official investigation into allegations of corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There was one report that the government or its agents allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In July the superintendent of police was charged with the murder of Kerwin Prosper, who died on February 15 while in police custody. The family alleged that while in police custody, Prosper was severely beaten by officers, ultimately causing his death. At year’s end several additional police officers remained under investigation for Prosper’s death.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. There were no reports that impunity in the security forces was a significant problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. In September the general secretary of the Dominica Public Service Union reported to media that the Dominica State Prison, the country’s sole prison, was understaffed.

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

By September the number of COVID cases in the prison had exceeded the quarantine unit’s capacity. On September 28, employees of the prison conducted a protest action to express their concern regarding medical care and COVID prevention efforts for prisoners and staff.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: An independent committee composed of the chief welfare officer, justices of the peace, chaplains, youth welfare officers, social workers, and senior retired civil servants visited the prison monthly to investigate complaints and monitor prison and detention center conditions. Prisoners could request meetings with the superintendent to lodge complaints. The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

Improvements: During the year the prison created a quarantine unit with a capacity of 20 beds to safeguard other inmates from COVID-19. Prison officials upgraded facilities to include two virtual courtrooms and an area for visitors to speak with inmates by telephone. The prison expanded its carpentry training program for inmates. Additional fencing was constructed.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police used warrants issued by a judicial authority to apprehend persons. The law requires that authorities inform detainees of the reasons for their arrest within 24 hours and bring them to court within 72 hours. Authorities generally observed these requirements. If authorities are unable to bring a detainee to court within the requisite period, the person may be released and rearrested later. There was a functioning bail system. Criminal detainees had prompt access to counsel and family members. The state provides a lawyer for indigent defendants only in murder cases.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem due to judicial staff shortages. According to prison management, prisoners remained on remand status for months or even years. An estimated 40 percent of inmates were awaiting trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Inadequate prosecutorial and police staffing, outdated legislation, and a lack of magistrates resulted in backlogs and other problems in the judicial system.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence; prompt and detailed information about charges; a trial without undue delay; personal presence at their trial; communication with an attorney of their choice; adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter; the ability to challenge prosecution or plaintiff witnesses; present their own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There was an independent, impartial judiciary to which one may bring lawsuits seeking civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may not appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights courts for a binding decision; however, individuals and organizations may present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for 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.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. There were no active defamation suits against local journalists. Media representatives reported that public and private threats of lawsuits were made against media outlets and individual reporters, leading to some self-censorship.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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.

Clashes between police and protesters occurred during an April 12 demonstration by a group of bus drivers who blocked a public roadway to advocate against a rise in fuel prices and for COVID-19 stimulus relief. Witnesses reported to media that police used excessive force to break up the demonstrations by firing rubber bullets and beating, kicking, and choking protesters. On July 15, police filed charges of assault, battery, obstruction of justice, and resisting arrest against bus driver Esrome George, alleging George assaulted a member of the police force during the protest. George, who pled not guilty, maintained he was a victim of police brutality.

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. Individuals residing outside the Carib-Kalinago community must apply to the Carib Council for special access if they wish to live in the Kalinago Territory.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

No information was available on the government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum and refugee status, but the government has not established systems for determining when to grant asylum or protect refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labour Party prevailed over the opposition United Workers Party by a margin of 18 seats to three. The Caribbean Community, Organization of American States, and UN election observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and transparent.

In February more than 35 organizations were invited to make written submissions as part of an electoral reform process promised by the government. From April 26 to June 9, the public was invited to participate in a nationwide electoral reform survey, and in June the Dominica Business Forum provided recommendations from the private sector and civil society on electoral reform in the country. The opposition political party was consulted during the process. By year’s end a final report with electoral reform recommendations remained pending.

On March 9, the Caribbean Court of Justice dismissed an appeal filed by the government on behalf of ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) candidates who were successful in the 2014 elections and reinstated complaints filed against them for the charge of treating (providing free food and beverages) and bribery. In May, 12 elected DLP members pleaded not guilty to providing free concerts in the period preceding the 2014 election. On July 9, a magistrate dismissed the case after the director of public prosecution notified the court of her decision to discontinue the matter.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government implemented the law inconsistently. According to civil society representatives and members of the political opposition, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: In April the deputy labor commissioner was charged with nine fraud-related charges over accusations that he forged work permits and documentation for Haitian nationals in the country. The case had not gone to trial by year’s end.

Opposition leadership in the House of Assembly and some opposition-aligned local media raised allegations of corruption within the government, including in the Citizenship by Investment program.

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

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

At the June 24 the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) regional summit in Venezuela, Prime Minister Skerrit accused nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of being used in attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments and stated, “We have to fight against NGOs to expose them because they are not friends of the peoples of this region.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: According to the constitution, a parliamentary integrity commissioner has responsibility for investigating complaints against the government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape or incest) is 25 years’ imprisonment, the usual sentence was five to seven years. Whenever possible, female police officers handled rape cases involving female victims. Women were reluctant to report domestic violence to police. The only shelter for victims of gender-based violence remained closed after suffering damage during Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Civil society reported that sexual and domestic violence were common. According to civil society groups, the general population did not acknowledge gender-based violence and domestic violence as problems, but the government recognized these forms of violence as both problematic and prevalent. Although no specific laws criminalize spousal abuse, spouses may bring battery charges against their partner.

The law allows abused persons to appear before a magistrate without an attorney and request a protective order. Some persons requested protective orders.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment. Civil society groups reported it was a pervasive problem.

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

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Health’s Welfare Division and the National Council of Women. Other government departments, including the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Social Welfare Department, Adult Education Division, and Health Services and Housing Division, also assisted victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Survivors of sexual violence could access services from any public hospital, but emergency contraception for survivors of rape and incest was not routinely available.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women with the same legal rights as men. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but property deeds continued to be given to heads of households, who were usually men. The law requires equal pay for civil service positions, but not for other positions. Women and men generally received equal salaries for comparable jobs. Women are excluded from working in some industries, including mining, construction, energy, water, and transportation. No laws prohibit gender discrimination or sexual harassment in employment.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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

Indigenous Peoples

The population of the Kalinago (Carib) indigenous group was approximately 3,000, most of whom lived in the 3,782-acre Kalinago Territory. The government recognizes their special status, and the Kalinagos’ rights are protected in law and practice. The law establishes the Kalinago Territory and assigns management authority over the territory to the local council, which has veto power over new infrastructure projects in the territory. Some societal discrimination against the Kalinago existed, most notably against Kalinago children when they attended schools outside the territory. There was no secondary school inside the territory. During the year the government began or completed construction of more than 100 homes in five different locations for Kalinago residents.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or to a citizen parent. Parents received birth certificates on a timely basis. Failure to register births resulted in denial of access to public services except emergency care.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but according to the government and civil society, it remained a pervasive problem. The government maintained a Child Abuse Prevention Unit responsible for protecting children from all forms of abuse. The unit supported victims by providing counseling, psychological assessments, and other services such as financial assistance to abused children and to family members.

Civil society representatives noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) children were at particular risk of abuse.

Underage children were often required to testify directly in court against their abusers, who were also physically present, instead of providing prerecorded testimony from more private and secure spaces. Additionally, cases sometimes wended through the court system for years, with children repeatedly being required to attend hearings. Publicly available lists of offenders did not exist. Advocates claimed that the justice system discouraged prosecution of child abuse, discouraged victims from seeking justice, and allowed repeat offenders to continue the cycle of abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, but marriage is permitted at age 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 16. The law prohibits using children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, and related activity may be prosecuted under laws against prostitution or trafficking. The law protects all persons from “unlawful sexual connection,” rape, procurement for prostitution, and incest. It prohibits sexual intercourse between a child and an adult and increases the penalty to 25 years of imprisonment for an adult who rapes a child whom the adult employs or controls, or to whom the adult pays wages. The law criminalizes behaviors such as voyeurism.

The maximum sentence for sexual intercourse with a person younger than age 14 is 25 years in prison. When victims are ages 14 to 16, the maximum sentence is 14 years.

No laws or regulations explicitly prohibit the use of children in pornography or pornographic performances.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is no organized Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of discrimination or anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government provided partial financial support for a civil society organization focused on advocating for and improving the lives of persons with disabilities.

There is no legal requirement mandating access to buildings for persons with disabilities. Few buildings, including public buildings, provided access for persons with physical disabilities.

Children with physical disabilities and those with hearing and vision disabilities were integrated into mainstream schools. The government provided stipends to cover educational expenses in private, segregated schools for children with intellectual or mental disabilities. Representatives of civil society organizations reported that accessibility problems existed in the physical environment of schools and with educational accommodations for persons with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Reports from civil society indicated individuals with HIV feared job discrimination if their HIV status became public. This fear resulted in some patients not seeking medical treatment.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct for both men and women is illegal under indecency statutes. The law also prohibits anal intercourse between males. The government reported it rarely enforced either statute, with no instances of the law being enforced through the end of November. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, and same-sex sexual conduct between consenting men carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of forced psychiatric confinement upon release.

No laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics in employment, housing, education, or health care.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that strong societal and employment discrimination were common against persons due to their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Civil society representatives reported that LGBTQI+ victims of violence or harassment avoided notifying police of abuse because of social stigma and fear of harassment. Representatives further reported that in cases where police were notified of attacks against LGBTQI+ persons, police either rejected or poorly investigated some claims.

Civil society representatives reported that some LGBTQI+ individuals were denied access to housing, lost employment, were bullied in schools, or were denied educational and institutional support. Stigma and fear of abuse and intimidation prevented LGBTQI+ organizations from developing their membership or conducting activities such as Pride marches.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; workers exercised these rights. Workers exercised the right to collective bargaining primarily in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy, including in the civil service. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

The government enforced applicable labor laws, and penalties were commensurate with those of other laws involving denial of civil rights such as discrimination. Employers must reinstate workers who file a complaint of illegal dismissal, pending review of the complaint, which can cover termination for engaging in union activities. When essential workers conducted strikes, generally they did not suffer reprisals. Employers generally reinstated or paid compensation to employees who obtained favorable rulings by the ministry following a complaint of illegal dismissal.

The law designates emergency, port, electricity, telecommunications, and prison services, as well as the banana, coconut, and citrus fruit cultivation industries, as “essential,” limiting the right to strike in those industries. The International Labor Organization noted the list of essential services is broader than international standards. The procedure for essential workers to strike is cumbersome, involving appropriate notice and submission of the grievance to the labor commissioner for possible mediation. Strikes in essential services can be subject to compulsory arbitration.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced applicable laws, and penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals, and there were no such problems during the year. Few disputes escalated to strikes or sickouts. A company, a union representative, or an individual may request mediation by the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security.

In recent years mediation by the Office of the Labour Commissioner in the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security resolved approximately 70 percent of strikes and sickouts, while the rest were referred to the Industrial Relations Tribunal for binding arbitration.

Small, family-owned farms employed most agricultural workers, and workers on such farms were not unionized.

In May Dominica State College faculty and staff took action over their grievances regarding the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement with the staff’s union to address discrepancies in their contracts. A few days later, Dominica Public Service Union representatives met with relevant authorities and reached an agreement since the government committed to address the workers’ concerns, which included salary reductions and unpaid wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the law does not prescribe penalties for forced labor. The law also does not criminalize forced labor except when it results from human trafficking. The government effectively enforced the law. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as kidnapping.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor, and in general the government effectively enforced these laws. The law provides for some limitations on age, safety conditions, and working hours, especially during the school year.

The legal minimum age of employment is 12 if children work in family-run businesses and farms, if the work does not involve selling alcohol. The law allows children aged 14 and older to work in apprenticeships and regular jobs that do not involve hazardous work. The law prohibits employing any child younger than age 16 during the school year but makes an exception for family-owned businesses. The law does not protect children from exploitative work outside of the school year, and the government has not determined the types of hazardous work prohibited for children. The country lacks prohibitions against the use of children in pornography or pornographic performances, and the use of children in illicit activities, including the production and trafficking of drugs.

There is no minimum age for hazardous work. While the government does not have a comprehensive list of hazardous work prohibited for children, the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security considers jobs such as mining and seafaring as hazardous. Additionally, children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working at night and from working on ships. Safety standards limit the type of work, conditions, and hours of work for children older than age 14, most of whom worked in services or hospitality.

Children may not work more than eight hours a day. The law provides for sentences to deter violations of child labor law, and the government generally enforced the law. The government did not perform comprehensive inspections; however, the laws and penalties generally were adequate to remove children from illegal child labor but with penalties less stringent than for analogous crimes such as kidnapping. Although research found no evidence that child labor existed, in 2020 the government made no advancement in efforts to prevent the worst forms of child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, place of origin, skin color, creed, or political opinion. The government generally enforced this provision. There are legal restrictions on employment of women in working at night and in certain industries such as mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation. There were no government programs to prevent discrimination in the workplace and no penalties to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred against women and persons with disabilities (see section 6). Discrimination occurred based on sexual orientation. The law permits employers to pay lower wages to persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes no universal minimum wage but instead sets base wages depending on the category of worker. No reliable recent data indicated whether average minimum wages were above or below the poverty level.

In September, following a multiyear review of the minimum wage across all wage categories, the government significantly increased the minimum wage for retail, service, agricultural, construction, and tourism workers, as well as for trainees. The government also created new categories with corresponding wage rates, including for workers in the hospitality and construction industries.

The law provides for overtime pay for work above the standard workweek of 40 hours. The law does not specifically prohibit forced or compulsory overtime. The law mandates that overtime wages be paid at a minimum of 1.5 times an employee’s standard wage and that the employee must give prior agreement to work overtime. There were no prosecutions reported for violations of overtime regulations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law ensures occupational health and safety standards are consistent with international standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively enforced this right.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the labor commissioner within the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security. This enforcement includes the informal sector, where workers were not commonly unionized. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The penalties for violations were insufficient to ensure compliance.

Quarry workers faced hazardous conditions. Some reports claimed that workers entered mines before adequate time elapsed after blasting, which exposed them to hazardous chemicals.

There were no reported workplace accidents causing fatalities or major injuries during the year.

Informal Sector: The informal sector was a significant part of the economy, but credible data on the informal workforce were unavailable. No social protection was provided to persons in the informal sector beyond social security benefits for maternity leave, sickness, disability, or death. Domestic workers are not covered by labor law and do not receive social protections.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In July 2020 Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected president for a four-year term, the first transfer of power from one party to another in 16 years. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and orderly.

The National Police fall under the Ministry of Interior and Police but in practice report directly to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both police and the armed forces, reports directly to the president, as does the National Department of Intelligence. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; and police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corrupt acts, but inconsistent and ineffective application of the law sometimes led to 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 that government agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Extrajudicial killings of civilians by officers of the National Police were a problem. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), more than 4,000 individuals died during confrontations with police or security forces between 2010 and April 2021. As of October police killed a total of 41 persons, according to the Attorney General’s Office, but the exact number of extrajudicial killings was unknown. Media and civil society acknowledged that many cases went unreported due to a lack of faith in the justice system to pursue charges.

In one of the most high-profile cases of the year, in March police killed Joel Diaz and Elizabeth Munoz under unclear circumstances when Diaz and Munoz were returning home after a church event. According to local media, the officers “confused” the couple’s vehicle for the vehicle of wanted criminals and shot at the couple’s vehicle while in pursuit. In April the Public Ministry (the ministry responsible for the formulation and implementation of the country’s policy against crime, for the conduct of criminal investigations, and for public prosecution) ordered that all seven police officers involved in the shooting be arrested and put in pretrial detention.

On October 2, an off-duty police officer shot and killed Leslie Rosado after Rosado allegedly hit the officer’s motorcycle and left the scene. The officer was assisted by a second officer, who helped him chase Rosado’s vehicle. The Santo Domingo Este Prosecutor’s Office requested the courts place the two police officers in pretrial detention and requested three months to complete the investigation. President Luis Abinader attended Rosado’s funeral service, called her killing “an intolerable act of savagery,” and promised to eradicate similar police abuse through police reform.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse, there were reports that security force members, primarily police, carried out such practices.

In April relatives of a young man in La Vega, the fourth largest city, reported to news outlets that the young man was beaten by police officers and left outside a convenience store. As of year’s end, authorities reported they had investigated the incident, but no further information on their conclusions or steps taken was available.

Impunity was a problem within certain units of the security forces, particularly the National Police. The government worked to address issues related to impunity through training programs for police officers, including specialized courses on human rights included as part of their continuing education courses. On April 6, President Abinader created a special commission on police reform, scheduled to be effective for one year. On October 17, the president replaced the director and deputy director of the National Police. The president announced other reform initiatives, including limits on the use of force, improved training and performance evaluation mechanisms, an increase in the salaries for officers, and funding to allow for the immediate purchase of body cameras and car cameras to ensure all actions by police are recorded.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions ranged from general compliance with international standards in “new-model” prisons, also called correctional rehabilitation centers (CRCs), versus harsh and life-threatening conditions in “old-model” prisons.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem in old-model prisons. The Directorate of Prisons reported that as of October there were 16,745 prisoners in old-model prisons and 10,407 in CRCs. La Victoria, the oldest prison, held 7,647 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,011. The inmate population at every old-model prison exceeded capacity, while only one of the 22 CRCs was over capacity.

Under the old-model prison system, inmates who were former police and military received preferential treatment and were held in separate facilities, as were prisoners with the financial means to rent preferential bed space and purchase luxuries.

According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded old-model prisons, while a trained civilian corps guarded CRCs. Reports of mistreatment and violence in old-model prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Some old-model prisons remained effectively outside the control of authorities, with wardens often controlling only the perimeter, while inmates controlled the inside with their own rules and systems of justice. There were reports of drug trafficking, arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse in those prisons. Although the law mandates separation of prisoners according to severity of offense, authorities did not follow these rules in the old-model prisons.

In old-model prisons, health and sanitary conditions were generally inadequate. Prisoners often slept on the floor because no beds were available. Prison officials did not separate sick inmates, except for prisoners reporting COVID-19 symptoms. Delays in receiving medical attention were common in both the old-model prisons and CRCs. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In most cases inmates had to purchase their own medications or rely on family members or outside associates to provide medications. Illness was the primary cause of deaths reported in the prison system. According to the Directorate of Prisons, all prisons provided treatment for HIV and AIDS, but the NHRC stated that none of the old-model prisons was properly equipped to provide such treatment. As of October more than 1,800 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, resulting in 22 deaths.

In CRCs and certain old-model prisons, a subset of the prison population with mental disabilities received treatment, including therapy, for their conditions. In most old-model prisons, however, the government did not provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities. In general the mental-health services provided to prisoners were inadequate or inconsistent with prisoners’ needs.

The government reported it had installed wheelchair ramps in some prisons for prisoners with physical disabilities. NGOs claimed most prisons still did not provide access for inmates with disabilities.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to and monitoring of prisons by independently funded and operated nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and media. The NHRC, National Office of Public Defense (NOPD), Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC that were authorized to conduct surprise visits. Access to migrant detention centers for monitoring, however, was not systematically granted to human rights organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court. The government generally observed this requirement, but arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported. The constitution prohibits detention without a warrant unless authorities apprehend a suspect during the commission of a crime or in other special circumstances. The law permits detention without charges for up to 48 hours. In many instances authorities detained, fingerprinted, questioned, and then released detainees with little or no explanation for the detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that an accused person may be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant before being presented to judicial authorities. Nonetheless, there were reports of detainees who remained in police stations for long periods of time, even weeks, before being transferred to a prison. Police stations did not have adequate physical conditions or the resources, including food, to provide for detainees for an extended period.

The law permits police to apprehend without an arrest warrant any person caught in the act of committing a crime or reasonably linked to a crime, such as cases involving hot pursuit or escaped prisoners. Police often detained all suspects and witnesses to a crime. Successful habeas corpus hearings reduced abuses of the law significantly. There was a functioning bail system and a system of house arrest.

The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants. The NOPD provided free legal aid to those who could not afford counsel, but due to inadequate staffing, many detainees and prisoners who could not afford private counsel did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Prosecutors and judges handled interrogations of juveniles, since the law prohibits interrogation of juveniles by or in the presence of police.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police made sporadic sweeps or roundups in low-income, high-crime communities during which they arrested and detained individuals without warrants. During these operations police detained large numbers of residents and seized personal property allegedly used in criminal activity. Civil society groups claimed police were often unable to show proof or provide reasons for the detentions.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported cases of Haitian migrants and their children, as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent, being detained and deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences. There were also reports of deportations of unaccompanied children and of women who left children behind. The IOM reported that due to training they provided to migration officials, the number of erroneous deportations of documented and vulnerable persons had fallen by almost 60 percent over the past four years. IOM data for January to July showed a continued reduction in erroneous deportations, but IOM officials warned that erroneous deportations had increased since July, following Haitian president Moise’s assassination and the Dominican Republic’s increased border security measures and deportations.

Civil society organization representatives said the government informally deported individuals by taking them across the border without documentation. The IOM reported that the General Directorate of Migration referred to these cases as “devolutions” or “not admitted” and that there was no due process in these operations. The IOM worked with the government to establish a system for nonadmitted persons.

Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. A judge may order detention lasting between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of October, 59 percent of inmates in old-model prisons were in pretrial custody, compared with 62 percent of prisoners in CRCs. The average pretrial detention time was three months, but there were reports of pretrial detentions lasting more than three years, including cases involving foreign citizens. Time served in pretrial detention counted toward completing a sentence.

The failure of prison authorities to produce detainees for court hearings caused trial postponements. Many inmates had their court dates postponed due to a lack of transportation from prison to court. In other cases, lawyers, codefendants, interpreters, or witnesses did not appear or were not officially called by the court to appear. Despite protections in the law for defendants, in some cases authorities held inmates beyond the legally mandated deadlines, even when there were no formal charges against the inmates.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. In a change from past years, independent observers noted the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The president respected the independence of the Attorney General’s Office and instructed senior officials to do the same. In addition independent observers noted the judiciary began investigating high-level cases of corruption and drug trafficking, including cases involving government allies.

Civil society and attorneys complained of the backlog of cases and what they considered undue delay in processes. Civil society and attorneys complained early in the year of virtual management of courts and hearings, but this matter became less of a concern as tribunals resumed in-person services and hearings later in the year.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a defense in a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right. The courts sometimes exceeded the maximum period of time established by the law for setting hearing dates.

The law provides for a presumption of innocence. The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify defendants and their attorneys of criminal charges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The indigent have the right to a public defender, but the NOPD director stated the number of public defenders was insufficient to meet the demand. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The law provides for the right to confront or question witnesses and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. The constitution provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts.

Military and police tribunals share jurisdiction over disciplinary cases involving members of the security forces. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of military rules and regulations. Civilian criminal courts handle cases of killings and other serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There are separate court systems for criminal law, commercial law, civil law, labor law, real estate law, and administrative law. Commercial and civil courts reportedly had lengthy delays in adjudicating cases, although their ultimate decisions were generally enforced. As in criminal courts, political and economic influence in civil court decisions continued to be a problem although less so from executive branch appointees.

Citizens have recourse to file a writ of amparo, an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of fundamental rights.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence, except when police are in hot pursuit of a suspect, a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or police suspect a life is in danger. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge. Despite these limits on government authority, police conducted illegal searches and seizures, including many raids without warrants on private residences in poor neighborhoods.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media expressed a wide variety of views, but the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The concentration of media ownership, weaknesses in the judiciary, and political influence also limited media’s independence.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without retaliation, although there were incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press.

In March amid a public debate over proposed legislation to allow abortion in specific circumstances, the Public Ministry, on behalf of the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), notified Katherine Motyka, the founder and director of Jompeame (a crowdfunding foundation), that she must remove all images involving children and adolescents from her social media platforms or she would face legal charges. This was despite Motyka’s claim that all images were posted with full parental consent and that most of the children’s identities were not revealed in the posts. The Public Ministry made the request after Jompeame published the case of a 12-year-old girl who was sexually abused and became pregnant as a result of the rape. Civil society groups claimed political desires to influence the public debate and limit abortion in all cases motivated the directive. Later that month CONANI reported that Jompeame complied with the request of the Public Ministry and removed from its platform a video that, according to a Public Ministry press release, “violated the right to image and integrity” of a young girl who was the victim of a serious crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Observers suggested the government influenced the press through advertising contracts. In July 2020 the government’s communications directorate published advertising expense reports that totaled more than 1.05 billion pesos ($18.5 million) over eight years.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The law penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

On February 10, ruling party legislator Sergio “Gory” Moya filed a lawsuit against the private investigator Angel Martinez, based in Miami, for alleged defamation and insult. In August a judge issued an arrest order against Martinez based on allegations that Martinez violated the high-technology crimes law. Moya requested that the court sentence Martinez to one year in prison and require him to pay 10 million pesos ($177,000) for damages.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. In contrast with 2020, there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On April 20, the night before debate on a new abortion law was to begin, police forcibly removed and destroyed the tents of women’s rights activists who camped outside the presidential palace to raise awareness for decriminalizing abortion. Police officials argued they removed the tents because the group was in violation of COVID-19 curfew restrictions, which had been reduced on April 17. Women’s rights activists stated police acted from political motivations to stifle expression on a controversial issue, as the activists had been camping there for several days without interference and when restrictions were stricter. Several lawmakers intervened in favor of the activists to defend their right to peaceful assembly.

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, with some exceptions.

In-country Movement: Civil society representatives reported that citizens of Haitian descent, those perceived to be Haitian, and Haitian migrants faced obstacles while traveling within the country. NGO representatives reported that security forces at times asked travelers to show immigration and citizenship documents at road checkpoints throughout the country. Citizens of Haitian descent and migrants without valid identity documents reported fear of swift deportation when traveling within the country, especially near the border with Haiti (see also section 1.d.).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

On January 22, the government announced a plan to normalize the migration status of Venezuelan nationals residing in the country with irregular migratory status. The program applied to Venezuelans, including children, who entered the country legally between January 2014 and March 2020. The government allowed applicants to apply with expired Venezuelan passports. Starting on April 5, the individuals had 30 days to register with the government. Approximately 43,000 persons registered. Registered individuals received a 60-day extension of legal status. Venezuelan migrants who were approved for the 60-day extension could apply for a temporary work or education visa. This status may be automatically renewed until the National Council on Migration declares an end to the current extraordinary situation in Venezuela.

The government and NGOs estimated an additional 100,000 Venezuelans lived in the country in an irregular migration status. In 2019 the government instituted a regulation requiring Venezuelans to apply for a tourist visa before entering the country. Previously Venezuelans needed only a valid passport and could receive a tourist visa at the point of entry. Many Venezuelans in the country entered legally before the new regulation and stayed longer than the three-month allowance.

Venezuelan refugee and immigrant associations, with the support of the IOM, UNHCR, and the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V Platform), coordinated with the government and civil society organizations to provide public-health and legal services for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The R4V Platform was a regional interagency platform, led by the IOM and UNHCR, for coordinating the humanitarian response for refugees and migrants from Venezuela.

Access to Asylum: Presidential decrees from the 1980s established a system for granting asylum or refugee status; however, the system was not implemented through legislation and regulations. The constitution prohibits administrative detention for asylum seekers, and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance. The system for providing protection to refugees was not effectively implemented. The government recognized and issued identity documents to very few refugees during the past few years. Rejection rates for asylum claims were close to 100 percent, and asylum applications often remained pending for several years.

The National Commission for Refugees (CONARE), an interministerial body led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is responsible for adjudicating asylum claims. The adjudication process requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. If an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days without applying for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The law also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or who proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers reported there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum, or of the timeline and process for doing so. Furthermore, NGO representatives reported that immigration and other security officials did not appear to understand how to handle asylum cases in a manner consistent with the country’s international commitments. By law the government must provide due process to asylum seekers. Persons expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review of “credible fear” determinations.

UN officials reported asylum seekers were not properly notified of inadmissibility decisions. CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers with details of the grounds for the rejection of their asylum application or with information on the appeal process. Rejected applicants received a letter stating they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. According to government policy, from the time they receive the notice of denial, rejected asylum seekers have seven days to file an appeal. The notice-of-denial letter does not mention this right of appeal.

UN officials stated a lack of due process in migration procedures resulted in arbitrary detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review (see also section 1.d.). As a result asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.

According to refugee NGOs, CONARE does not acknowledge that the 1951 Refugee Convention definition of refugee applies to persons who express a well founded fear of persecution perpetrated by nonstate agents. This lack of acknowledgement had a detrimental effect on persons fleeing sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Refoulement: There were reports of persons potentially in need of international protection being denied admission at the point of entry and subsequently being deported to their countries of origin without being granted access to the asylum process (see also section 1.d.).

Freedom of Movement: Persons claiming asylum often waited months to receive a certificate as an asylum seeker and to be registered in the government database. The certificate had to be renewed every 30 days at the national office in Santo Domingo, forcing asylum seekers who lived outside Santo Domingo to return monthly to the capital, accompanied by all their family members, or lose their claim to asylum. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only this certificate, or sometimes nothing at all, to present to avoid deportation. This restricted their freedom of movement. In cases where asylum seekers were detained for lack of documentation, refugee and human rights organizations were able to advocate for their release.

Some refugees recognized by CONARE were issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, and some were not issued travel documents at all.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite waiting periods for pending asylum cases to be resolved. Some approved refugees lacked the documentation they needed in order to work. Employment was, nonetheless, a requirement by the government for renewing refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees have the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. Approved refugees have the right to education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, refugee organizations reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported their government-issued identification numbers were sometimes not recognized, and thus they could not open a bank account or begin service contracts for basic utilities. Refugees sometimes had to rely on friends or family for such services.

Temporary Protection: A plan adopted in 2013, and which remained in force until 2014, enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. Although the exact number of undocumented migrants was unknown, the law granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 applicants, 97 percent of whom were Haitian. As of November 2020, the plan was in limbo, with 196,480 persons having expired temporary permits after applying for renewal in 2019 and 2020 and still waiting to receive updated documents. Of the initial 260,000 applicants, only 14,763 had a valid permit to legally stay in the country; of these permit holders, 8,847 persons were nonresident students and 5,916 were temporary residents. Civil society organizations expressed concern that many plan participants lacked passports and other identity documents that were not needed in the initial registration but were needed for renewal. Civil society organizations added that the rules for renewal were unclear both to government authorities and to plan beneficiaries. Government and business closures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 made it even more difficult for recipients of this temporary protection to renew their status.

On November 1, the National Migratory Council announced it would suspend a student visa program for Haitians and launch an audit of the more than 200,000 foreigners who had been granted temporary residency status under the prior administration.

No temporary residence documents were granted to asylum seekers; those found to be admissible to the process were issued a certificate that provided them with protection from deportation but did not confer other rights. This certificate often took months to be delivered to asylum seekers. Due in part to this delay, both refugees and asylum seekers lived on the margins of the migration system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migration documents to obtain legal assistance or to access the judicial system; therefore, the many refugees and asylum seekers who lacked these documents were unable to access legal help for situations they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.

Refugees recognized by CONARE must undergo annual reevaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure contrary to international standards. Refugees were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit.

g. Stateless Persons

A constitutional change in 2010 and a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling revised the country’s citizenship laws. One effect was to strip retroactively Dominican citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who previously had Dominican citizenship by virtue of the jus soli (citizenship by birth within the country) policy in place since 1929.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that these legal revisions led to statelessness for the persons who lost their Dominican citizenship. UN officials and NGOs stated the legal changes had a disproportionate and negative impact on women and their children. They reported that mothers, especially unmarried mothers of Haitian origin, were unable to register their children the same way the fathers could. The law requires a special birth certificate for children born to foreign women who do not have documentation of legal residency. This led to discrimination in the ability of children born to foreign women and Dominican citizen fathers to obtain Dominican nationality, especially if they were of Haitian descent. This was not true in the reverse situation when children were born to a Dominican citizen mother and a foreign-born father.

These obstacles to timely birth registration, which was necessary to determine citizenship, put at risk children’s access to a wide range of rights, including the right to nationality, to a name and identity, and to equality before the law.

A 2014 law created a mechanism to provide citizenship papers or a naturalization process to stateless persons. The exact mechanism depends on the documentary status of the individual prior to the 2010 change in the constitution. In practice the new documentation mechanism was only partially successful. Many stateless persons did not register for the mechanism before its deadline.

In July 2020 the outgoing government approved the naturalization of 750 individuals, most of whom were minors who were stripped of their citizenship by the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling and who were known as Group B. These 750 persons from Group B were the first to be approved for naturalization since the 2014 law was passed. In May President Abinader approved the naturalization of an additional 50 individuals from the same group. NGOs stated that while citizenship had been approved for the 800 individuals, none had received their documents as of October due to hurdles in different government agencies.

Through a mechanism outlined in the law for individuals with other circumstances (commonly known as Group A), the government identified and then issued birth certificates and national identity documents to approximately 26,000 individuals in 2014 and later that year identified an additional 34,900 individuals as potentially being part of Group A. As of October these individuals had not received an identity document confirming their Dominican nationality due to apparent concerns regarding the nature of the underlying documentation establishing citizenship. This placed them at a high risk of statelessness. The pool of individuals identified as potentially part of Group A extended back to individuals born as early as 1929. Because a number of those individuals had died or moved out of the country in the ensuing decades, the remaining number of eligible Group A individuals was likely substantially smaller than the 35,000 persons identified by the Central Electoral Board (JCE).

According to observers many stateless individuals falling under the Group B profile were unable or unwilling to register for the naturalization process during the 180-day application window. As of October there was no way for this group to secure Dominican nationality. In addition there were other individuals born in the country at specific times and in specific circumstances connected to their parents who were in legal limbo related to their citizenship.

Dominican-born persons without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. Beginning in 2015 authorities attempted to deport some of these persons but were prevented by UN agency intervention. Stateless persons do not have access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, marriage registration, birth registration, formal loans, judicial procedures, state social-protection programs, and property ownership. Their access to primary public education and health care was limited. In addition those able to receive an education do not receive official recognition, such as a diploma, for completed schooling.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal, direct, and equal suffrage. Active-duty police and military personnel are prohibited from voting or participating in partisan political activities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were scheduled for February 2020. On the day of the election, however, the JCE suspended the election due to the failure of the electronic voting system. According to subsequent reports by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations, the failure was due to the JCE’s poor management of the electronic system, including the failure to audit and gradually implement it. The OAS report led to the dismissal of the JCE’s national computing director. In March 2020 voters participated in rescheduled municipal elections. International and domestic observers described the rescheduled elections as largely free and fair.

Presidential and congressional elections were originally scheduled for May 15, 2020, but the JCE postponed these elections to July 5, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic national state of emergency. In the July 2020 election, Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected as president for a four-year term. This was the first time since 2000 that a member of the opposition party won a presidential election. The JCE did not announce final, official results for the presidential election until two days after the election. Results for the congressional races were announced 12 days after the election. Some congressional and municipal races remained contested for weeks, leading to sporadic protests and violence, mainly in the National District, regarding seats in the lower chamber of congress. Overall, however, civil society and international observers praised the citizens and electoral authorities for a voting process that was orderly and largely peaceful, despite COVID-19 challenges.

During both the municipal and presidential elections, the OAS and domestic observers noted widespread illegal political campaigning immediately outside of voting stations, indications of vote buying, lack of financial transparency by political parties and candidates, and illegal use of public funds during the campaign. Most electoral crimes were not prosecuted.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A 2018 law regulates political parties and formalizes party primaries, party financing, and the establishment of new political parties. The electoral institutions and courts interpreted and implemented the 2018 law during the 2019-20 national electoral cycle, and the Constitutional Court struck down several parts. Civil society representatives commented that the law aided the organization of the 2020 electoral process. Principal political actors, however, largely ignored important sections of the law, particularly those related to campaign financing.

By law major parties, defined as those that received 5 percent of the vote or more in the previous election, receive 80 percent of public campaign finances, while minor parties share the remaining 20 percent. The OAS, domestic NGOs, and minor parties criticized this allocation of funding as unequal and unfair. Civil society groups criticized the government and the then ruling Dominican Liberation Party for using public funds to pay for advertising shortly before the elections despite the legal prohibition on the use of public funds for campaigns. According to civil society groups, revenue from government advertising influenced media owners to censor voices that disagreed with the Dominican Liberation Party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law stipulates that at least 40 percent, and no more than 60 percent, of a political party’s nominees should be of a particular gender, but in practice women were underrepresented. Despite the gender balance provision in the law, the July 2020 elections resulted in approximately the same number of elected women as in 2016.

Even with the high profile of women during the July 2020 political contest, including female vice-presidential candidates on every party ticket, more than half of elected women were selected for secondary or substitute positions (such as vice presidency and vice mayor). Men won two-thirds of the direct leadership positions (such as presidency, mayor, and senator). For example, in the municipal elections, 724 of the candidates for mayoral positions were men while only 122 were women. Those numbers were effectively reversed for vice-mayoral positions, where 674 candidates were women and 122 were men.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and in a change from previous years noted by independent observers, the government generally implemented the law effectively. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.

NGO representatives said the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was traditionally a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Under President Abinader, however, the attorney general pursued a number of cases against public officials, including high-level politicians and their families, mostly from the previous administration but also including members of the current administration. Nonetheless, government corruption remained a serious problem.

Corruption: On June 15, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Administrative Corruption (PEPCA) arrested the then director of the national lottery Luis Maisichell Dicent following allegations that Dicent orchestrated a major fraud worth more than 150 million pesos ($2.5 million). On June 29, PEPCA arrested former attorney general Jean Alain Rodriguez and seven others on fraud, public corruption, and money-laundering charges related to the construction of La Nueva Victoria Penitentiary. In September PEPCA made several arrests related to a drug-trafficking and money-laundering scheme involving one current official and three congressmembers, including one from the ruling party. In November PEPCA launched another operation that involved active military commanders. Most notably, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Torres Robiou, an Air Force general and former head of the Specialized Tourist Security Corps under the current administration. At the end of the year, all these cases were under investigation, and many of the defendants were under pretrial detention.

NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police, judges, and minor officials.

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

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent faced occasional government obstruction.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman. The ombudsman’s functions are to safeguard human rights and protect collective interests. There is also a human rights commission, cochaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, spousal rape, domestic violence, incest, and sexual aggression. Sentences for rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a modest fine. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes even when victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.

The Ministry of Women promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community by implementing education and awareness programs, as well as training other ministries and offices. During the year the ministry revamped or opened a total of 15 shelters for female and child victims of violence, including one dedicated for trafficking victims. The ministry also collaborated with police and the Attorney General’s Office to put in place a gender and domestic violence response unit, including training all personnel on proper response to emergency calls and visits. NGO representatives generally welcomed these efforts but insisted more was needed.

In March a group of journalists released a report showing that in 2019, one in four femicides was not registered as such by the Attorney General’s Office. According to the report, the Attorney General’s Office only counted intimate femicides – those committed by a partner or former partner – among official cases. In 2019 the Attorney General’s Office officially registered 77 femicides, while the journalists’ report identified 103 cases that same year.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Acid attacks, predominantly against women, with a mix of sulfuric, hydrochloric, and muriatic acid, a concoction commonly referred to as devil’s acid, constituted a problem for authorities. The director of the burn unit of one of the largest trauma centers in the country said that 7 percent of annual admissions to the unit were patients suffering from devil’s acid burns. The government typically prosecuted the organizer of the attack (usually a former partner), not the persons hired to commit the act itself. Persons convicted for this crime received sentences of up to 20 years in prison but often spent only two years in prison, according to civil society leaders. In September Attorney General Miriam German instructed public prosecutors to treat attacks with devil’s acid as “acts of torture or cruelty.”

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment by an authority figure as a misdemeanor; conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a large fine. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.

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

Low income was a barrier to accessing information on reproductive health care. Family-planning NGOs provided contraceptives without charge. Many low-income women, however, used them inconsistently due to lack of information, irregular availability, societal influences, and cultural male dominance.

The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Women, but most of the burden for providing these services fell on women’s rights NGOs. Emergency contraception was available.

According to Human Rights Watch, pregnant students and young mothers often found it difficult or impossible to continue their education. A women’s rights NGO said there were many reasons why young women and girls dropped out of school after pregnancy, including the impact of pregnancy on their health and deficiencies in the educational system that prevented many women and girls from returning. Many were expelled from school, although it is illegal to do so, or were moved to night classes under the pretext that they were a “bad example” to other students. The NGO also noted that once young women and girls became pregnant, their families and communities considered them emancipated, regardless of their age. The young mothers were expected to stay home to take care of the baby and carry out other household chores.

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. Civil society organizations explained that women faced obstacles regarding economic equality and independence. In addition no law requires equal pay for equal work.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination based on skin color and nationality. There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants (see also sections 1.d., 2.d., and 2.g.).

Afro-Dominicans and citizens of Haitian descent experienced discrimination when accessing a variety of government services. Hospitals sometimes wrongfully gave pink birth certificates (indicating foreigner status) to children of parents assumed to be Haitian migrants based on the color of their skin, accent, or name. Police detained citizens of Haitian descent for deportation or alleged crimes based on their skin color, their accent, their place of residence, or their name. At some government agencies, as a way to keep them from accessing their documents, citizens of Haitian descent were routinely prevented from parking their vehicles or using the restroom. In November the country began deporting pregnant Haitians and Haitian persons who recently gave birth as part of newly instituted migratory policies to curb the prevalence of undocumented immigrants.

Vice Minister for Migration Management and Naturalization Juan Manuel Rosario repeatedly questioned in media the validity of the decree attempting to regularize citizens of Haitian descent. There were reports that under Vice Minister Rosario’s leadership, the ministry instituted a series of documentation requirements and administrative hurdles that made it virtually impossible for persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants to obtain their rightful documents. During the summer the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that the government continued to defend the legality of the naturalization decree issued by then president Medina and that Rosario’s comments did not reflect a change in the government’s position. In addition, on October 10, Director General for Migration Enrique Garcia stated that citizens “cannot allow them [Haitians] to take away our country” and noted that “the Haitian solution is not in the Dominican Republic.” On a December 1 radio interview, Garcia stated that the deportation of pregnant Haitians was not illegal, since the law only prohibits their “detention.” He added that he could even look for them “under the beds…because the law allows [him] to.”

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see also section 2.g.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. Children not registered at birth remain undocumented until the parents file a late declaration of birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children younger than age 18, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a large fine for persons convicted of physical and psychological abuse of a minor. Despite this legal framework for combatting child abuse, local NGOs reported that few cases were reported to authorities and fewer still were prosecuted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In late December 2020, Congress passed a bill prohibiting marriage of persons younger than 18. The bill took effect in January. Prior to passage of the law, 22 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant, an issue directly related to early marriage. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas. More than one-half of the women in the country’s poorest quintile were married by age 17.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a significant fine.

Children were exploited for commercial sex, particularly in tourist locations and major urban areas. Child pornography was also rampant and growing due to the ease of online exploitation. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 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

Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others. The law provides for access to the labor market, recreational and cultural activities, and physical access to all new public and private buildings, but these laws were not enforced effectively. The law specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Ministry of Public Health and the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities and to operate specialized schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states the government should provide access to the labor market and to cultural, recreational, and religious activities for persons with disabilities, but the law was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for the care of children with disabilities, one each in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. These centers served a small percentage of the population with disabilities, offering their services to children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. They had lengthy waiting lists for children seeking care. The most recent information, from a 2016 Ministry of Education report, found that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended some form of school.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, the government, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many job applicants found to have HIV were not hired, and some of those already employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

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

The constitution protects the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTQI+ persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services. NGO representatives reported widespread discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in health care, housing, education, justice, and employment. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced rampant intimidation and harassment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, the law restricts collective bargaining rights to those unions that represent a minimum of 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met.

Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public-service personnel may not strike. The government adopted a broad definition of essential workers, including teachers and public-service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with other laws involving denials of civil rights. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. In recent years there were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union even though the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.

Labor NGO representatives reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. In recent years companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The antitrafficking law prohibits forced labor, but there were gaps in enforcement. The laws related to forced labor in the country were not sufficient to meet international standards, as they do not criminally prohibit forced labor except when it results from human trafficking and coercion. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of exploiting forced labor. Such penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Forced labor of adults occurred in construction, agriculture, and services. Forced labor of children also occurred (see section 7.c.).

The law applies equally to all workers regardless of nationality, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGO representatives reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor in a manner consistent with international standards. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than 16, limiting them to six working hours per day. For persons younger than 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, was responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors and inspections was insufficient. Incomplete or incorrect labor inspection reports and insufficient prosecutorial resources led to few prosecutions on criminal matters involving child labor. Labor inspectors are authorized to reinspect worksites to ensure that violations are remedied. Reinspections occurred less frequently and were more difficult and less consistent in remote rural areas. Some inspection reports did not set a time frame for the remediation of the violations identified.

The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, or in domestic work, street vending, construction, or begging (see also section 6). Some Dominican children were also subject to forced sexual exploitation and forced work. Low income and rural children were at greater risk. Children were also used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution creates rights of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or stateless status. No law mandates equal pay for equal work.

The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV or AIDS, persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, LGBTQI+ persons, persons of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6).

A 2019 Ministry of the Economy report showed the per-hour labor wage gap between men and women continued to increase. Between 2014 and 2020, on average women received 16.7 percent less salary than men, according to a study from the Office of National Statistics.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and the type of labor. As of October 2019, the minimum wage for all sectors within the formal economy, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation.

The law covers different labor sectors individually. For example, the laws covering domestic workers establish lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration than for other sectors and do not provide for notice or severance payments. The labor code covers workers in the free-trade zones, but those workers are not entitled to bonus payments, which represented a significant part of the income of most workers in the country.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of the maximum allowable work hours.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor set occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations that were appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face other punishments for their action.

Authorities conducted inspections but did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and to recommend sanctions. The Public Ministry, the independent prosecutors’ ministry, is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; in practice it infrequently applied penalties.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage. The Central Romana Corporation and other sugar producers faced allegations that they paid their workers substandard wages and forced them to work in unsafe conditions. Worker rights activists said sugarcane workers were paid 210 pesos ($3.70) per ton of sugarcane cut, and if there were any problems with the production, wages were further reduced (workers were paid between 173 pesos ($3.05) and 190 pesos ($3.35) per “burnt” or damaged ton). Workers normally cut three to four tons a week and thus made between 519 pesos ($9.16) to 840 pesos ($14.82) a week, well below the country’s poverty line. A series of journalistic investigations alleged that Central Romana Corporation, which was responsible for nearly 60 percent of Dominican sugar, might have systematically deprived workers of promised benefits or drastically limited access to benefits including health care, lodging, and pensions.

Industrial accidents caused injury and death to some workers. There were reports that Central Romana routinely exposed its workers to dangerous working conditions, including exposure to chemicals and unsafe machinery, and did not support workers’ medical expenses when they were injured or became ill as a result of workplace incidents.

Informal Sector: The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector, which comprised approximately one-half of all workers. Most of the informal-sector jobs were in construction, agriculture, and commerce. Many of the informal-sector workers were undocumented persons or women. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal-sector workers.

Grenada

Executive Summary

Grenada is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. Observers considered the 2018 elections to be generally free and fair. In 2018 the New National Party won all 15 seats in the House of Representatives and selected Keith Mitchell as prime minister.

The Royal Grenada Police Force has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of National Security. The country does not have a military force but has a police special services unit that is like a military division. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included the existence of laws criminalizing consensual sexual conduct between men, but the law was not enforced during the year.

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: In August there were 365 prisoners, including six women, in the country’s sole penitentiary, which was designed for approximately 200 persons. In the male block, potable water was available in prison hallways but not in cells. Potable water was available in the cells on the female block.

Administration: There were no reports or allegations of mistreatment during the year. Authorities investigate all credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The Visiting Committee, appointed by the cabinet, serves as the independent monitoring committee. Monthly visits were conducted with administrative officials and to address inmate concerns, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic the committee was not allowed to visit cells but instead met with representatives from the inmate blocks and the administration. A Prison Rehabilitation Committee, composed of social workers and counselors, conducted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Human rights groups also visited the prison and provided independent monitoring. There were no significant findings of abuses during the year.

Improvements: The prison worked with the Magistrate Court to provide alternative forms of punishment and reduced sentences for petty crimes during the pandemic.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law permits police to detain individuals on suspicion of criminal activity without a warrant, but police must bring formal charges within 48 hours. Authorities generally respected this limit. Authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer of their choice and family members within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 15 days of arrest. Police must formally arraign or release a detained person within 60 days, and authorities generally followed these procedures. There is a functioning bail system, although persons charged with capital offenses are not eligible. A judge may set bail for detainees charged with treason only upon a recommendation from the governor general.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

There is a presumption of innocence. The law protects individuals against self-incrimination. Individuals have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. The law requires police to explain a person’s rights upon arrest. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, although case backlogs sometimes meant periods of several months to a year before a case went to trial. Trials are open to the public unless the charges are sexual in nature or a minor is involved. The law allows defendants the right to be present at their trial and to seek the advice of legal counsel. Defendants have the right for a defense lawyer to be present during interrogation and for the lawyer to advise the accused on how to respond to questions. Defendants and their counsel generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense as well as free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, present evidence, and call witnesses. Accused persons have the right to remain silent and to appeal.

The court appoints attorneys for indigents in cases of murder or other capital crimes. In appeals of criminal cases, the court appoints a lawyer if the defendant is unable to afford counsel. According to the Grenada Human Rights Organization, many defendants could not afford private legal counsel, and the government lacked adequate legal aid resources to meet the demand for free legal aid. With the exceptions of foreign-born drug-crime suspects or those charged with murder, the courts granted bail to most defendants awaiting trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, including human rights violations. Defendants may appeal any High Court decision, including human rights decisions, to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and defamation are criminal offenses. Government or public figures did not use these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status; however, the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the most recent general elections, held in 2018, the New National Party won all 15 seats in the House of Representatives, defeating the largest opposing party, the National Democratic Congress. The Organization of American States observer mission deemed the elections generally free and fair. There were no reports of abuses or irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated allegations by the political opposition and some members of media regarding government corruption during the year, but none proved credible.

Corruption: There were no cases of government corruption or credible allegations of government corruption during the year.

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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints from individuals who object to government actions they deem unfair, abusive, illegal, discriminatory, or negligent.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence. It stipulates a sentence of flogging or up to 30 years’ imprisonment for a conviction of any nonconsensual form of sex. Authorities referred charges involving rape or related crimes for prosecution and generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides for penalties at the discretion of the presiding judge based on the severity of the offense. The law allows for a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment, and authorities enforced the law. The Central Statistical Office reported cases of domestic violence against both women and men. Police and judicial authorities usually acted promptly in cases of domestic violence. According to women’s rights monitors, violence against women and minors remained a serious and pervasive problem. The police and other government agents did not incite, perpetrate, or explicitly or implicitly condone gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but there are no criminal penalties for it. The government noted it was a persistent problem. Some employers took steps to educate employees and reduce harassment, including through termination of employment in some cases. The Gender-based Violence Unit and Social Services within the Ministry of Social Development conducted awareness drives and worked with victims of sexual harassment

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

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs created cultural barriers to contraception usage.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraceptives, through Grenada Planned Parenthood. Emergency contraceptives were also available to victims at pharmacies and clinics throughout the county. Counseling and other services were provided through the Ministry of Social Development. The Ministry of Social Development, the Gender-based Violence Unit, Social Services, and the Grenada Planned Parenthood Association assisted victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as 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. The law mandates equal pay for equal work. The law does not provide for civil or criminal penalties for sexual harassment in employment. There was no evidence of formal discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, education, the judicial process, and other institutions, including housing, although the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender for access to credit. The government enforced the law effectively.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law provides for the prosecution of any individual who perpetrates any act of racial or ethnic violence against minorities or persons in general. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were no reports of any governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities. Police and other government agents did not incite, perpetuate, condone, or tolerate such violence or abuse.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or, if abroad, by birth to a Grenadian parent upon petition. All births were promptly registered.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates penalties ranging from five to 15 years’ imprisonment for those convicted of child abuse and disallows the victim’s alleged “consent” as a defense in cases of incest. Government social service agencies reported cases of child abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, and had programs to combat child abuse. Authorities placed abused children in either a government-run home or private foster homes.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21, although persons as young as 18 may be married with parental consent in writing.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of all children, including prohibiting the posting and circulation of child pornography on the internet. The law also prohibits the importation, sale, and public display of pornography. The law prohibits sale and trafficking of children for commercial sex, for the production of pornography, or for pornographic performances. The government enforced the law. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. A statutory rape law applies when the victim is age 15 or younger. The penalty is 30 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 13 and 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim is age 13 to 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of all children and was enforced. The penalties are commensurate with the penalties for rape and sufficient to deter the crime.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is generally prohibited, and there were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Although the law does not mandate access to public transportation, services, or buildings, building owners increasingly incorporated accessibility features during new construction and renovations. The government provided accommodations in public schools for children with disabilities; however, most parents chose to send children with disabilities to separate special education schools, believing those schools offered better conditions for learning.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination were not concerns in employment, housing, or for access to education and health care. It was not uncommon, however, for family members to shun persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

The law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between men and provides penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law. The law makes no provision for sexual conduct between women.

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education, health care, access to government services, and essential goods and services against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no reports that police or other government agents incited, perpetrated, condoned, or tolerated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There were also no reports of involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices specifically targeting LGBTQI+ individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent labor unions, participate in collective bargaining, and, with some restrictions, conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. If an employee is terminated for union activity, the employee may bring his or her case to the court, and if the court supports this finding, the court may require the reinstatement of the employee or compensation to the employee. The law requires employers to recognize a union in a particular business only if most of the workforce belongs to the union.

While workers in essential services have the right to strike, the labor minister may refer disputes involving essential services to compulsory arbitration. The government’s list of essential services includes electricity, water, public-health sectors, sanitation, airports, air traffic, seaports, pilotage, dock services, fire departments, telephone and telegraph companies, prisons, police, hospital services, and nursing. Several of these services are not regarded as essential by the International Labor Organization.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers generally recognized and bargained with unions.

The government generally enforced labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Administrative and judicial procedures related to labor were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and specifically prohibits the sale or trafficking of children for exploitive labor. The law criminalizes the use of force, threats, abuse of power, and other forms of coercion for trafficking. The law does not sufficiently prohibit the trafficking of children, despite establishing stricter penalties for traffickers of children, because it requires the use of coercion for trafficking to be considered an offense. The government effectively enforced the law, and the penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The statutory minimum age for employment of children is 16 years. The law allows holiday employment for children younger than 16 under the supervision of their parents but does not specify types of work or number of hours permitted for such work. The law permits employment of children younger than 18 if employers meet certain conditions set forth in the labor code related to hours, insurance, and working conditions. There is no explicit prohibition against children’s involvement in hazardous work.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor enforced the minimum age provisions in the formal sector through periodic checks. Enforcement in the informal sector was insufficient, specifically for family farms. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, national origin, religion, political opinion, gender, age, or disability. The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment or occupation based on language, HIV status or other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, or gender identity. While there is no penalty for these types of discrimination, authorities stated that the country adhered to International Labor Organization guidelines and standards. In general the law and regulations were effectively enforced in collaboration with the Labor Commissioner’s Office within the Ministry of Labor. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for various categories of employment, which was above the poverty income rate.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek with eight-hour days, except for clerical and shop assistants who have 44-hour workweeks, domestic workers who have a limit of 10-hour workdays, and security guards or shift workers who have a limit of 12 hours of work per day.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets health and safety standards. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Experts actively identified unsafe conditions and responded to workers’ complaints, particularly during the pandemic. Workers may remove themselves from situations endangering health or safety without jeopardizing their employment if they reasonably believe the situation presents an imminent or serious danger to life or health.

Enforcement involving wages, hours, occupational safety, and other elements is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor. Labor inspectors are responsible for the full range of labor rights inspections, including workplace safety and the right to organize. Ministry of Labor officers worked with employers in sectors such as energy, agriculture, and construction to promote appropriate clothing, health checks, and pesticide safety.

The government effectively enforced minimum wage requirements and reported no violations of the law concerning working hours. The government generally enforced OSH regulations. There were no major industrial accidents during the year.

The government informally encouraged businesses to rectify OSH violations without resorting to formal channels for compliance that included fines and penalties. The government provided no information on the amount the law sets for OSH fines or other penalties.

Informal Sector: The government defined the informal sector as self-employed persons who do not declare their assets or pay income taxes, such as street vendors, farmers, and domestic and construction workers. There were no data on the number or percentage of individuals in this sector, but they were protected by OSH laws and occasionally received assistance through government social programs.

Guyana

Executive Summary

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is a multiparty democracy. National and regional elections took place in March 2020, and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic won both the presidency and a majority of representational seats. International and local observers considered the elections free and fair. The incumbent government at the time contested the results of the national elections, leading to a five-month electoral impasse that concluded with the swearing in of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic government on August 2, 2020.

The police commissioner heads the Guyana Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and is responsible for maintaining internal security. The Guyana Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The defense force, headed by a chief of staff, falls under the purview of the Defense Board, which the president of the country chairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were reliable reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; harsh prison conditions; and laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men.

Government officials did not enjoy impunity for human rights abuses or for corruption. There were independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security forces.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In May police shot and killed robbery suspect Peter Headley while he was being transported by police in a civilian vehicle to a police station. According to police, Headley reached under the seat of the vehicle and pulled out what appeared to be a firearm, leading an armed police officer to shoot Headley, who died a short time later. The officers involved were placed under arrest. The Guyana Police Force’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Police Complaints Authority investigated the matter, and as of October the Department of Public Prosecutions was reviewing the results of the investigation. In September the Guyana Police Force SWAT team shot and killed Orin Boston during a search of his home. Boston was unarmed. As of November, the Guyana Police Force’s Office of Professional Responsibility was conducting an investigation into the incident.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. There were allegations that prison officials mistreated inmates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: In September the Guyana Prison Service reported there were 1,914 prisoners in seven facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,505. Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 46 percent of the total prison population.

One death occurred because of injuries inflicted by other inmates.

In 2018 the government reported a study finding that prison officers physically abused prisoners and that prison conditions at Lusignan Prison were appalling and cells were unfit for human habitation. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water, and they also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.

The adult prison population contained individuals 16 years of age and older. In most cases, however, offenders younger than 16 were held in a juvenile correctional center that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.

Administration: Authorities stated officers in charge of each prison location conducted weekly meetings with prisoners’ Complaints Committees to hear concerns. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently.

Improvements: Expansion work at the Mazaruni Prison was completed to accommodate 220 additional prisoners. Expansions at Lusignan Prison were begun to accommodate 1,000 additional prisoners. To address overcrowding, a 2021 expansion of the prison included three additional dormitories, improved kitchen and dining areas, a rehabilitated well, and a farming area for prisoners to grow food and raise chickens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law stipulates that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.

Although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members, authorities occasionally did not fully respect this right.

The state provides legal counsel for indigent persons only when such persons are charged with a capital offense. The Legal Aid Clinic, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), provides legal counsel at a reduced fee in certain circumstances, as determined by the clinic. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. In June the Police Complaints Authority issued its report covering 2019, which found most police officers interviewed were ignorant of constitutional provisions regarding arrests and searches and that a substantial number of members of the police force under investigation openly violated the constitution in the performance of their duties.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This often exceeded the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defense or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and police slowness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Cases in magistrates’ courts are tried without jury, while cases involving more serious crimes are tried by jury in the High Court. The constitution provides that a person shall be informed in detail of the nature of the offense charged as soon as reasonably practicable. Defendants have the right to a timely trial and free assistance of an interpreter. The constitution also provides for persons charged with a criminal offense to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense. Authorities routinely granted trial postponements to both the defense and prosecution. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and confront adverse witnesses, and they may present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

While the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, it was limited to those who could afford to pay, except in cases involving capital crimes. Although there is no formal public defender system, a defendant in a murder case that reaches the High Court may receive a court-appointed attorney. The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, with government and private support, provided advice to persons who could not afford a lawyer, particularly victims of domestic violence and violence against women.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and the government generally respected this provision. Individuals can access the court system to initiate lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The magistrates’ courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases. Citizens have the right to appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The ruling party’s monopoly of state media created an imbalance in public discourse and tended to give them a public affairs advantage, since the opposition did not have an outlet of its own.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamatory libel is a crime punishable by imprisonment of three years or less. As of November, a 2020 libel case against Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo lodged by opposition parliamentarian Annette Ferguson, regarding statements then opposition leader Jagdeo made about Ferguson’s acquisition of lands when she was in government was pending with the Court of Appeal.

Internet Freedom

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

On July 15, the director of public prosecutions charged opposition parliamentarian Annette Ferguson with using a computer system to humiliate a person, under a provision of the Cybercrime Act. Police arrested her on June 15 following her social media post claiming a senior member of the Guyana Defense Force would be named head of a “death squad.” Ferguson was released on self-bail, but as of November the case remained pending before the Magistrates Court.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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

On September 17, authorities charged 16 individuals, including senior opposition member Aubrey Norton, with taking part in an illegal COVID-19 antivaccination protest and being in public without a mask in violation of COVID-19 protocols. All were released on bail; as of November the case remained pending before the Magistrate Court. On May 8, opposition parliamentarians Christopher Jones and Annette Ferguson, along with six supporters, were charged with holding an illegal procession on April 26, as they did not receive police permission beforehand. As of November, that case remained pending before the Magistrates Court.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government put in place a curfew from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. to protect public health and announced that violators would be fined. Police regularly arrested and fined individuals found to be breaking curfew restrictions.

On June 22, the government rescinded visa-free travel for Haitians, after numerous reports of Haitians entering the country illegally, many a result of trafficking. Married, divorced, or widowed women must fill out additional passport application sections that are not required of men, regardless of marital status.

In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol on Refugees. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Upon entry into the country, migrants are granted renewable three-month stay permits and can access medical services reliably, including specialty services when needed. Migrants may be granted a work permit only if an employer provides an application on behalf of the employee and a taxpayer identification number. Migrants may access educational services, but access is often limited to the capacity of the individual school. Venezuelan migrants do not need to produce valid travel documents or leave after the three-month period. Some migrants reported that law enforcement officers demanded bribes to issue and renew stay permits but did not deport them, while other migrants reported that initially law enforcement may have hassled them, but they had not experienced further problems. Some migrants reported that even after following all procedures, permits arrived after their expiration dates, while others reported a relatively smooth process with the help of a local UNHCR representative. Stay permit renewal procedures were selectively applied for other nationalities, at the prerogative of the immigration officer.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections also take place within indigenous communities, where members elect indigenous leaders every 33 to 36 months.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and regional elections were held on March 2, 2020, triggered by a no-confidence vote in December 2018 against the ruling A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition government and following several rounds of litigation initiated by both APNU+AFC and the then opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). Claims of electoral fraud and the APNU+AFC coalition’s refusal to accept its loss of the elections led to a national recount and litigation in the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s court of final instance. The PPP/C won by a margin of 15,000 votes, and Mohamed Irfaan Ali of the PPP/C was installed as president on August 2, 2020. The general elections resulted in the return of the PPP/C to government after a five-year hiatus from a previous 23-year administration. International observers concluded the March 2020 national and regional elections were free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires that one-third of each list of candidates be women; parties standing for the 2020 elections adhered to the law and the Guyana Elections Commission enforced this requirement.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, and administration officials investigated these reports. There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels and all branches of government, including the police and judiciary.

Corruption: Corruption by police officers was frequent. The government prosecuted members of the police force during the year. In April authorities arrested 11 police officers and charged them with multiple counts of fraud, conspiracy, and larceny for inflating the costs of meal procurement for police officers and keeping the difference. On October 27, two of those charged were released, and the judicial proceedings for the others were ongoing.

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

Several domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. These groups at times complained government officials were uncooperative and unresponsive to their requests. They stated that when officials responded, it was generally to criticize the groups rather than to investigate allegations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law provides for an ombudsperson to investigate official government actions or actions taken by government officials in exercise of their official duties. Observers reported the ombudsperson operated independently of government interference.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The law provides stringent penalties for rape, with life imprisonment as the maximum penalty. Successful prosecution of domestic violence cases was infrequent. As of September, police reported that only 38 percent of reports of rape resulted in criminal charges, while rape cases countrywide increased by nearly 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020. In June a pregnant teenage girl told authorities she had been raped by two men who filmed the encounter, and she subsequently miscarried. As of September, only one of the perpetrators was in custody.

Domestic violence and violence against women, including spousal abuse, was widespread. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows victims to seek prompt protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a magistrate. Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines and 12 months’ imprisonment. The law was not enforced effectively. There were reports of police accepting bribes from perpetrators and of magistrates applying inadequate sentences after conviction. In other instances, police noted that cases were dropped after the victim refused to proceed with charges or support the evidence collection.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides for monetary penalties and award of damages to victims. The law does not cover harassment in schools. Acts of sexual harassment involving physical assault are prosecuted under relevant criminal statutes. While reports of sexual harassment were common, no cases had been filed as of September.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Vulnerable populations were able to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

No government policies adversely affected access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, but geographical circumstances remained the primary barrier to access health care, specifically in the interior regions. The World Health Organization reported the country had a maternal mortality rate of 169 deaths per 100,000 live births. Primary causes for maternal death included poor obstetric performance, malaria, poor nutrition, and infrequent access to prenatal care among some women in remote areas due to inadequate transportation. A 2017 UNICEF study reported anecdotally that maternal mortality rates for the indigenous community, irrespective of location, were higher than for the rest of the population but did not have qualitative data to back up the date.

UNICEF data from 2017 indicated that the rate of adolescent pregnancy within the indigenous community, 148 per thousand, was double the national average of 74 per thousand.

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.

The greatest barrier to accessing emergency health care was geographical; residents of remote interior regions were not able to access nearby medical facilities.

Discrimination: Although women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, gender-related discrimination was widespread and deeply ingrained. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but there was no meaningful enforcement against such discrimination in the workplace. Job vacancy notices routinely specified that the employer sought only male or only female applicants, and women earned approximately 58 percent less than men for equal work.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits any law that discriminates based on race or national origin. The political party system is overwhelmingly race-based, with Indo-Guyanese forming most of the government and Afro-Guyanese forming the majority of the opposition as well as the civil service. There were, however, members of both ethnicities in senior leadership positions of the government. There were reports by the opposition of government discrimination against Afro-Guyanese citizens in the distribution of COVID relief grants and flood grants, as well as civil service firings throughout the year that disproportionately affected the Afro-Guyanese population.

A constitutionally mandated and broadly based Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), a government body, existed with a mandate to promote ethnic harmony among all citizens, but it was not successful in fulfilling its mandate. In February one of the ERC commissioners called the commission “dysfunctional and wasteful,” citing the high salaries of its leadership and few achievements, which were narrowly centered on public calls for unity around national holidays. Civil society organizations generally agreed with this assessment but noted the ERC’s mission was a necessary one.

Indigenous Peoples

Various laws, including the Amerindian Act of 2006, protect the rights of the indigenous community, and members have some ability to participate in decisions affecting them, their land, and resources. Rules enacted by village councils require approval from the minister of Amerindian affairs before entering into force. Indigenous lands were not effectively demarcated. The government has the authority to override village councils when issuing mining concessions. In March the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) reported to the United Nations that the government established several townships in remote areas without consulting the indigenous population holding recognized title to these lands, resulting in conflicts over land use and governance. The APA also reported discrimination in housing and employment for indigenous peoples.

According to the 2012 census, the indigenous population constituted 10 percent of the total population. There were nine recognized tribal groups. An estimated 90 percent of indigenous communities were in the remote interior. The standard of living in indigenous communities was lower than that of most citizens, with limited access to education, health care, and professional mobility, especially for youth. There were reports of interference by government officials in the affairs of indigenous peoples’ councils, as well as labor exploitation and harassment. The APA reported difficulty in securing meetings with government ministers on land titling issues.

The government conducted outreach during the year to several remote indigenous villages in the country’s interior to distribute COVID-19 information and education-related cash grants.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or by birth to a Guyanese citizen abroad. The law requires that births be registered within 14 days but also provides for registration of births after the 14-day period. Births at hospitals and health facilities were registered within a day of delivery.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits abuse of children, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation. There were frequent, widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse of children. As with cases of domestic abuse, NGOs alleged some police officers could be bribed to make cases of child abuse “go away.”

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but boys and girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent or judicial authority. UNICEF reported that 30 percent of women were married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of sexual consent is 16. By law a person who has sexual relations with a child younger than 16 may be found guilty of a felony and imprisoned for life. There were continued reports of children being trafficked in commercial sex. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children age 18 and younger and stipulates penalties commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Laws related to pornography and pornographic performances do not prohibit the use, procuring, and offering of a child for each of these purposes. The law also regulates selling, publishing, or exhibiting obscene material, defined as anything that could deprave or corrupt those open to immoral influences. The country is not a destination for child sex tourism.

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

Excluding expatriates, the Jewish community had fewer than five members. 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 calls for the formulation of policies regarding access to education, health services, and public buildings for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities in the most populous areas attended mainstream or special education schools, while the majority of those living in rural areas did not have the ability to attend school as there were no specialized programs or special needs curricula in mainstream education. Special education schools used a primary school curriculum, irrespective of age, and students did not receive certification upon graduation. Most children with disabilities who graduated with high school qualifications were those who were blind or had a physical disability.

The public health-care system was accessible to all persons, including persons with disabilities. Most public buildings were inaccessible to persons with disabilities, but new schools were being built with ramps and elevators. Some information from the government was provided in accessible formats, including sign language, audio, and braille. The transportation system, based on privately owned minibuses, was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities.

Persons with disabilities reported some episodes of police intimidation. In May the head of the local Society for the Blind was robbed while exiting a taxi on his way to his office and noted to media it was not the first time a blind person had been robbed in the area. There were reports of private abuse by family members against persons with disabilities. Government officials did not condone violence, harassment, intimidation, or abuses against persons with disabilities.

There were reports of private discrimination against persons with disabilities in attaining employment and housing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local activists noted continued stigma against individuals with HIV/AIDS.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity among men is illegal under the law and is punishable by up to two years in prison. Anal intercourse is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, regardless of whether the intercourse is between persons of the same sex. These laws were not enforced during the year, and there were no reports of arrests. In August the National Assembly formally removed cross-dressing as a criminal offense from the law, fully incorporating a 2018 decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice that the law was unconstitutional.

No antidiscrimination legislation exists to protect persons from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. NGOs reported widespread discrimination of persons in this regard. Reports noted continued official and social discrimination in employment, access to education and medical care, and in public spaces. A leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) NGO reported frequent acts of violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of association and allows workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law bars military and paramilitary members from forming a union or associating with any established union. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The Ministry of Labor is required to certify all collective bargaining agreements. Individual unions directly negotiate collective bargaining status.

By law unions must have 40 percent support of workers, a provision the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized. The government may declare strikes illegal if the union leadership does not approve them or if the union does not meet the requirements specified in collective bargaining agreements. Public employees providing essential services may strike if they provide a one-month notice to the Ministry of Public Service and leave a skeleton staff in place. In March nurses in the central city of Linden went on strike following pejorative remarks by the CEO of Linden Hospital Complex; the government deemed the strike “illegal,” claiming it did not adhere to the relevant laws governing strikes.

The ILO noted that not all sectors deemed essential by the government adhered to international definitions, including the services provided by the Transport and Harbors Department and the National Drainage and Irrigation Board. Arbitration is compulsory for public employees, and such employees engaging in illegal strikes are subject to sanctions or imprisonment.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties for violation of labor laws are small fines that the government frequently did not impose. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Administrative and judicial proceedings regarding violations often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Some public-sector employee unions continued to allege antiunion discrimination by the government, asserting the government violated worker rights and did not effectively enforce the law. The unions were concerned that employers used hiring practices, such as contract labor and temporary labor, to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) reported instances of political interference in the union and government attempts to pressure some GPSU members to leave. In September the GPSU reported the government had not responded to its August 2020 request to initiate discussions regarding salaries, wages, and allowances in 2020 and 2021, per the legally binding Avoidance and Settlement Disputes agreement between the GPSU and the government.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminally prohibits forced labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Penalties for forced labor under trafficking-in-persons laws include forfeiture of property gained as a result of the forced labor, restitution to the victim, and imprisonment. Administrative labor-law penalties are small monetary fines, deemed insufficient to deter violations and rarely enforced.

Country experts reported that forced and compulsory labor occurred in the gold mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15, with some exceptions, but it does not sufficiently prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Technical schools may employ children as young as age 14, provided a competent authority approves and supervises such work. No person younger than 18 may be employed in industrial work at night. Exceptions exist for those ages 16 and 17 whose work requires continuity through day and night, including certain gold-mining processes and the production of iron, steel, glass, paper, and raw sugar. The law does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The law permits children younger than 15 to be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are also employed. The law prohibits children younger than 15 from working in factories and does not provide adequate protections for those younger than 18 to prevent their being engaged in activities hazardous to their health or safety.

The government did not enforce laws effectively, and penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security collaborated with the Ministry of Education, Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission, National Insurance Scheme, and Guyana Police Force to enforce child labor laws. The government infrequently prosecuted employers for violations relating to child labor.

Child labor occurred and was most prevalent in farming, fishing, bars and restaurants, domestic work, and street vending. Small numbers of children also performed hazardous work in the construction, logging, farming, and mining industries. Incidences of the worst forms of child labor occurred, mainly in gold mining, prostitution (see section 6), and forced labor activities, including domestic servitude. According to local NGOs, children who worked in gold mines operated dangerous mining equipment and were exposed to hazardous chemicals, including mercury.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, social status, and national origin or citizenship. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and to persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and workplace access was limited for persons with disabilities (see section 6). Newspapers frequently carried advertisements seeking gender-specific or age-specific applicants to fill positions in the retail, cosmetology, or security sectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage, but there is a different minimum wage rate for the public sector and private sector. Minimum wage rates are set through Minimum Wages Orders made under the Labor Act and Wages Council Act. In sectors not covered by the act, wages can be agreed upon by individual or collective agreement. Minimum wages for regular working hours of all full-time, private-sector employees are set nationally for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly workers. The national minimum wage for regular working hours of full-time, public-sector employees was above the poverty line. A normal workweek is 40 hours, distributed over no more than five days per week. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, and overtime work must be paid according to rates set in the law or according to any collective bargaining agreement in force where workers are unionized. There is provision for overtime pay. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. On November 18 the president announced government employees would receive 7 percent retroactive increases in wages and salaries before the end of the year, but the Guyana Public Service Union criticized the lack of collective bargaining and called for industrial action. The Guyana Teachers Union joined the GPSU in condemning the increase.

The Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcement of labor laws, including minimum wage. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions. Labor inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Ministry follow-up of labor inspection findings varied, and compliance among employers was also inconsistent.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Trade unions criticized government delays and failure to act on wage and hour violations perpetrated by companies in the private sector and particularly foreign-owned firms. Alleged violations of wage, hour, or overtime laws were common in the mining and logging sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are not appropriate for the main industries, and government did not effectively enforce OSH laws. The law provides that some categories of workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations.

The Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions. Labor inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Ministry follow-up of labor inspection findings varied, and compliance among employers was also inconsistent. In a number of hinterland mining areas, miners reported they never saw any labor inspectors. In March the Ministry of Labor summoned an Indian logging company, Vaitarna Holdings Private Incorporated, for inadequate living conditions for employees and some health and safety violations. In May the Ministry of Labor confirmed that Innovative Mining Incorporated, a joint Russian-Guyanese medium-scale mining venture, admitted to committing several labor infractions, including those related to payment of wages, overtime, and granting of leave.

Local trade unions and NGOs reported the Ministry of Labor lacked sufficient resources to enforce occupational safety and health laws adequately. The government reported 182 workplace accidents, all of which were investigated. There were 15 fatal workplace accidents reported as of September.

Informal Sector: As of the second quarter of the year, the Guyanese Bureau of Statistics reported the proportion of workers in informal employment was approximately 50 percent. The International Monetary Fund and Caribbean regional economists estimated that the informal economy represented 35 to 44 percent of total economic activities. Most informal rural workers were engaged in agriculture or fishing sectors; others worked in artisanal mining, hospitality (such as rainforest hotels), or services sectors including transportation (such as river boat taxis). In urban areas, informal work was clustered in domestic, retail, and service sectors. Regional economists noted that high unemployment motivated many persons to create their own work, such as driving a private minibus, selling ice cream from a bicycle-mounted cooler, or setting up a food cart in the street. Unorganized workers, particularly women in the informal sector, were often paid less than the minimum wage.

Haiti

Executive Summary

Haiti is a constitutional republic with a multiparty political system. The most recent national legislative elections were held in November 2016; international observers considered the elections free and fair. In January 2020 the terms of the majority of parliamentarians expired due to a failure of the country to conduct elections in 2019. Only 10 elected members of 30 remained in the upper house, while the lower house had none. As a result, parliament was unable to reach a quorum and ceased to function. Nearly 400 unelected mayors served at the pleasure of the executive.

Jovenel Moise was elected as president for a five-year term and took office in February 2017. Controversy arose early in the year regarding the length of his mandate and whether it expired in February 2021 or 2022, due to ambiguities in the constitution. Despite opposition from most political actors and civil society, President Moise remained in power until his assassination on July 7. Three days before his death, Moise had named, but not yet sworn in, Ariel Henry to replace Joseph Jouthe as prime minister. On July 20, after a short power struggle, Henry became the prime minister, and on September 11, he signed a political accord with a large number of opposition parties and civil society organizations. Planned 2021 presidential and legislative elections had already suffered logistical difficulties and delays; Moise’s assassination and an ensuing lengthy process to negotiate a political accord resulted in an agreement to delay elections until 2022 or later.

The Haitian National Police, an autonomous civilian institution led by a director general under the authority of the minister of justice, is responsible for maintaining public security. The Haitian National Police includes police, corrections, fire, emergency response, airport security, port security, and coast guard functions. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security, through its minister and the secretary of state for public security, provides oversight to the Haitian National Police. The Superior Council of the National Police, chaired by the prime minister, provides strategic guidance. The Superior Council includes the director general and the chief inspector general of the Haitian National Police, the minister of the interior, and the minister of justice. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by gangs allegedly supported by government officials and private-sector actors; torture or cruel and degrading treatment by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; violence or threats of violence against journalists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for sexual and gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities; and forced child labor.

The government rarely took steps to prosecute government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses and corruption, and civil society groups alleged widespread impunity regarding these acts.

Gang violence escalated throughout the country, particularly in metropolitan areas, and the gangs allegedly received support from political and economic elites. Kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs increased and affected all sections of society. Armed gangs were also responsible for armed conflicts resulting in approximately 20,000 displaced persons, for capturing up to 10 police stations and substations, and for blocking fuel supplies in October and November, bringing economic life and freedom of movement to a virtual standstill.

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 of arbitrary and unlawful killings perpetrated by armed gangs allegedly supported and protected by the government.

Young men from the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Ravine Pintade alleged police killed 11 of their peers on September 21 as they were recording a music video with fake weapons. During a press conference on September 22, police spokesperson Inspector Marie Michelle Verrier stated police had heard gunfire and that an investigation was underway. According to an investigation of the incident by the Center for Advocacy and Research in Human Rights (CARDH) released in October, at least 11 persons were killed, including the son of a Haitian National Police (HNP) divisional inspector. According to CARDH, police killed three at the scene, wounded and then killed two others, carried away four others later found dead in a second location. Three more were found dead the following day. The official investigation remained open as of November.

The HNP reported 1,352 homicides between January and October 31. The Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice blamed most of these deaths on gang warfare and called on the government to investigate the “hidden forces” behind the violence, including political and economic actors bankrolling gang activity. In June the Eyes Wide Open Foundation (FJKL) reported the existence of more than 150 active gangs in the country and alleged the government actively supported certain gangs.

The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights reported the government weakened the HNP during the year through politicization and exploitation of the institution. It further reported the government did not provide sufficient resources for police officers to carry out their duties but used government funds to strengthen chosen armed gangs instead. In 2020 armed gangs were invited by the National Commission for Disarmament and Reintegration to federate with the support of the government, ostensibly with the intention of reducing intergang violence and providing the commission with a negotiating partner. As a result, the G9 federation of gangs, formed in May 2020 and led by Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, emerged as one the largest criminal organizations in the country. Following the G9’s formation, the country witnessed a spike in attacks against the HNP, including the killing of 36 police officers between January 1 and September 1, kidnappings for ransom of police officers, the takeover of police stations by armed gangs, and police officers fleeing for their lives.

On March 12, the HNP attempted to conduct an antigang operation in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Village de Dieu. The offensive led to the deaths of at least four HNP officers, whose bodies were not recovered. Two of the officers were publicly mutilated. The gangs also captured one police armored vehicle and destroyed a second in an operation that yielded no arrests.

The government and judiciary made minimal progress on a growing list of emblematic human rights cases. While authorities stated they continued to investigate large-scale attacks in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Grande Ravine (2017), Bel Air (2018), La Saline (2019), and Cite Soleil (2020), each of which left dozens dead, the government had yet to bring any of the perpetrators to justice. In January President Moise declined to renew the mandate of the investigative judge in the La Saline case, despite a positive vetting record and recommendation by the Superior Council of the Judiciary. Among those implicated in La Saline and Bel Air were Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, all of whom were government officials at the time of the La Saline attacks. On February 13, Monchery was arrested for a traffic violation, yet despite an active warrant against him, authorities released him within hours of his arrest. Progress also ceased in the judicial investigation into the 2020 killing of Port-au-Prince Bar Association president Monferrier Dorval, as the judge responsible for the case resigned his position in September due to persistent threats on his life and a lack of cooperation from the government. On October 5, a new judge took over the Dorval investigation. A judge continued to investigate the assassination of President Moise; however, many members of civil society organizations and the government did not believe the judiciary had the capacity to handle such a complex, sensitive, and politicized crime.

The UN Integrated Mission in Haiti (BINUH) and numerous civil society organizations reported that gang violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and Artibonite Department increased as gangs attempted to expand their spheres of control, resulting in 1,352 homicides as of October 31.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the law prohibits such practices, there were several reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleging that HNP officers beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects.

On May 12, a widely circulated video showed four departmental public order unit officers from Nord-Est Department forcibly removing Peguy Simeon from the roof of a public bus, after which they threw him to the ground and beat him. Simeon, on his way home from the Dominican Republic following his recent deportation, was taken to a local hospital, where he died due to his injuries. The HNP Office of the Inspector General placed the four officers involved in isolation, took precautionary measures (e.g., removal of firearms, assignment to desk duty, or both) against three more, and transferred the case to the local prosecutor for legal proceedings.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. From September 2020 to June, BINUH documented 213 human rights violations, of which 126 were further investigated by the HNP Office of the Inspector General. During the same period, the General Inspectorate completed 131 investigations, many of which had been initiated previously. None of the eight cases transferred to prosecutors had gone to trial as of October. Civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity, driven largely by poor training and a lack of professionalism, as well as rogue elements within the police force allegedly maintaining gang connections.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers throughout the country were life-threatening. In June, BINUH and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly reported prisoners were subject to torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in prisons and makeshift detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding at prisons and detention centers was severe. The June OHCHR/ BINUH report found the average amount of space per prisoner was six square feet for men and 9.5 for women, although in some prisons space per prisoner was limited to as little as 2.5 square feet. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to the lack of space. Some prisons had no beds, and some cells had no natural light. In other prisons the cells were either open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Prison facilities generally lacked adequate basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, medical services, potable water, electricity, ventilation, lighting, and medical isolation units for patients with contagious illnesses. BINUH and the OHCHR found the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, was widespread as a disciplinary measure throughout the prison system.

As of July approximately 270 prisoners were being held in makeshift and unofficial detention centers such as police stations in Petit-Goave and Miragoane. Local authorities held suspects in these facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the HNP’s Directorate of Prisons.

Corrections authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners younger than 18 were held at the juvenile facility, but due to the lack of documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities mistakenly detained minors whose ages they could not confirm with adult inmates. Outside Port-au-Prince, due to lack of prison space and oversight, authorities did not always separate juveniles from adult prisoners or separate convicted prisoners from pretrial detainees, as the law requires.

There are specific provisions for juvenile offenders. Children younger than 13 are not held responsible for their actions. Until age 16, children cannot be held in adult prisons or share cells with adults. Juvenile offenders (anyone younger than 18) are placed in one of the country’s two re-education centers with the objective of having the offender successfully rejoin society.

Because of poor security, severe understaffing, and a lack of adequate facilities, many prison officials did not allow prisoners out of their cells for exercise. In the National Penitentiary, prisoners spent approximately one hour per day outside of confinement, but in all other facilities, prisoners had 15-20 minutes to use the toilet and bathe before returning to their cells.

On February 25, nearly 400 prisoners escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets Prison in Port-au-Prince, which held approximately 1,550 inmates prior to the escape. The prison warden was killed during the incident. Gang leader Arnel Joseph escaped but was later killed by an HNP patrol unit. There were indications HNP officers both inside and outside the prison may have been complicit in the escape. The HNP recaptured 68 of the fugitives and initiated two investigations into the incident.

International and local observers said prisoners and detainees continued to suffer from a lack of adequate nutrition. According to the NGO Health Through Walls, approximately 3,700 prisoners in the penitentiary system were acutely malnourished. The HNP is responsible for the delivery of food to prisons, but Food for the Poor, Health Through Walls, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, and OHCHR/BINUH reported that delays in fund disbursement and payments to contracted food suppliers reduced the number of meals fed to prisoners. Some prisons had kitchen facilities and employed persons to prepare and distribute food. Prison authorities generally gave prisoners one to two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals provided the recommended caloric intake per day, and authorities allowed regular deliveries of food to prisoners from relatives and friends. According to Health Through Walls, approximately 500 prisoners suffered either minor or major episodes of malnutrition during the year.

International and local observers also reported a lack of hygiene and health care provision in the prison system. Health Through Walls reported that unsanitary conditions and overcrowding led to high rates of waterborne illnesses as well as tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Most detention facilities had only basic clinics and lacked medications. Many lacked medical isolation units for patients with contagious illnesses. Few prisons had the resources to treat serious medical situations. Some very ill prisoners were treated at hospitals outside of prisons, but many hospitals were reluctant to accept prisoners as patients since there was no formal arrangement between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health regarding payment for treatment. Prisoners who died in the care of hospitals were not counted in official statistics of deaths in custody, which as of September 1 stood at 117.

Administration: The country’s independent human rights monitoring body, the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.

Independent Monitoring: The corrections authority permitted the United Nations, local human rights NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners. One human rights organization complained of a guard taking their photographs as they interviewed detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but it does not provide an explicit right to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest in court. The government generally failed to observe these requirements.

The constitution states that authorities may arrest a person only if that person is in the act of committing crime or if the arrest is based on a warrant issued by a competent official such as a justice of the peace or magistrate. Authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. By routinely holding prisoners unlawfully in prolonged pretrial detention, authorities failed to comply with these requirements.

The OPC’s national and 12 regional offices worked to verify that law enforcement and judicial authorities respected the right to due process. When authorities detained persons beyond the maximum allotted 48 hours and OPC representatives learned of the case, they intervened on the detainee’s behalf to expedite the process. The OPC was unable to intervene in all cases of unlawful detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. By law the National Legal Assistance Program provides free assistance to criminal defendants and victims of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. In May President Moise appointed the members of the National Legal Assistance Committee charged with overseeing the program, which was being implemented. The criminal code has a bail procedure that was rarely used in practice. The law contains explicit and defendant-friendly provisions, but in practice they rarely protected detainees and prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Independent observers confirmed instances of police arresting individuals without warrants or with improperly prepared warrants even when those individuals were not apprehended in the process of committing a crime. Authorities frequently detained individuals on unspecified charges.

On February 7, the date many political and civil society leaders contended the president’s term expired, Dimitri Herard, then head of national palace security, arrested 23 persons on a private compound, where they had gathered the previous day and were sleeping at the time of their arrest, on allegations of plotting to depose the president and install a transitional government. The group included Ivikel Dabrezil, a Supreme Court justice, and Inspector Marie Louise Gautier, a high-ranking HNP officer. Dabrezil refused to answer police questions, arguing Supreme Court justices may be arrested or questioned only by special authorization. Furthermore, Dabrezil contended arrests occurred outside the constitutionally mandated 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. period during which police may execute arrests, except when apprehending individuals in the process of committing a crime. Herard and other progovernment officials argued the detainees had been caught in the act of plotting a coup, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. The group’s lawyers filed a habeas corpus action, and the Port-au-Prince Court of Appeals ordered their release on March 24. All the detainees were free as of October, although they continued to face judicial investigation.

Pretrial Detention: Illegal and prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem due to the arbitrary application of court rules and discretion, corruption, and poor recordkeeping. Many pretrial detainees never consulted with an attorney, appeared before a judge, or received a docket timeline. In some cases detainees spent years in detention without appearing before a judge. According to BINUH, 82 percent of detainees were victims of unlawful pretrial detention in September. Local human rights groups reported detainees were often held after completing their sentences due to difficulty obtaining release orders from the prosecutor’s office.

Some lawyers began to use habeas corpus actions to free clients improperly arrested; however, prisoners unable to afford private legal fees generally faced unlawful and prolonged pretrial detentions. The law mandates that the National Legal Assistance Program provide free assistance to criminal defendants and victims of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. In May the president appointed the members of the National Legal Assistance Committee charged with overseeing the program, and two of 11 planned legal assistance offices had opened as of November 22.

In June 2020 the government enacted new penal and penal procedures codes, scheduled to enter into force in 2022. The new penal procedure code would provide judicial authorities with alternatives to detention, but activities and training planned for the two-year transition period had yet to begin, and most experts believed the codes would not enter into force on schedule. On September 23, Frantz Louis-Juste, the newly named Port-au-Prince prosecutor, declared he would prioritize a reduction in pretrial detention. Louis-Juste announced the creation of a specialty pretrial unit of 11 judges and 10 law students. He stated the students would staff a toll-free telephone number and collect information from detainees’ family members on their behalf. Louis-Juste was removed from his position three weeks after the announcement, however, and at year’s end his replacement had not indicated any plans concerning the pretrial unit. On October 12, Acting Minister of Justice Liszt Quitel stated he was committed to addressing prolonged pretrial detention, although corrective measures had not been implemented as of the end of November.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not provide for the explicit right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Judicial independence eroded severely during the year, according to all major national magistrate and judges’ associations as well as human rights activists. Of the country’s three paramount courts – the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and High Court of Justice – the Supreme Court lost its quorum in June with the death of the chief justice, while the Constitutional Court remained unestablished, and the High Court of Justice could not function without a parliamentary quorum. Similarly, a constitutionally mandated independent body for judicial oversight was dissolved on July 4 but restored by Prime Minister Henry on October 1; some lawyers and civil society actors doubted the legitimacy of the revived body. The Office for the Protection of Citizens and the Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Litigation remained the only independent government bodies outside of direct executive control.

Senior officials in the executive branch exerted significant influence on the judicial branch and law enforcement, according to local and international human rights organizations. Human rights organizations alleged politicians routinely influenced judicial decisions and used the justice system to target political opponents. Detainees reported credible cases of extortion, false charges, illegal detention, physical violence by police, and judicial officials refusing to comply with basic due-process requirements. The executive has the power to name and dismiss public prosecutors and court clerks at will. Judges faced less direct executive pressure, since they served for fixed-term mandates, but civil society organizations and judges themselves reported a fear of ruling against powerful interests due to concern for personal safety. Furthermore, the president has the power not to renew judicial mandates once expired or to divest judges of their investigative mandates.

A conflict between the executive and the judiciary arose when the Superior Council of the Judiciary published a note siding with those who believed President Moise’s term of office ended in February. Following the alleged February 7 conspiracy to replace him, President Moise forcibly “retired” three Supreme Court Justices: Izykel Dabrezil, Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis, and Windelle Coq-Thelot. The February 8 forced retirements were considered unlawful by civil society and the press, but on February 11, the president published a decree naming three new replacement justices to the court. The Superior Council vetted and recommended numerous judges for renewal, but the president in certain instances chose not to follow its recommendations. Among those recommended but not renewed was Judge Chavannes Etienne, who had been leading the judicial investigation of the 2018 La Saline attacks, implicating notorious G9 leader and then police officer Jimmy Cherizier that left up to 71 persons dead. Regis Renord, the judge investigating the Monferrier Dorval assassination, resigned from the judicial system in September 2020 citing political influence and a lack of protection for his family and judicial facilities. In his investigation he had cited numerous persons for judicial questioning, including former first lady Martine Moise, but few appeared in court. In many cases the court prosecutor unlawfully refused to serve subpoenas ordered by the judge. Moreover, while the HNP had been maintaining a security detail for Renord, police authorities ordered that detail to surrender its weapons in what the director general described as an administrative error, which the judge saw as a clear signal from the government and subsequently resigned. In October the HNP removed the protective detail from Judge Jean Wilner Morin as well, one day after he publicly criticized the former chief prosecutor and the HNP director general as impediments to the rule of law.

The government sought to influence other judicial actors. For example, 23 persons were arrested in the alleged February 7 attempt to depose the president and install a transitional government. Four of the 23 detainees were released the following day when police concluded they had not been involved in the alleged conspiracy, and the remaining 19 argued their arrests were unconstitutional and sought immediate relief in the form of release. By law there can be no court sessions without the presence of a recording clerk (akin to a court reporter), and the government ordered all clerks to return home as a way of preventing the hearing. The judge in question managed to find an alternative clerk to assist her, after which the then minister of justice Rockefeller Vincent fired that clerk.

Although there were fewer judicial strikes than in 2020, labor actions hobbled the system. After the president summarily named three new justices of the Supreme Court, judges announced an indefinite strike, which lasted from February 15 to April 19. Court clerks also announced a strike following the decision to dismiss the clerk in the Petit-Bois affair. The Ministry of Justice reinstated the clerk in April.

The law requires each of the country’s 18 jurisdictions to convene jury and nonjury trial sessions twice per year, usually in July and December, for trials involving major, violent crimes. During a jury trial session, the court may decide for any reason to postpone the hearing to the next session, most often because witnesses are not available. In these cases defendants return to prison until the next jury trial session. Human rights groups highlighted poor treatment of defendants during criminal trials, saying defendants in some jurisdictions spent the entire day without food or water.

Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight severely hampered the judiciary. Human rights organizations reported several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to begin criminal prosecutions. The organizations also claimed judges and prosecutors ignored those who did not pay the fees. There were credible allegations of unqualified and unprofessional judges who received judicial appointments as political favors. There were also persistent accusations that court deans, who are responsible for assigning cases to judges for investigation and review, at times assigned politically sensitive cases to judges with close ties to the executive and legislative branches. Many judicial officials reportedly held full-time jobs outside the courts, although the constitution bars judges from holding any other type of employment except teaching.

Judges frequently closed cases without bringing charges and often did not meet time requirements. By law the chief prosecutor launches criminal investigations by transferring a case to the chief judge of a jurisdiction, who then assigns it to an investigative judge who takes control of the case. The investigative judge must order a trial or dismiss the case within six months. Judges and other judicial actors frequently did not meet time requirements, resulting in unlawful and prolonged pretrial detention for many detainees.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not uniformly enforce this right. The judiciary follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code, largely unchanged since 1835. The constitution denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate suspects unless legal counsel or a representative of the suspect’s choice is present, or the suspect waives this right. Authorities widely ignored constitutional trial and due-process rights.

The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence, as well as the rights to be informed promptly of the charges against them and to attend their own trials. Defendants also have the right to the assistance of an attorney of their choice. Legal aid programs were limited, and those who could not pay for attorneys were not always provided one free of charge. The law does not specifically provide a defendant time to prepare an adequate defense. Defendants have the right to confront hostile witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.

While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages, with Haitian Creole being the most commonly spoken language, all laws and most legal proceedings were in French. Observers noted judges often spoke to defendants in Haitian Creole to facilitate comprehension. Interpreters were used only in cases involving foreigners. Judges generally ensured that defendants fully understood the proceedings.

The functioning of justice of the peace courts, the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Judges presided based on their personal availability and often maintained separate, full-time jobs. Law enforcement personnel rarely maintained order during court proceedings, and frequently there was no court reporter. Defendants would often bribe judges to have their cases heard.

In many communities, especially in rural areas, elected communal administrators with no legal judicial authority took on the role of state judges and asserted powers of arrest, detention, and issuance of legal judgments. Some communal administrators turned their offices into courtrooms.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Victims of alleged human rights abuses may bring a civil or criminal complaint before a judge. Courts may award damages for human rights abuse claims brought in civil court, but seeking such remedies was difficult and rarely successful.

Human rights cases may be submitted directly through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. President Moise signed an executive order in 2020 ordering the creation of a National Intelligence Agency with nearly unlimited jurisdiction and agent anonymity, but it was unclear if the executive order was implemented.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Civil society observers noted this right was not always upheld or respected.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate and said some journalists resorted to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders.

On June 29, a journalist and an activist radio presenter, Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair, were killed in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The acting HNP director general issued a statement the following day claiming the police union, SPNH-17, was behind the double killing and others in retaliation for the earlier killing of the SPNH-17 spokesperson, although many observers in civil society failed to understand the connection between the two incidents or how police were able to draw their conclusions so rapidly.

Local media reported a prominent photojournalist fled the country in June due to death threats from gang members. He had reportedly taken photographs of the gang looting a private business.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of the government restricting academic freedom or cultural events.

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. Gangs believed to have ties to the government sometimes issued threats against antigovernment protesters.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Under the constitution citizens have almost unlimited rights to peaceful gatherings. Police must be informed in advance of planned gatherings but cannot prevent them. As in previous years, many groups exercised that right. According to UN police statistics, the country witnessed 94 peaceful and 565 violent incidents of civil unrest between January 1 and August 1. There were accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police to suppress protests. In addition to the conduct of inspections and training, the HNP General Inspectorate launched several investigations into allegations of excessive use of force during protests, particularly against journalists, which continued as of year’s end.

The Fantom 509 group, composed of a mix of rogue and former police officers, took to the streets on motorbikes and discharged their firearms on several occasions. In the aftermath of the March 12 failed police operation in Village de Dieu, Fantom 509 capitalized on rank-and-file officers’ discontent with the institution’s leadership and instigated incidents of street violence and vandalism. During these episodes of unrest, three police stations in West Department were stormed to free 12 detained officers, killing two police officers in the process. Following these incidents, the interim HNP director general reformed his senior leadership and initiated legal action against Fantom 509, now officially designated a criminal organization. The HNP reported that it was searching for Fantom 509 members suspected of various crimes.

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. Married women must present their marriage certificate to apply for a passport, but married men do not.

In-country Movement: On March 16, the government declared a limited state of emergency due to a botched March 12 police operation in Village de Dieu in which gangs killed several HNP officers, captured one armored vehicle, and destroyed another. The state of emergency, which only directly affected government-designated “red zones,” limited freedom of movement and allowed the government to order the suspension of certain essential services such as road, maritime, air, and telephone communication. Human rights leaders criticized the decree for its perceived illegality, disproportionality, and apparent lack of regard for individuals and their property rights. Human rights groups reported the curfew was sometimes applied arbitrarily. On April 24, police stopped a man going to the pharmacy to buy medication for his wife, fined him, and threatened to kill him, according to the NGO Haitian National Human Rights Network. Activists also reported the circulation of a video showing police beating a woman, allegedly because she was violating the curfew. On April 28, police officers stopped journalist Georges Allen for supposedly violating the curfew and allegedly assaulted him. The NGO reported police made verbal threats against citizens for violating the state of emergency, reportedly including multiple threats of death.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

During the year an increase in intergang clashes caused the displacement of more than 19,000 civilians in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. The violence particularly affected the populations of three neighborhoods: Cite Soleil, Lower Delmas, and Martissant. Frequent shootings and regular roadblocks, whether by gangs or police, also limited access to neighborhoods and spread fear among citizens. Activists leveled allegations of human rights violations against police and decried its apparent reluctance or inability to intervene in the violence.

According to data gathered through the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix at three major shelters for internally displaced persons (IDPs) – Carrefour Sports Centre, Delmas 103, and Saint Yves Church – six of 10 IDPs were women or girls, and more than 15 percent of IDPs were older than 60. Approximately 20 percent of the IDPs were younger than age five.

On June 7, armed men burned down Camp Lapiste, where hundreds of persons with disabilities found refuge after the 2010 earthquake. Dozens of persons with disabilities sought refuge in the Saint Yves Church, a temporary shelter lacking accessibility, adequate space, ventilation, or sanitation facilities.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Third-country nationals may petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Due to a long-running political impasse, however, national elections scheduled for 2019 and 2021 were delayed. Parliament was unable to function, with the upper house containing only 10 senators – too few to constitute a quorum – and the lower house left empty. A new president was originally scheduled to take office in February 2022; however, as of December it was unclear when this would occur. Ariel Henry, whom President Moise designated as prime minister three days before the president’s assassination, served as head of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative, municipal, and presidential elections were last held in 2016. While there were isolated allegations of voter fraud, the elections were generally regarded as credible by international and domestic observers. Although voter turnout was low, citizens generally accepted the elections, and public demonstrations against the election results were muted compared with previous years. Presidential, legislative, and local elections scheduled for the year did not take place due to problems in logistics and in reaching a political accord. In October Prime Minister Henry dissolved the provisional electoral council installed by President Moise in 2020, a body viewed as lacking credibility by civil society and political actors, thus increasing the likelihood of an eventual consensus political accord. The council is the country’s electoral commission and has the responsibility of organizing presidential and parliamentary elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, but social norms and the threat of electoral violence discouraged women from voting and, to a much greater extent, from running for office. During the 2016 national elections, four of 58 approved presidential candidates were women, 23 of 209 senatorial candidates were women, and 129 of 1,621 candidates for deputy were women. The constitution requires that at least 30 percent of elected officials be women, but the most recent legislative session had only four female deputies and one senator, a decrease of one female deputy from the prior legislative session. Mayoral elections are organized around panels of three that are required by law to include at least one woman. While they were rarely the principal local leaders, women made up 30 percent of local officials.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law criminalizes a wide variety of acts of corruption by officials, including illicit enrichment, bribery, embezzlement, illegal procurement, insider trading, influence peddling, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and a perception of impunity for abusers. The judicial branch investigated several cases of corruption during the year, but there were no prosecutions. The constitution mandates the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and members of parliament accused of corruption, but the body had never done so. The government’s previous anticorruption strategy expired in 2019, and as of October there was no formal anticorruption strategy.

Corruption: There were many reports of widespread corruption associated with the Petro Caribe petroleum importation program, a strategic oil alliance signed with Venezuela in 2006 under which Haiti was able to save U.S. dollar reserves, borrowing fuel from its oil-rich neighbor and deferring payment for up to 25 years. The agreement mandated the government of Haiti to use any money saved for the development of the economy and social programs. Instead, between two billion dollars (equivalent to almost a quarter of the country’s total economy for 2017) and six billion dollars went missing, and citizens saw few of the promised benefits, according to protesters and local media. The Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes reported that more than two billion dollars in Petro Caribe funds had been embezzled or wasted in worthless projects. On June 26, Investigative Judge Ramoncite Accime announced his decision to suspend the investigation indefinitely and unfreeze the defendants’ assets due to what he termed a lack of evidence. Judge Accime also ordered the release of the frozen assets of six businesses, including President Moise’s energy company Comphener, Inc. Despite these actions, however, the judge did not explicitly absolve the defendants of guilt.

On April 26, the FJKL published a report on HNP’s financial mismanagement between 2016 and 2019, based on a decision rendered on March 25 by the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes. According to the FJKL, the poor management of HNP finances posed a danger to public security by limiting the organization’s operational capacity. The FJKL also highlighted errors in the High Court’s judgments and recommended strengthening the institution, which plays a fundamental role in the fight against corruption.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with human rights groups, although they disagreed at times on the scope of certain issues and the most appropriate means of addressing them. The government generally consulted human rights groups, including the government’s independent OPC, on legislative matters.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Despite UN efforts beginning in 2018 to open an in-country OHCHR, as of November the government had not signed a host-country agreement.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OPC’s mandates are to investigate allegations of human rights abuse and to work with international organizations to implement programs to improve human rights. The government increased OPC funding by approximately 30 percent in the 2019-20 budget over the previous period. In July 2020 President Moise named a new minister-delegate responsible for human rights and the fight against extreme poverty, albeit with neither staff nor resources; Prime Minister Ariel Henry named a new minister-delegate in November.

When in session, the Chamber of Deputies has a Justice, Human Rights, and Defense Commission, and the Senate has a Justice, Security, and Defense Commission that cover human rights issues.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The penalty for rape is a minimum of 10 years of forced labor. In the case of gang rape, the maximum penalty is lifelong forced labor. The crimes were rarely formally prosecuted and often settled under pressure from community and religious leaders, generally through a monetary settlement calling on the father to pay for prenatal care and birth costs, and more occasionally calling on the father to acknowledge the child as his own; forced marriages were far less prevalent. The law excuses a husband who kills his wife, her partner, or both found engaging in adultery in the husband’s home, but a wife who kills her husband under similar circumstances is subject to prosecution.

The law does not classify domestic violence against adults as a distinct crime. Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations reported domestic violence against women remained commonplace and had increased due to the mass displacements caused by gang violence, COVID-19 restrictions, and the August 14 earthquake. Judges often released suspects arrested for domestic violence and rape.

Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence faced major obstacles in seeking legal justice, as well as in accessing protective services such as women’s shelters. Civil society organizations reported anecdotally that women were more likely to report cases of sexual and domestic violence since 2014, when the women’s movement achieved major policy victories, including the enactment of the Law on Responsible Fatherhood. Nonetheless, the same organizations reported that many victims still did not report such cases for reasons that included social pressure, fear, and a lack of logistical and financial resources. Due to familial responsibilities, victims were usually unable to dedicate the time necessary to follow through with legal proceedings. According to some civil society organizations, many local nonprofit organizations that provided shelter, medical services, psychological services, and legal assistance to victims had to reduce services due to a lack of funding. There were reports that in rural areas, criminal cases, including cases of sexual violence, were settled outside the justice system. In such cases local leaders often pressured family members to come to financial settlements with the accused to avoid social discord and embarrassment. According to judicial observers, prosecutors often encouraged such settlements.

According to a rapid gender assessment conducted by CARE International, gender-based violence became a far greater problem in areas affected by the August 14 earthquake. Seventy percent of women and men surveyed in affected areas said their fear of sexual violence had increased since the earthquake. Forty-three percent of community leaders and 75 percent of youth said sexual violence had increased since the earthquake, and 70 percent of organizations said women and girls were most at risk of sexual violence.

In Les Cayes Prison, where women have a section visible to men, women reported receiving abusive comments from male inmates and officers. During a 2019 prison mutiny, male inmates raped 10 women and one 15-year-old girl. The investigation conducted by the HNP Inspectorate General recommended the dismissal of a corrections officer, which was never implemented. The case was transferred to the Gonaives prosecutor’s office, where it remained an open investigation.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the labor code states that men and women have the same rights and obligations. Observers indicated sexual harassment occurred frequently. Although authorities stated the government was opposed to sexual harassment, there were no formal governmental programs to combat it on a national scale.

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

While stigma around seeking or accessing contraception significantly decreased over the past decade and women were far more knowledgeable about contraception, social and economic barriers remained. Cultural and historical barriers persisted in the use of the intrauterine device and contraception more generally, particularly cultural misconceptions and lack of knowledge of proper usage.

Many women and their families maintained a strong preference for giving birth at home with the assistance of matrones (traditional birth attendants) as opposed to giving birth in health facilities with the assistance of skilled birth attendants. The choice may be rooted in a desire for client-centered care, particularly for respectful maternity care, which was otherwise largely unavailable. The government did not allow state institutions to work openly with matrones, a practice that prevented them from acquiring the skills needed to serve as skilled birth attendants.

The government has protocols governing the provision of service to survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception is part of a mandatory package of services for the clinical management of rape cases, according to government protocols on the handling of rape cases. Emergency contraceptives were available, although health providers noted they were not always distributed equitably. The Ministry of Health was responsible for maintaining these protocols and practices; however, donors and NGO partners provided nearly all such care.

The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality rate at 480 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. A major cause of maternal deaths was the government’s lack of support for matrones. Other reasons included geographic difficulties in access to health facilities and financial barriers to primary health care. Of the country’s 571 communal sections, 125 had no health facilities. The proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel was 42 percent. The adolescent birth rate for those ages 15-19 years was 140 per 1,000.

Discrimination: Women did not enjoy the same social and economic status as men, despite the constitutional requirement that women’s participation in national life and in public service (i.e., political candidates, elected officials, and civil servants) be at least 30 percent of the positions.

By law men and women have equal protections for economic participation. In practice, however, women faced barriers to accessing economic inputs and securing collateral for credit, information on lending programs, and other resources. Women were often classified into certain jobs such as secretarial or cleaning services, and they faced lower pay as well as barriers when attempting to compete for hiring or promotions on an equal footing with men. Women were largely viewed as more vulnerable to coercive and exploitive practices in the workplace, such as sexual harassment.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states that “to fortify the national unity, eliminating all discrimination between the populations, of the towns and of the countryside, by the acceptance of the community of languages and of culture and by the recognition of the right to progress, to information, to education, to health, to work and to leisure for all citizens [masculine] and citizens [feminine].” The constitution also establishes the Office of Citizen Protection to protect “all individuals against any form of abuse by the government.”

There were high levels of colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone) and ethnic discrimination against the Syrian-Lebanese community that controlled many aspects of the economy. President Moise often stoked these economic resentments into populist nationalism, as both he and his ministers made increasingly provocative claims in speeches regarding the oligarchs in control of the country’s economy. Colorism has a long tradition in society, with light-skinned, often French-speaking, Haitians disparaging darker-skinned Haitians, who more generally speak only Creole.

During the year the international activist and founder of the think tank Policite, Emmanuela Douyon, published an editorial examining the historically taboo subject of colorism. Douyon suggested that certain positions in society, including owners of supermarkets, entertainment companies, and other businesses, were dominated by lighter-skinned Haitians. She called for an end to “the hints of this infamous slavery system” by guaranteeing that neither racism nor colorism are tolerated.

The rhetoric of the Moise administration on ethnic discrimination against the Syrian-Lebanese community became more dangerous as it was adopted by the infamous G9 Friends and Allies gang leader Cherizier, who advocated their toppling. In sporadic rioting during the year, unidentified individuals often targeted members of the Syrian-Lebanese minority. In a night of rioting on March 17, for example, individuals looted the Universal Motors dealership, owned by the wealthy businessman and leader of the Third Way Movement political party Reginald Boulos, and set the building on fire.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through an individual’s parents; either parent can transmit citizenship. Citizenship can also be acquired through a formal request to the Ministry of the Interior. The government did not register all births immediately. Birth registry is free until age two. Approximately 30 percent of children between ages one and five lacked birth certificates or any other official documentation. Children born in rural communities were less likely to be documented than children in urban areas. During the year the Interior Ministry issued a large backlog of birth certificates, as these were necessary for the citizenry to apply for the new national biometrically enabled identification cards required to vote in elections.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits domestic violence against minors. The government lacked an adequate legal framework to support or enforce mechanisms to fully promote children’s rights and welfare. The government made some progress in institutionalizing protections for children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for men and 15 for women. Early and forced marriage were not widespread customs. Plasaj, or common-law marriage, was common and sometimes used by older men to enter relationships with underage girls. The government does not formally recognize plasaj, although children born to those couples can be recognized as lawful heirs of the father.

Sexual Exploitation of Children : The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and the law has special provisions for rape of a person age 16 or younger. The law prohibits the “corruption” of persons younger than 21, including through commercial sex, with penalties ranging from six months to three years of imprisonment. The maximum penalty for human trafficking with aggravating circumstances, which includes cases involving the exploitation of children, is life imprisonment.

The former president of the Haitian Football Federation, Yves Jean-Bart, was banned for life by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and fined $1.14 million and procedural costs for the rape and sexual abuse, at times including sex trafficking, of up to 34 women, including at least 14 girls, between 2014 and 2020. As of November 22, authorities had not acted against Jean-Bart or 10 other perpetrators and accomplices in the case, including the head of the Haitian National Referees Committee, whom FIFA provisionally suspended for 90 days as part of its investigation.

Several civil society groups reported on impoverished children subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to these groups, children were often forced into commercial sex or transactional sex to fund basic needs such as school-related expenses. Recruitment of children for sexual exploitation and pornography is illegal, but the United Nations reported criminal gangs recruited children as young as age 10.

Displaced Children: Children displaced by the gang violence of June and the August 14 earthquake were vulnerable to sexual exploitation, as many of the children remained in formal or informal IDP camps while their parents went to work. The OPC contributed to the coordination of a humanitarian response, with food and medical relief; items for babies and pregnant or breastfeeding women; “dignity kits” containing menstrual pads, soap, underwear, detergent, a flashlight, and toiletries for girls and women; postexposure prophylaxis kits for those exposed to HIV; items for persons with disabilities; and psychosocial support for those affected by exploitation and sexual abuse.

Institutionalized Children:  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) has official responsibility for monitoring and accrediting the country’s residential children’s homes and care centers.  The institute reported 754 such facilities in operation, although only 98 were licensed by the government.  According to the international NGO Lumos, an estimated 25,000 children lived in residential children’s homes and care centers, and approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent.

On April 12, 12 armed men broke into an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, killing a security guard and sexually assaulting two children and an employee before leaving with stolen money and valuables. As of November no arrests related to the break-in or assaults had been made.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Handicapped Persons (BSEIPH) in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is the lead government agency responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and ensuring their civil, political, and social inclusion. The constitution stipulates persons with disabilities should have adequate means to provide for their autonomy, education, and independence. The law requires all public buildings and spaces to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in employment practices against persons with disabilities, requires the government to integrate such persons into the state’s public services, and imposes a 2 percent quota for persons with disabilities in the workforces of private-sector companies. The quota was not met, and the government did not enforce these legal protections, particularly regarding education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The law bans discrimination against persons with disabilities and stipulates they have the right to basic services such as health, education, and justice.

Local disability rights advocates stated that persons with disabilities faced significant obstacles to voting and civic participation. Persons with disabilities had difficulty obtaining national identification cards, required for voting, because the National Identification Office was inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities faced significant social stigma, exclusion, and discrimination due to their disabilities. For instance, families often left their disabled family members isolated at home. Establishments including government offices, churches, and schools did not routinely make services accessible for persons with disabilities. Opportunities to access services often depended on the economic status of the family. Persons with mental, developmental, or physical disabilities were marginalized and neglected. Deaf and blind citizens also faced marginalization and neglect and did not routinely receive necessary services.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Work, 3.5 percent of an estimated 120,000 children with disabilities in Port-au-Prince attended school, as opposed to 57 percent among the general population. Disability activists reported that students with disabilities had less access to secondary education. There were a few specialized schools, all located in West Department, including Port-au-Prince. Otherwise, the students with disabilities were integrated into general classes. Nationwide, while some children with disabilities were mainstreamed into regular schools, mainstreaming depended on the severity of the disability and the economic status of the family. A small number of schools provided specialized education for children whose disabilities did not allow them to be mainstreamed.

On September 2, the victims in the arson of Camp Lapiste organized a march to the Office of the National Ombudsman, denouncing what they saw as government and social neglect of their community. They shouted slogans asking whether they were full citizens and questioning why human rights activists had not spoken out on their behalf. Renan Hedouville, the national ombudsman, assured them of his support and criticized the government’s decision to dismiss Undersecretary Soinette Desir, who led the BSEIPH. That decision had been taken a few weeks earlier, when Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared his government “did not have any undersecretary.” As of October the victims had yet to be resettled, and the government had not nominated anyone to lead the BSEIPH.

The BSEIPH had several departmental offices outside the capital, but there was little progress towards creating a strategic development plan. The BSEIPH provided legal advice and job-counseling services to persons with disabilities. It regularly convened meetings with disability rights groups in all its regional offices. The BSEIPH generally worked to integrate persons with disabilities into the general society, in part by encouraging their employment in public institutions.

Some disability rights activists noted social services available to persons with disabilities were inadequate and that persons with disabilities had significant problems accessing quality medical care. Hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities and often refused to treat them.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS was strong and widespread. In 2020 UNAIDS reported 63 percent of adults in the country said they would not purchase vegetables from a seller known to be HIV-positive, while 54 percent believed students with HIV should not attend school.

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

There were reports that police condoned violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals. Some LGBTQI+ groups reported police and judicial authorities were inconsistent in their willingness to document or investigate LGBTQI+ persons’ claims of abuse.

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex conduct between adults, but there are no laws to protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The government’s penal code reforms announced in 2020 and scheduled to enter into force in 2022, offer specific protections to LGBTQI+ persons for the first time. These include making LGBTQI+ persons a protected group and imposing penalties for public agents, persons, and institutions who refuse services on the grounds of someone’s sexual orientation. A backlash against these changes, however, led to calls for a committee to amend the code, thus stalling any government efforts to prepare for the transition. The Ministry of Justice stated that it expected a significant delay in the code’s implementation.

A 2017 study of public opinions on stigma and discrimination towards vulnerable groups showed that 71 percent of the individuals surveyed said “hate” was the most appropriate term to express their attitude toward LGBTQI+ persons, and 90 percent of the adult populations rejected the idea of equal rights for sexual minorities.

Local attitudes, particularly in Port-au-Prince, remained hostile toward LGBTQI+ persons who were public and visible about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some politicians, social leaders, and organizations actively opposed the social integration of LGBTQI+ persons or any discussion of their rights. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups in Port-au-Prince reported a greater sense of insecurity and less trust of government authorities than did groups in rural areas.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of some workers, excluding public-sector employees, to form and join unions of their choice and to strike, with restrictions. The law allows for collective bargaining, stating that employers must conclude a collective contract with a union if that union represents at least two-thirds of the workers and requests a contract. Strikes are legal if, among other requirements, they are approved by at least one-third of a company’s workers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities but is unclear whether employers may be penalized for each violation. The law sets very low fines for illegal trade union dismissals, however, and does not explicitly provide for reinstatement as a remedy.

The law restricts some worker rights. It requires that a union obtain prior authorization from the government to be formally recognized, although workers may freely associate to defend their common interests without prior authorization. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the Social Organizations Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has excessive authority in setting up and running a union. Foreign workers are prohibited from holding union office. The law limits legal strikes to four types: striking while remaining at post, striking without abandoning the institution, walking out and abandoning the institution, and striking in solidarity with another strike. Public-utility service workers and public-sector enterprise workers may not strike. The law defines public-utility service employees as essential workers who “cannot suspend their activities without causing serious harm to public health and security.” A 48-hour notice period is compulsory for all strikes, and strikes may not exceed one day. Some groups were able to strike despite these restrictions by being present at their workplace but refusing to work. One party in a strike may request compulsory arbitration to halt the strike. The law does not cover self-employed workers or workers in the informal economy.

The labor court, located in Port-au-Prince and under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, adjudicates private-sector workplace conflicts. Outside of Port-au-Prince, plaintiffs may use municipal courts for labor disputes. The law requires ministry mediation before cases are filed with the labor court. In the case of a labor dispute, the ministry investigates the nature and causes of the dispute and tries to facilitate a resolution, including reinstatement as a possible remedy. In the absence of a mutually agreed resolution, the dispute is referred to court.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, and many courts were not functioning during the year due to conflict.

Government and private employers did not respect freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Antiunion discrimination persisted to some extent, although less than in previous years. Workers reported suspensions, terminations, and other retaliation by employers for legitimate trade union activities.

During the year, despite work stoppages and operational complications due to insecurity and political instability, the Office of the Labor Ombudsperson for the apparel sector and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor provided mediation services to workers and employers in Port-au-Prince, Caracol Industrial Park, and Ouanaminthe. Due to limited capacity and procedural delays in forwarding cases from the ministry to the courts, the mediation services of the apparel sector’s labor ombudsperson and the conciliation services of the ministry were often the only practical options for worker grievances regarding better pay and working conditions. The Office of the Labor Ombudsperson intervened to improve relationships between employers, workers, and trade union organizations, either upon formal request by workers, unions, or employers’ representatives, or based on labor-related human rights allegations reported by the International Labor Organization’s Better Work Haiti (BWH) program.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, labor violations are part of civil law, not criminally prosecuted. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors of the economy, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Office of the Labor Ombudsperson, which reports directly to the prime minister, is responsible for, among other issues, receiving and investigating comments regarding compliance with core labor standards and relevant labor laws in the apparel sector according to the HOPE/HELP laws, but the office did not record any instances of intimidation or employer abuse. While there were no reports of forced or compulsory labor in the formal sector, other reports of forced or compulsory labor were made, specifically instances of forced labor among child domestics, or restaveks, a pejorative term for victims of the restavek system, who were believed to number 150,000-300,0000 (see section 7.c.). As of July the courts were hearing 16 trafficking-in-person cases, although judicial proceedings were often protracted, and convictions tended to be rare.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor because it does not provide protection for children employed in domestic work. The minimum age for general work is 16. Other gaps existed in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including in the identification of hazardous occupations and illicit activities prohibited for children. Minimum age protections apply only to children with a formal employment contract.

The minimum age for employment in industrial, agricultural, or commercial companies is 16. Children ages 12 and older may work up to three hours per day outside of school hours in family enterprises, under supervision from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The law allows children 14 and older to be apprentices, but children ages 14 to 16 may not work more than 25 hours a week as apprentices. The 2017 law on the organization and regulation of work over the duration of 24 hours, known as the “3×8 law” as it describes three shifts, states it is illegal to employ children younger than 16, but it was unclear whether the provision supersedes older statutes that create the sectoral exceptions mentioned above. In addition it was unclear whether there is a minimum age for domestic workers.

The law prohibits anyone younger than 18 from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous; interferes with their education; or is harmful to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social health and development, including the use of children in criminal activities. The law prohibits night work in industrial enterprises for children younger than 18. The law doubles penalties for employing underage children at night. Prohibitions related to hazardous work omit major economic sectors, including agriculture, and the government had not published a specific list of hazardous occupations for children. The law states that primary education is free and compulsory, but according to one estimate, only half of all children attend primary school, rendering them vulnerable to forced labor. Persons between ages 15 and 18 seeking employment must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor unless they work in domestic service. The law stipulates penalties for failure to follow this and other procedures, but it does not penalize the employment of children. The IBESR is responsible for enforcing child labor law. The IBESR and the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a unit within the HNP, responded to reports of abuse in orphanages and establishments where children worked. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The worst forms of child labor were endemic, particularly in domestic service. The government did not report on investigations into child labor law violations or the penalties imposed. Although the government and international donors allocated supplemental funds for the IBESR to acquire new administrative space and hire more staff, the IBESR lacked the programs and legislation needed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Nonetheless, the IBESR director general reported in November that combatting child trafficking, including the restavek system, was a central focus of her organization.

The National Tripartite Committee, organized by the government to help develop national policy on child labor, updated the list of hazardous work for children younger than age 18 in accordance with the International Labor Organization conventions. The hazardous work list had not yet been ratified because parliament ceased to function in January 2020.

The BPM is responsible for investigating crimes against children, and it referred exploited and abused children to the IBESR and partner NGOs for social services. Although it has the authority to respond to allegations of abuse and to apprehend persons reported as exploiters of child domestic workers, the BPM did not investigate cases involving the practice of restavek successfully. These investigations were difficult because no specific law protects restavek victims, and the BPM must rely on other laws, such as the law against human trafficking, to investigate and prosecute such cases. For example, the law prohibits commercial sex by those younger than 21, but the maximum penalty was only three years, while penalties for trafficking range up to life in prison.

The employment of children younger than 15 in the informal sector was a widespread practice. Children often worked in domestic work, subsistence agriculture, and street trades such as selling goods, washing cars, serving as porters in public markets and bus stations, and begging. also worked with parents on small family farms, although the high unemployment rate among adults kept significant numbers of children from being employed on commercial farms.

Working on the streets exposed children to a variety of hazards, including severe weather, vehicle accidents, and crime. Abandoned and runaway restaveks constituted a significant proportion of children living on the street. Many of these children were exploited by criminal gangs for prostitution or street crime, while others became street vendors or beggars.

The most recent study by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, published in 2015, estimated 286,000 children worked in indentured domestic servitude, a form of trafficking in persons. An NGO specializing in child labor reported in November that 300,000, or one in 15 children, were caught in the restavek system. Such restavek victims were often victims of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. While the IBESR and the HNP’s specialized Child Protection Bureau were responsible for protecting the welfare of children, their effectiveness was limited. Restavek victims were exploited by being forced to work excessive hours at physically demanding tasks without commensurate pay or adequate food, being denied access to education, and being subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

Girls were often placed in domestic servitude in private urban homes by parents who were unable to provide for them, while boys more frequently were exploited for farm labor. Restavek victims who did not run away from families usually remained with them until age 14. Many families forced restavek victims to leave before age 15 to avoid paying them wages as required by law. Others ignored the law, often with impunity.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for freedom of work for all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on sex, national or geographic origin, religion, opinion, or marital status. The constitution states that women should occupy 30 percent of the positions in public-sector employment. The law does not define employment discrimination, although it sets out specific provisions with respect to the rights and obligations of foreigners and women, such as the conditions to obtain a work permit, foreign worker quotas, and provisions related to maternity leave. The law prohibits discrimination based on disability but does not prescribe penalties for law violations. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, or HIV-positive status. Women continued to face economic restrictions such as harassment in the workplace and lack of access to credit and other financial opportunities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. In the private sector, several industries, including public transportation and construction, which in the past had been male oriented, employed female workers at the same pay scale as men. Despite these improvements, gender discrimination remained a major concern. There was no governmental assessment or report on work abuses. The BWH’s assessment of 28 factories between October 2020 and April 2021, the latest period for which such reporting was available, identified two cases of gender discrimination. Following the assessment, the factories where the cases occurred were reprimanded and conducted compliance training with the offenders as well as with all workers, and they reviewed sexual harassment policy in consultation with the trade union committee.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage. Minimum wages are set by the government based on official macroeconomic indicators on at least an annual basis, and generally remain above the national poverty line. The government failed to publish an adjusted minimum wage for the year. Its most recent presidential decree setting minimum wages across sectors was issued in October 2019.

The 3×8 law organizes and regulates work over a 24-hour period divided into three eight-hour shifts. This law sets the standard workday at eight hours and the workweek at 48 hours for industrial, commercial, agricultural, and tourist establishments, and for public and private utilities. According to the chairman of the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Commission, a public-private labor oversight organization for the apparel assembly sector, the 3×8 law applied only to certain enterprises, thereby limiting its implementation. The 3×8 law also repealed some legal provisions related to work hours, leading to lack of clarity on overtime payments, rest days, and paid holidays, which were often the subject of friction between workers and employers.

The BWH reported cases in which employers made late payments for worker contributions to the country’s social security administration (the Office of National Insurance) or when employers made erroneous or late payments to the Office of Insurance for Work Accidents, Sickness, and Maternity.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes minimum occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations, including rules for onsite nurses at factories, medical services, and annual medical checks. The law allows workers to notify the employer of any defect or situation that may endanger worker health or safety, and to call the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor or police if the employer fails to correct the situation. Observers said OSH standards needed reform, including new policies and programs to mitigate persistent and emerging OSH risks, reinforce health promotion at work, and develop compliance programs. Standards were not always enforced. Penalties for violations of OSH regulations were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes, such as negligence.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for enforcing a range of labor-related regulations on wage and hour requirements, standard workweeks, premium pay for overtime, and occupational safety and health, but it did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. There were no prosecutions of individuals accused of violating the minimum wage, hours of work, or safety regulations.

Labor inspectors lacked training and received little support from law enforcement authorities. Inspectors did not have the authority to make unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions. Despite operational difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry was able to conduct inspections in the garment sector.

There were few reports of noncompliance with overtime provisions in apparel factories. In its 22nd Biannual Synthesis Report, which covers part of 2021, the BWH found that all factories were noncompliant on emergency preparedness and on chemical and hazardous substance management.

Informal Sector: Formal employment remained small (13 percent of the labor force), with agriculture and urban informal sectors providing employment to 40 percent and 47 percent of the labor market, respectively. The government did not enforce the law in the informal sector.

In the absence of effective contract enforcement or state oversight (the government does not track any data on the informal economy, including its size) economic operators tended to remain within family and existing social networks. More women participated in the informal sector than men. Women were approximately 20 percent more likely than men to be unemployed and, if working, 6 percent more likely to participate in the informal sector.

Jamaica

Executive Summary

Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, held 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections on September 3, 2020, to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.

The Ministry of National Security is the ministerial home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy of the security forces. The prime minister has authority over the Jamaican Defense Board and as chairman of the board has responsibility for defense-related matters including command, discipline, and administration. He is the de facto minister of defense. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is the country’s police force. It has primary responsibility for internal security and has units for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. When the prime minister and Parliament declare a state of emergency, the Jamaica Defense Force has arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; significant government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence of a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the government did not enforce the law during the year.

The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there were credible reports that some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses were not subject to full and swift accountability. The government did not effectively implement the law on corruption. There were numerous credible allegations of government corruption, and there were officials who sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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 during the year that government security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, and there were hundreds of complaints of abuse and wrongful harm. The Jamaica Constabulary Force was cited in most of the reports, in its roles both as an independent agency and as part of joint military-police activity. There were several reported incidents involving the Jamaica Defense Force. Overall, the total number of fatalities involving security forces, justifiable or otherwise, increased, with 123 reports as of December 9. Police fatally shot a taxi driver in September after he failed to obey an order to stop. A passenger was wounded in the same event, which drew significant community protests. In 2020 the government reported 115 fatal shooting incidents and 92 nonfatal shooting incidents involving security forces, an increase from the number of incidents reported in 2019.

Charges against members of the security forces took years to process, primarily due to investigatory backlogs, trial delays, and appellate measures. While the country continued to reduce the court case backlog, the COVID-19 global pandemic stymied progress in some courts. Numerous cases awaited prosecution.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, although there is no definition of torture in the law. There were allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in police custody and in correctional facilities. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) investigated reports of alleged abuse committed by police and prison officials. Most reports to INDECOM described intimidation, excessive physical force in restraint, and restricted access to medical treatment. Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern regarding underreporting by victims, particularly among the vulnerable or persons with mental disabilities. Rapes were occasionally perpetrated by security forces.

INDECOM investigated actions by members of the security forces and other state agents that resulted in death, injury, or the abuse of civil rights.  As of December, INDECOM was investigating 1,002 complaints received during the year of the abuse of power by police, including wrongful deaths, assaults, and mistreatment.  INDECOM forwarded its recommendations to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which determined whether police should be charged.  INDECOM remained one of the few external and independent oversight commissions that monitored security forces.  INDECOM reported a backlog in cases due to significant delays in obtaining DNA, ballistics, and chemistry reports from other government agencies.

Cases against security forces were infrequently recommended for criminal trial and often saw substantial procedural delays. Many cases did not go to trial due to continued delays in court and plea hearings.

There were reports of unlawful arrests for which officers were not punished or disciplined. The government had procedures for investigating complaints of unlawful behavior by security forces, including investigations by INDECOM and the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau, but the government did not always use these procedures. Citizens enjoyed effective legal representation in criminal proceedings and successfully challenged unlawful arrests and detentions within the court system. Civil society organizations such as Jamaicans for Justice conducted training for police recruits in human rights protections.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, limited food, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, and poor administration. Prisoners with mental disabilities and children in juvenile correctional facilities represented the most vulnerable populations facing harsh conditions.

Physical Conditions: Correctional facilities were significantly overcrowded. At times cells in the maximum-security facility at Tower Street held twice the intended capacity. Cells were dark and dirty, with poor bathroom and toilet facilities and limited ventilation.

Prisoners sometimes did not receive required medication, including medication for HIV, according to UNAIDS. The HIV prevalence rate among incarcerated populations (more than 6.9 percent) was reportedly as much as three times that of the general population. Two full-time psychiatrists and four part-time psychiatrists, an increase from 2020, cared for at least 262 inmates diagnosed with mental disabilities in 11 different facilities.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of abuse and inhuman conditions. Investigations were infrequent, and the number of official complaints likely underrepresented the scope of the problems, according to a human rights NGO.

Independent Monitoring: Justices of the peace and representatives from the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) visited correctional centers and detention facilities (lockups) regularly. Justices of the peace reported their findings to the Ministry of Justice, while the PCOA submitted reports to the Ministry of National Security. Both entities made recommendations to improve overall conditions. Citizen groups and NGOs stated the ministries rarely acted on the recommendations.

INDECOM investigated actions by staff members of the correctional facilities and other state agents that resulted in death, injury, or the abuse of civil rights. INDECOM’s legal mandate requires it to investigate all prisoner deaths that occur at a correctional facility, including deaths reported as a result of natural causes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention but allows arrest if there is “reasonable suspicion of [a person] having committed or … about to commit a criminal offense.” The law provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. Abuses arose, however, because police regularly ignored the “reasonable suspicion” requirement, arraignment procedures were very slow, and some communities operated as zones of special operations (ZOSOs) for most of the year.

The country suffered from high levels of homicide, crime, and violence. The declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) grants the police and military the ability to search, seize, and arrest citizens without a warrant, although no SOEs were declared during the year. The prime minister may declare an SOE for 14 days or fewer; extensions require parliamentary approval. Additionally, the government may identify ZOSOs, which confer to security forces some additional detention authorities, such as are found in SOEs. During the year the prime minister declared or extended five ZOSOs, which the government viewed as necessary to reduce crime and violence. High detention rates were a concern, and arbitrary and lengthy detentions took place in ZOSOs. Very few of these detentions resulted in charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest without a warrant when a felony, treason, or breach of the peace is committed or attempted in the officer’s presence. Following an arrest, the officer is required to inform the suspect of the offense(s) for which the individual was arrested.

An officer may execute a warrant that is lawfully issued by a judge or justice of the peace without being in possession of the warrant. The officer must produce the warrant as soon as practical after the arrest if the suspect requests it. The decision to charge or release must be made within 48 hours, although a judge or justice of the peace may extend the period of custody.

Security forces did not always follow these official procedures. According to government officials and civil society, public perception was that police could make arrests regardless of judicial authorization.

There were reports of arrests and prolonged periods of detention in which police did not inform the suspect of the official charges. There were multiple reports that detainees did not have access to legal counsel and that apprehended suspects could not notify family members. Every person charged with an offense is entitled to consideration for bail, although those charged with murder, treason, or other crimes punishable by imprisonment may be denied bail on “substantial grounds” that they would fail to surrender to authorities or would commit another offense while on bail. The procedure lent itself to low-level corruption in which police would accept bribes to forgo an arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Most cases of arbitrary detention were in the parishes (counties) of St. James and St. Catherine. The government declared ZOSOs and deployed the military to these areas to support police. Under these orders, security forces carried out wide-ranging campaigns of detention and incarceration in attempts to contain violence. There were few official investigations or prosecutions of security force members involved in arbitrary arrests.

Pretrial Detention: Lockups are intended for short-term detentions of 48 hours or less, but often the government held suspects in these facilities without charge or awaiting trial for much longer periods. A lack of administrative follow-through after an arrest created situations where persons were incarcerated without any accompanying paperwork. In some cases – days, weeks, months, or years later – authorities could not ascertain the reason for the arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. A backlog of criminal cases in most courts, however, led to the denial of a fair public trial for thousands of citizens. Criminal proceedings sometimes extended for years. Cases were delayed primarily due to incomplete files and parties, witnesses, attorneys, or investigating officers failing to appear.

The criminal courts decreased the court case backlog, especially at the parish court level. The case clearance rate for the second quarter of the year was that for every 100 cases that entered the courts, 111 were cleared.

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the courts were unable to hold jury trials, contributing to the low murder conviction rate of 8.3 percent in the first quarter of the year. During the year courts continued their efforts to address the court case backlog by using virtual hearings, a new electronic case management system, and promoting alternative dispute resolution methods.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them and the right to a trial within a reasonable time. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and the right to counsel. Legal aid attorneys (public defenders) are available to indigents, except to those charged with money laundering, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, possession of large quantities of drugs, or any minor offense not punishable with imprisonment. Limited legal aid attorneys (duty counsels) are also available to everyone, regardless of charges, from the time when persons are first taken into custody up to their first appearance in court. Defendants have ample time and facilities to prepare their defense. The government provides a free interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal. The Supreme Court tries serious criminal offenses, which include all murder cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial civil judiciary process. Complainants may bring human rights abuse cases to the courts for civil remediation, but awards were difficult to collect. The government is required to undertake pretrial negotiations or mediation to settle out of court. Plea bargains offered by the prosecution, however, were rarely accepted by defendants.

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

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference, the law gives broad powers of search and seizure to security personnel. The law allows warrantless searches of a person, vehicle, ship, or boat if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. On occasion police were accused of conducting searches without warrants or reasonable suspicion.

In the areas with ZOSOs and SOEs, government security forces took biometrics from temporarily detained persons. The Office of the Public Defender and civil society organizations challenged this practice, arguing that retaining the information and failing to delete it after police released the detained person effectively criminalized persons who subsequently were not charged. Security forces detained wide swaths of the population in ZOSOs and SOEs under broad arrest authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: Media reported in July that police allegedly took St. Ann parish resident Shaquille Higgins from his home without a search warrant on larceny charges after he criticized the government-imposed curfew and insulted the prime minister on social media. Police officials subsequently apologized in the media for the arrest. Higgins later filed a lawsuit against the government.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

The Broadcasting Commission barred certain lyrics and music videos, including songs referring to violent sex; violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons; or questions of race. Such lyrics were expunged prior to broadcast.

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles each potential asylum seeker administratively on an individual basis. Through registration the government may grant Jamaican citizenship to persons with citizenship in a Commonwealth country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections in September 2020, the Jamaica Labour Party won 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Observers judged the elections to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In national elections in September 2020, 18 women (29 percent of total seats) were elected to the House of Representatives out of 30 female candidates, a 50 percent increase from the 12 women elected during the 2016 general election.

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. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and corruption was a significant problem of public concern. Media and civil society organizations criticized the government for being slow and at times reluctant to prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption: In October the auditor general called for a probe into the Ministry of Education’s transfer of 124 million Jamaican dollars ($800,000) to a private entity when the ministry could not account for the intended use of the funds. The acting permanent secretary of the ministry was placed on administrative leave but was not charged.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Public Defender investigates abuses of constitutional rights and engages with claimants in a process to seek remediation from the government. The public defender is not authorized to appear in court but may retain attorneys to represent clients on the office’s behalf. The office may not investigate cases affecting national defense or actions investigable by a court of law. Parliament may ignore the findings of the Office of the Public Defender or decline to act on recommended actions. This limited the overall efficacy of the public defender.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of a woman is legally defined only as forced penile penetration of the vagina by a man; it is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Anal penetration of a woman or man is not legally defined as rape and may be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This strict definition created wide discrepancies between cases that otherwise had similar elements of rape. The government enforced the law with respect to the vaginal rape of a woman but was less effective in cases involving male victims.

Married women do not have the same rights and protections as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria is met: the act occurs after legal separation or court proceedings to dissolve the marriage; the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or the husband knows he has a sexually transmitted disease. By law marriage always implies sexual consent between husband and wife.

Advocacy groups contended that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings. Based on estimates from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 23 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support to all crime victims, including crisis intervention, counselling, and legal advocacy. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the country, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. While observers stated that the VSU had well-qualified and trained staff, it lacked sufficient resources to effectively meet the needs of all crime victims. The VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs capable of providing services such as resiliency counseling and operating shelters, although overall NGO capacity was limited. Few government services sensitive to the impact of trauma on their constituents were available.

The Child Protection and Family Services Agency provided similar services for children, although the staffs of both the VSU and the child protection agency were too few and insufficiently trained to provide comprehensive care to the populations they served. There were insufficient shelters in the capital area for women and children, and even fewer were available outside the capital area, or for males. Police and first responders had limited training regarding services available to crime victims.

Sexual Harassment: The government approved the long-debated Sexual Harassment Act in November. This new law creates a legal definition of sexual harassment in private workplaces and public institutions. The law provides legal recourse for victims, including a Sexual Harassment Tribunal, which can receive complaints up to six years after an act of sexual harassment and is empowered to impose fines. According to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a regional think tank, one in four women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime.

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

Access to contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth were available, although limited in impoverished or rural communities. Social and religious pressure against contraception created significant barriers to access for women.

Women had access to emergency health care, including for the management of consequences arising from abortions. The standard of care varied widely, however, especially in rural communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

Discrimination: Although the law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and women encountered discrimination in the workplace. Women often earned less than men while performing the same work. Women were restricted from working in some factory jobs. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination based on race and skin color, but there are no laws or regulations prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity.

There were few reports of racial discrimination. While the population was 92 percent Black, some media sources reported incidents of colorism (favoring lighter-skinned persons within an ethnic group) by employers or against patrons in upper-class restaurants. The government did not investigate these incidents.

While the public-school curriculum includes robust discussions of race, there were no government programs designed specifically to counter racial or ethnic biases.

Children

Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Children outside the country born to or adopted by one or both Jamaican parents, as well as persons married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.

Child Abuse:  The law bans child abuse and mistreatment in all its forms, including neglect.  The penalties are a large fine, a prison sentence with hard labor for a term not exceeding five years, or both.  The National Children’s Registry received 9,229 reports of child abuse in 2020, a decrease from 2019.  The law bans corporal punishment in all children’s homes and places of safety (government-run or regulated private institutions).

The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse in any form to make a report to the registry office. There is a potential penalty of a large fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both for failure to do so.

Corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Based on 2018 estimates, the NGO Jamaicans for Justice reported that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace.

Boys experienced disproportionately high levels of physical violence, including corporal punishment both at home and at school. A survey by the Planning Institute of Jamaica showed that boys were 2.7 times more likely than girls to experience malnutrition between birth and the age of five. Boys also experienced disproportionately poor education outcomes, with UNICEF reporting that 60 percent of adolescents not attending school were boys and that only 20 percent of tertiary education enrollees were boys.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but children may marry at 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which applies to the production, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a large fine. The law prohibits child sex trafficking and prescribes a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. There were continued reports of the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child sex trafficking.

The law criminalizes sexual relations between an adult and a child – male or female – younger than 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults. Cases were widespread and varied.

Also see 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

Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. 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 disabilities, although it does not mandate accessibility standards. The law was not fully implemented. Persons with disabilities encountered difficulties accessing education, employment, health services, public buildings, communications, transportation, and other services due to the lack of accessible facilities. The government did not provide all information in accessible formats.

There were reports of violence against persons with disabilities. In July a man was arrested for the rape of a girl with disabilities at a government-run care facility for children with special needs.

Insufficient resources were allocated for persons with disabilities. There were limitations in access to primary school education, although the constitution provides all children the right to primary education. There was also a lack of suitably trained teachers to care for and instruct students with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities. Access problems were more pronounced in rural regions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society groups, international organizations, and government officials cited stigma and discrimination as factors contributing to low numbers of individuals being treated for HIV. The country’s legal prohibition of sexual conduct between men disproportionately affected HIV treatment for subpopulations such as men who have sex with men and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+), where HIV infection levels were higher than average. NGOs also expressed concern about the role of sexual abuse in the transmission of HIV to girls and young women; approximately 45 percent of adolescent mothers with HIV were sexually abused as children. Some individuals with HIV reported difficulty obtaining medical care, to the extent that some delayed seeking medical attention or traveled abroad to receive treatment.

The government collaborated with international programs to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Measures included training health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitizing lawmakers and law enforcement officials; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; improving legal literacy; providing legal services; and monitoring and reforming laws, regulations, and policies relating to HIV.

The law prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace and provides some legal recourse to persons with HIV who experience discrimination. In rural areas or poor urban areas, there was less knowledge of the government services and programming available related to HIV.

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

The law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Attempted sexual conduct between men is criminalized, with penalties up to seven years in prison. Physical intimacy, or the solicitation of such intimacy, between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison under gross indecency laws. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.

The government generally only enforced the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. The government does not provide information as to whether the government prosecuted consensual sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery (anal sex) create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act committed through anal penetration of a woman, child, or man is punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTQI+ persons.

The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that it received a similar number of cases of discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year, compared with previous years. Many of the cases reported during the year occurred in prior years. Underreporting was a problem, since many of those who made reports were reluctant to go to police due to fear of discrimination or police inaction. A local NGO reported that officials within the government, including police, had improved their response to LGBTQI+ rights violations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law does not provide for the right to strike, although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to reinstate a worker for unjustified dismissal. The law makes it a criminal offense to prevent or deter a worker from exercising the right to participate in trade union activities or to dismiss, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against a worker for exercising these rights.

Aspects of the law inhibit the ability of some workers to organize. The government defines the following 10 categories of services as essential: water, electricity, health, hospital, sanitation, transportation, firefighting, corrections, overseas telecommunication, and telephone services. Before workers in these categories may legally strike, they must take their dispute to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and attempt to settle the dispute through negotiation.

In December an International Labor Organization (ILO) representative confirmed that the ILO continued to raise concerns that the country’s definition of essential services was too broad.  The ILO reported the issue remained unresolved by the government.  The government prohibits unionizing in export-processing zones, which are industrial areas with special tax and trade incentives to attract foreign investment.  The ILO expressed concern that penalties may be imposed on workers for their membership and participation in an unregistered trade union.  The ILO also expressed concern that the government may carry out inspections and request information about trade union finances at any time.

The law mandates that in the case of doubt or dispute as to whether workers may exercise bargaining rights, the labor and social security minister must conduct a secret ballot requiring that a majority of workers vote. If two or more unions each represent less than 30 percent of workers eligible to vote, the minister grants joint bargaining rights to each of those unions.

The minister of labor and social security may apply through the Supreme Court to curtail an industrial action such as a strike or lockout when the minister determines the action may be harmful to national security or the national economy or may have the potential to endanger the lives of a substantial number of persons. The minister refers such cases to compulsory arbitration. The IDT hears cases when management and labor fail to reach agreement, including those involving nonunionized workers.

The government enforced the law in most cases, but burdensome legal procedures allowed firms and other large employers to appeal and delay resolution of their cases for years. Trial delays due to the government’s COVID-19 measures further deferred action on some cases. While cases should by law be resolved within 21 days, the IDT took several months to decide most cases. Parties could apply for judicial review by the Supreme Court. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations, but large firms allegedly used their influence on the court and government to shape decisions to suit their interests.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the formal sector, except in export-processing zones. Worker organizations operated without interference, although the government maintained the right to monitor their activities. While employers generally respected the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, some labor unions reported that private-sector workers feared management retaliation against unionization. For example, it was not uncommon for private-sector employers to dismiss union workers and rehire them as contractors with fewer worker protections.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor as well as trafficking in persons. The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons continued its outreach to sensitize citizens to forced labor and other trafficking-in-persons violations. The task force also facilitated sensitization training programs for all levels of government, from police, labor officers, and health-care officials to prosecutors. There were no arrests or convictions made for labor trafficking between April 2020 and March 2021.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on forced or compulsory labor or trafficking in persons.  Most violators were not held criminally accountable.  The country continued to be a source and destination for persons subjected to forced labor, including in domestic work, begging, and the informal sector.  Children were subjected to forced labor in domestic work, and gang members subjected boys to forced criminal activity (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the exploitation of children in prostitution, the recruitment of children into criminal organizations, and the use of a child for “purposes contrary to decency or morality,” but it does not further define these terms. The law includes occupational safety and health restrictions for children and prohibits night work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The minimum age for general employment is 15, with a strict prohibition on employing children younger than 13. The law permits children from ages 13 to 15 to engage in “light work.” While the Ministry of Labor and Social Security does not have an official definition for light work, it maintained a list of occupations acceptable for children ages 13 to 15. The government does not have a list of types of hazardous work prohibited for children. Those who legally hire children are not required to keep any records.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws. Most penalties were criminal and commensurate with those for similar crimes, but penalties for sex trafficking that allowed for a fine in lieu of imprisonment were not commensurate with similar crimes. Government surveys estimated that 38,000 children ages five to 17 years were engaged in child labor, mostly in the informal sector.

Government agencies did not inspect the informal sector, limiting the government’s ability to enforce child labor laws. Children worked in farming, fishing, and in public markets. Children also worked as domestic helpers in homes or in street work such as peddling goods, services, begging, and garbage scavenging. Some children were subjected to forced labor in these sectors. The government’s labor inspectorate conducted scheduled as well as unannounced inspections within the formal and informal sectors. These inspections were conducted across all geographical areas and all sectors. The government’s social workers are authorized to access private homes. The Youth Activity Survey revealed that 5.8 percent of children engaged in child labor. Four percent of all children were engaged in hazardous work.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. Girls, sometimes coerced by family members, were subjected to sex trafficking by men who provided monetary or material payment to the girls or their families in exchange for sex acts. Local observers reported this form of child sex trafficking may be widespread in some communities. Violent criminal gangs used children for forced begging; as lookouts, armed gunmen, and couriers of drugs and weapons; and for lottery scams.

The law prohibits the recruitment of adults and children by nonstate armed groups, with a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, place of origin, social class, skin color, religion, and political opinion. The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Ministry of Labor and Social Security policy prohibits discrimination based on HIV status. There were limited numbers of cases filed for discrimination in employment or occupation during the year, but underreporting was likely due to strong stigma in the workplace against older women, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and persons with HIV or AIDS. Those persons subject to workplace discrimination had little confidence that effective legal recourse was available to them. Although the law requires equal pay for male and female employees, the law was not enforced. Salaries for women lagged behind salaries for men even in the same jobs, and women were concentrated in lower-paying occupations. Persons with disabilities often lacked access to the workplace. There is no law specifically mandating equal pay for equal work for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the nationally estimated poverty line. Most workers received more than the legal minimum wage, while some minimum-wage earners held two or more jobs.

The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek and mandates at least one day of rest per week. Employers are required to compensate work in excess of 40 hours per week at overtime rates, a provision most employers respected. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The government did not universally apply the law that restricts workdays to 12 hours or less.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department enforced industrial health and safety standards under ILO guidelines as appropriate for each industry. The department conducted inspections, investigated accidents, warned violators, and gave them a period in which to correct violations. The department took violators to court if they did not correct violations within given time frames. The law stipulates penalties and fines, and the minister of labor and social security has the authority to increase any monetary penalty.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Insufficient staffing in the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Finance and Public Service, and Ministry of National Security contributed to difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspections took place only in the formal sector.

Legal fines or imprisonment for workplace health and safety violations were not commensurate with similar crimes. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security gained compliance in the vast majority of cases by threatening legal action. The ability of defendants to repeatedly appeal a case dulled the effectiveness of penalties. The law has no provisions that explicitly give workers the ability to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to employment, although the IDT may reinstate workers who were unfairly dismissed.

Informal Economy: Local think tanks estimated the informal economy generated more than 40 percent of GDP. Most violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector. OSH Department inspections referred cases of informal work to the Ministry of Labor for further action when discovered.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty parliamentary democracy and federation. The prime minister is the head of government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable powers of self-governance under a premier. In 2020 national elections, Team Unity, a coalition of three political parties, won nine of the 11 elected seats in the legislature. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was reselected prime minister for a second term. A Caribbean Community observation mission assessed that the elections were free and fair.

The security forces consist of a police force, which includes the paramilitary Special Services Unit, a drug unit, the Special Victims Unit, the Office of Professional Standards, and a white-collar crimes unit. These forces are responsible for internal security, including migration and border enforcement. Police report to the Ministry of National Security, which is under the prime minister’s jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were few credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included the continued criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced during the year.

There were no reports of prosecutions or arrests of government officials for human rights violations during the year, but authorities stated they took appropriate measures to discipline officials when necessary. The government generally implemented effectively the law criminalizing 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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. There was one report that government officials allegedly arrested a suspect in a degrading manner. In February a photograph and videos on social media in Nevis with images of a man lying face down in a drain and a law enforcement officer standing on the upper part of his back, seemingly to make an arrest. Authorities investigated the incident and stated they had taken appropriate disciplinary measures.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were slightly overcrowded, and facilities were austere.

Physical Conditions: The country has two prisons with a total capacity of 160 inmates. The total prison population on St. Kitts was 179 in July, including pretrial detainees, who were confined with convicted prisoners. Most prisoners had beds, although some slept on blankets on the floor. Inmates between ages 16 and 21 were held with adult prisoners.

Administration: Authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although there were no known visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year authorities repainted and renovated some cells and installed new air-conditioning units. Barracks were constructed for staff.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest a person without a warrant, based on the suspicion of criminal activity. The law requires that detained persons be charged within 72 hours or be released. If detainees are charged, authorities must bring them before a court within 72 hours of detention. There is a functioning bail system. Detainees have prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or to a lawyer provided by the state. The government provides free defense counsel to indigent defendants only in capital cases. There is a private legal-aid program to provide legal assistance to indigent defendants. Authorities permitted family members, attorneys, and clergy to visit prisoners once per month and to visit those in pretrial confinement once per week.

Authorities remand persons accused of serious offenses to custody to await trial. They release those accused of minor infractions on their own recognizance or on bail with sureties.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees were 30 percent of the prison population. The length of time a person was held in pretrial detention varied. The government did not report on the average length of pretrial detention. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, however, reported pretrial detentions of six to nine months for High Court (serious offenses) cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. There is a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense. Defendants have free access to an interpreter. Defendants may question or confront witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have a right to appeal. On March 4, the federal parliament passed three bills aimed at strengthening the judicial process. The attorney general and minister of justice and legal affairs stated the bills confer jurisdiction on the chief justice to make criminal procedure rules for the Magistrate’s Court and would reduce backlogs within the criminal justice system, reduce the time persons wait for trial, and provide for alternate jurors.

To lower the number of cases that go to trial, in May the government conducted a mediation training session for 26 persons to instruct them in conflict resolution.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts and the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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. Civil servants are restricted from participating in protests.

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

Information on the government’s cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum reported during the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voters elect 11 members of the National Assembly, and the governor general appoints a three-person senate: two on the recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the opposition leader.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Team Unity, a coalition of the People’s Action Movement and the People’s Labor Party in St. Kitts, and the Concerned Citizens Movement in Nevis, won nine of the 11 elected seats in the legislature in the June 2020 national elections. Team Unity leader Timothy Harris was reselected prime minister for a second term. The opposition St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won two seats in the election.

Five unsuccessful SKNLP candidates filed petitions in the High Court challenging the results of the June 2020 general elections in the constituencies in which they ran. Citing a lack of independent observers, the SKNLP leader alleged the government had an unfair political advantage, since the elections were held during a COVID-19-related state of emergency. A Caribbean Community observation mission assessed that “the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or fear and that the results of the 5 June 2020 General Elections reflect the will of the people of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.”

The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-governance with its own premier and legislature, and it has the right to secede from the federation. There were no local elections during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The first woman to lead a political party in the country was elected president of the Nevis Reformation Party in September 2020.

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. Media and private citizens reported government corruption was occasionally a problem.

Corruption: Members of the opposition expressed concern regarding the lack of financial oversight of revenues generated by the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program. During the year the government held bilateral consultations to discuss best practices and improve the security of the CBI program. The government did not publicize the number of passports issued through CBI or the nationalities of the passport holders.

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

The country had a small number of domestic human rights groups that 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 Ministry of Health maintained a human rights desk to monitor discrimination and other human rights abuses beyond the health sector.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law classifies sexual violence, rape, and incest as serious offenses, protects victims of domestic violence, and establishes penalties for perpetrators. The government enforced the law. The law prohibits rape of women but does not address spousal rape. The law utilizes an “unnatural offenses” statute to address male rape. Penalties for rape range from two years’ imprisonment for incest between minors to life imprisonment. Indecent assault has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. There is no statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual offenses.

Court cases and anecdotal evidence suggested that rape, including spousal rape, was a problem. On July 7, on Saint Kitts and Nevis Information Service’s television program Working for You, members of the Special Victims Unit of the police force discussed issues related to domestic violence and abuse affecting individuals across the country. The head of the unit indicated there was no increase in rape cases, compared with the previous period of COVID-19 restrictions. In July the constable in charge of investigations at the unit publicly noted men who were being abused struggled to disclose abuse due to a perceived stigma.

Violence against women was a serious and underreported problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides for a fine or six months in prison. The government enforced the law. Advocates indicated they believed the true number of incidences was likely higher than reported but that many victims were reluctant to file reports due to the belief that they would not be protected or that their abusers would not be prosecuted. In July the prime minister publicly committed to provide additional resources to the Ministry of Social Development to help prevent abuse and give victims a greater sense of empowerment and independence.

In March the Department of Gender Affairs announced the development of a UNESCO-funded National Gender Equality Policy and Action Plan to assist the government in facilitating gender equality and empowerment.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment cases are instead prosecuted under the Protection of Employment Act. The press reported that sexual harassment occurred in the workplace.

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

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage. Survivors of sexual violence could access services from any public hospital. Emergency contraception was available with a doctor’s prescription as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as in property, inheritance, employment, and owning or managing a business. In the labor sector, women are legally restricted from working in some industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, and water. No law prohibits gender-based discrimination in access to credit. The law requires equal remuneration, and women and men generally received equal salaries for comparable jobs. The government effectively enforced the law.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution expressly prohibits discrimination based on race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinions or affiliations, color, and sex or creed.

There were no reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities during the year. There were no reports of disproportionate access to education.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship by birth in the country, and all children are registered at birth. Children born abroad to citizen parents may be registered by either parent.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but was a problem. According to the government, neglect was the most common form of abuse, while physical abuse, including sexual molestation, occurred. The Special Victims Unit investigated allegations of physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, juvenile abuse, and crimes against children. The unit worked closely with the Department of Probation and Child Protection Services when there were juvenile-related matters and the Department of Gender Affairs when there were cases of domestic violence. In child abuse cases, the law allows children to testify against their alleged attackers using remote technologies such as Skype. Other solutions, such as placing a physical barrier in the courtroom, were also employed to protect victims. The Ministry of Social Services and the Ministry of Education regularly collaborated on programs to curb child abuse.

The St. Christopher Children’s Home served abused and neglected children; it received funding and logistical support from the government.

The government offered counseling for both adult and child victims of abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Underage marriage was rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and it was generally enforced. Child pornography is illegal and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. NGO representatives reported that sexual exploitation and molestation of children were problems. NGO representatives also reported that adolescent transactional sex was an occasional problem. The age of consent for sexual relations is 16. Having sexual relations with children younger than age 16 is illegal.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no organized Jewish community, and members of the Jewish faith reported there were no anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination, particularly with access to buildings and public transportation. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but it was not consistently enforced. Children with disabilities attended school, although some parents of students with disabilities preferred to have their child stay at home. There was a segregated school for students with disabilities. Many local schools accommodated students with physical disabilities. In July the prime minister announced the government would provide a stipend to households with disabled children through the end of the year. As of the end of August, 118 applications were approved for assistance through the disability support initiative.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on a person’s HIV status; however, societal discrimination occurred against persons with HIV or AIDS. The Ministry of Labor enforced a specific antidiscrimination policy covering HIV and AIDS in the workplace. In February the national HIV/AIDS and Program coordinator and other health officials publicly advocated for decriminalizing homosexuality as “critical to combatting HIV/AIDS” and noted that a person’s HIV status is categorized as personal medical information and deserves the right to be kept private and confidential at all times.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct among men under an “unnatural offenses” statute that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. There were no reports the government enforced the law in recent years.

No laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity in matters regarding essential goods and services and access to government services, such as health care.

The government stated it received no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, but some observers suggested there was underreporting due to negative societal attitudes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Labor laws and procedures are the same in St. Kitts and in Nevis.

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions or staff associations. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected in practice. The law permits police, civil servants, hotels, construction workers, and small businesses to organize staff associations. Staff associations do not have bargaining powers but are used to network and develop professional standards. A union representing more than 50 percent of the employees at a company may apply for the company to recognize the union for collective bargaining. Companies generally recognized the establishment of a union if a majority of its workers voted in favor of organizing the union, but the companies are not legally obliged to do so.

In practice, but not by law, there were restrictions on strikes by workers who provide essential services, such as police and civil servants. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such discrimination to rehire employees fired for union activities. The International Labor Organization provided technical assistance to the government in labor law reform, labor administration, employment services, labor inspection, and occupational safety and health. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The Ministry of Labor provided employers with training on their rights and responsibilities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor. The government did not report any cases of involuntary servitude. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and a Special Victims Unit, led by the Child Protection Services and police, investigated violations. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16. Prohibitions do not apply to family businesses. Children ages 16 and 17 have the same legal protections from dangerous work conditions as all workers. The law permits children from the ages of 16 to 18 to work regular hours. Employment of children from the ages of 16 to 18 in certain industries related to the hotel and entertainment sectors is restricted. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. Most children younger than age 16 with jobs worked after school in shops and supermarkets or did light work in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance with child labor laws, which they did effectively. The ministry reported that investigations were frequent and that violators were referred to the Social Security Office for enforcement.

In February the country joined regional member states of the International Labor Organization in the launch of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor in the Americas, under the theme #EndChildLabour2021. During a February 11 press conference, the minister of labor stated that child labor practices were nonexistent in the country, but “our Federation was, nevertheless, obligated to do its part in spreading the message that child labor is fundamentally wrong and should be brought to an end.”

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status. The law stipulates any employer who wrongfully terminates an employee can be fined to cover the cost of employee benefits. The government effectively enforced discrimination laws and regulations, and penalties were commensurate to those for laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy was above the estimated poverty income level. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime, but policy calls for employers to inform employees if they have to work overtime. Although not required by law, workers generally received at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that were outdated but appropriate for the country’s main industries. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law also requires employers to report accidents and dangerous incidents. The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and make recommendations.

The Labor Commission settles disputes over OSH conditions. The office conducts regular workplace inspections. Violators are subject to fines, and repeat offenders are subject to prosecution. The commission undertook wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints. If the commission found that employers violated wage regulations, penalties were generally sufficient to encourage compliance. The government reported there were no violations resulting in arrests or prosecutions.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Labor relied primarily on worker complaints to initiate inspections of facilities using informal labor. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, labor inspectors were part of the National COVID-19 Compliance Task Force. The Social Security Office was responsible for registering informal workers and businesses.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

Saint Lucia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. On July 26, in elections considered free and fair by outside observers, the Saint Lucia Labour Party won 13 of the 17 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the previously ruling United Workers Party. Two seats were won by independent candidates. Philip J. Pierre was named the new prime minister.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police Force has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. 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 criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although laws against such conduct were not enforced.

The government took steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses. In August the new government announced it will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations 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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but prisoners and suspects continued to complain of physical abuse by police and prison officers.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The government launched independent inquiries into allegations of abuse. The limited transparency into official investigations sometimes created a perception among civil society and government officials of impunity for the accused officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Persistent overcrowding and prison violence were noted during the year.

Physical Conditions: The Bordelais Correctional Facility was overcrowded; at one point the facility (designed for a maximum capacity of 500 inmates) held 549 inmates. More recent press reporting indicated the inmate population dropped to 484. A spate of three fatalities within a month – including one homicide – raised concerns regarding the safety of those held at Bordelais. In February inmates rioted to protest long trial delays and conditions at the facility, including inadequate measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Following the riot, an internal review was undertaken, and inmates subsequently received disposable masks and hand sanitizer. In September one inmate who had been declared medically unfit to stand trial and “held at the court’s pleasure” (an indefinite sentence) was killed in prison.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment. A five-member board of visiting justices reviewed complaints from prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison monitoring was typically done by local, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), although no independent visits occurred during the year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements. In April press reported that a local campaign manager for one candidate of the country’s then opposition party was detained on suspicion of organizing an illegal protest that violated national COVID-19 protocols. She was subsequently released without charge.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution stipulates authorities must apprehend persons openly with warrants issued by a judicial authority. The law requires a court hearing within 72 hours of detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and family. There was a functioning bail system.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of October those awaiting trial represented more than 70 percent of the inmate population. Individuals charged with serious crimes often spent between six months and six years in pretrial detention. The oldest case awaiting trial dated to 2006 and was set to be heard in January 2022.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, prompt and detailed information about charges, and a fair and public trial without undue delay. They have the right to be present at their own trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice; have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; receive free assistance of an interpreter as needed; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Attorneys are provided at public expense to indigent defendants only if the charge is murder.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners and detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one can bring lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations cannot appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights courts for a binding decision. Individuals and organizations may present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Married, widowed, or divorced women, as well as women who are naturalized citizens, must fill out additional information on passport applications that is not required of men regardless of marital status or their path to citizenship.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their home countries.

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In July the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) defeated the United Workers Party, winning 13 of 17 parliamentary seats, and SLP leader Philip J. Pierre became prime minister. Independent candidates won seats, albeit in districts not contested by the SLP. Elections experts from the Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, and the Commonwealth observed the elections at the government’s invitation; they reported that the elections were generally free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws, but not always effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were no developments in any major corruption cases.

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, which is punishable by 14 years’ to life imprisonment. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when a couple is divorced or separated or when there is a protection order from the Family Court. Authorities generally enforced the law. Roungement – the practice of parents accepting monetary compensation to settle rape and sexual assault cases out of court – is prohibited by law but was commonly practiced and rarely prosecuted.

The law prohibits sexual assault; nevertheless, it was underreported and not always prosecuted. High-level government officials supported strengthening family-law legislation and avenues of recourse for victims of gender-based violence.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. While police were willing to arrest offenders, the government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. In July the Department of Gender Relations, with the assistance of the UN Population Fund, adopted and implemented procedures for gender-based violence referrals to improve access to professional services, up-to-date information, and timely referrals in both emergency and nonemergency situations.

The law provides for five years to life of incarceration for those convicted of domestic violence, and the law was generally enforced. Shelters, a hotline, and detailed national policies for managing domestic violence were available, but victims lacking financial security were often reluctant to remove themselves from abusive environments. Police faced problems such as a lack of transportation that at times prevented them from responding to calls in a timely manner. The NGO Saint Lucia Crisis Center received monthly government funding. It maintained a facility for female victims of domestic violence and their children and a hotline for support. The center reported that it was unable to meet the needs of all victims seeking assistance and that donations and fundraising activities had declined due to the negative economic impact of COVID-19.

The Department of Gender Relations operated the Women’s Support Center, a small residential facility for victims of domestic abuse. The crisis center reported that persons requesting counseling services often lacked funds to access either physical or virtual services because they could not afford public transportation or internet services. The center received referrals from government, the prison, and school counselors but had limited resources to meet the needs of all persons in need of services.

The Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations, and Sustainable Development assisted victims of domestic violence. Authorities referred most cases to a counselor, and police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in several cases. The Department of Gender Relations operated several gender-based violence prevention programs in schools and through community-based groups.

The Family Court hears cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. The court can issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the residence of a specified person. The court remands perpetrators to an intervention program for rehabilitation. The court employed full-time social workers to assist victims of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but sexual harassment remained a problem. Government enforcement was not an effective deterrent. Most cases of sexual harassment were handled in the workplace rather than prosecuted under the law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Contraception, including emergency contraception, was widely available for those age 18 or older. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

The maternal death rate for 2017 was 117 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was the most recent available information. This rate, as with many suboptimal health outcomes, was due to broader problems in the health-care system.

Survivors of sexual violence could access services from any of the public hospitals and wellness centers and from the Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association. Various divisions of the government worked together to assist victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including through the Ministry of Health’s Department of Social Services, Ministry of Education’s Department of Gender Relations, and the police Special Victims Unit.

There were no apparent legal or social barriers related to menstrual health that impacted the ability of women and girls to participate equally in society or to access educational opportunities. Economic barriers existed, however, leading one NGO to continue its campaign to provide hygiene products to lower-income women and providing education beyond the “brief” discussion of menstruation in the national school curriculum.

Discrimination: The law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Women were underrepresented in the labor force, had higher levels of unemployment than men, sometimes received lower pay, and sometimes faced additional informal hurdles to gaining access to credit. The law provides for the equal treatment of women with respect to family property, nationality, and inheritance. The foreign husband of a Saint Lucian woman does not automatically receive Saint Lucian citizenship, but the foreign wife of a Saint Lucian man does.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were no reports of systemic racial or ethnic violence and discrimination. The country is racially homogeneous; in the latest (2010) census, 96 percent of residents identified as being of full or partial African descent. Members of other communities, such as citizens of East Indian or Middle Eastern descent, had an equal role in society.

Children

Birth Registration: Children receive citizenship by birth to a parent with citizenship. Authorities provided birth certificates without undue administrative delay.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits all forms of child abuse, but child abuse remained a problem. The Department of Human Services and Family Affairs handled cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and psychological abuse.

Although the government condemned the practice, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for the abuser’s financial contributions toward the welfare of the victim. Nonetheless, courts heard some child sexual abuse cases, convicted offenders, and sentenced them.

The Human Services Division provided services to victims of child abuse, including providing homes for severely abused and neglected children, counseling, facilitating medical intervention, finding foster care, providing family support services, and supporting the child while the child was cooperating with police and attending court. The crisis center reported an increase in child abuse cases and behavioral problems among children. They also reported an increase in sexualization of children and an increase in depression and suicidal thoughts among children since COVID-19.

A local NGO reported that lack of counseling, a lack of proper rehabilitation and reintegration policies, poor processes and procedures, and a lack of clarity of the new juvenile justice law were the main human rights issues impacting minors.

An NGO reported that the Boys Training Center, the main juvenile detention facility, was ill-equipped and housed juvenile offenders together with juveniles under state care and protection. The NGO received reports that physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuses were frequently perpetrated by staff at the center. An NGO representative said the permanent secretary of social justice, who had direct jurisdiction and responsibility for the facility, and the government failed to carry out a comprehensive investigation and hold employees accountable for abuse of state wards. The representative also reported a lack of proper facilities and staff for juvenile offenders, including having no teachers at the Boys Training Center.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and women, but 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Laws on sexual offenses cover rape, unlawful sexual contact, and unlawful sexual intercourse with children younger than age 16. The age of consent is 16, but a consent defense may be cited if the victim is between ages 12 and 16. The law prohibits sex trafficking of children younger than 18. No law defines or specifically prohibits child pornography. The government did enforce laws on sexual offenses against children, including through a police team that focused solely on sexual crimes, including sexual crimes involving children. For example, in April a male relative was arrested for the sexual abuse of a child who was found chained in a house.

An NGO reported a lack of social protection systems to assist vulnerable children, while another NGO received frequent reports of child sexual and physical abuse, including reports of staff abusing juveniles in juvenile detention facilities.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Government regulations require access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings, but only a few government buildings had access ramps. Persons with disabilities have the right to vote, but many polling stations were inaccessible for voters with impaired mobility.

The Ministry of Health operated a community-based rehabilitation program in residents’ homes.

Children with physical and visual disabilities were sometimes mainstreamed into the wider student population. There were schools available for persons with developmental disabilities and for children who were hard of hearing, deaf, blind, or visually impaired. Children with disabilities faced barriers in education, and there were few employment opportunities for adults with disabilities. NGOs reported they had no record, knowledge, or reports of children with disabilities being institutionalized in any of the state homes for juveniles.

While there were no reports of discrimination, civil society representatives reported difficulty obtaining data on discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

NGOs complained that government officials did not test persons held at state facilities, e.g., at the state psychiatric facility, for HIV. Civil society groups reported health-care workers occasionally did not maintain appropriate patient confidentiality with respect to HIV or AIDS status.

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

Civil society representatives reported widespread societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. Some openly LGBTQI+ persons faced verbal harassment and physical abuse, including a reported public attack on a gay man walking in the street. Civil society groups reported LGBTQI+ persons were forced to leave public buses, denied jobs, or left jobs due to a hostile work environment.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual acts of “gross indecency” (defined as sexual acts other than intercourse) as well as “buggery” (consensual intercourse between men) with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Attempted consensual sexual intercourse between men is punishable by five years in prison. None of these laws was enforced in practice.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics, with one exception in the context of employment (see section 7). The government funded NGOs that provided services to LGBTQI+ persons. Major gaps existed on LGBTQI+ topics, such as a lack of training and understanding of important LGBTQI+ matters. A lack of inclusive policy guidance allowed individual health providers or other service providers to deny services to LGBTQI+ persons based on the providers’ personal beliefs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law specifies the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and workers fired for union activity have the right to reinstatement. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The law restricts the right to strike and bargain collectively by police, corrections service, fire department, health service, and utilities (electricity, water, and telecommunications) on the grounds these organizations provide “essential services.” These workers must give 30 days’ notice before striking. Once workers have given notice, authorities usually refer the matter to an ad hoc labor tribunal set up under the Essential Services Act. The government selects tribunal members, following rules to ensure tripartite representation. These ad hoc tribunals try to resolve disputes through mandatory arbitration.

The government generally respected freedom of association, and employers generally respected the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to strike and bargain collectively. No move towards short-term contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic was reported either by the government or NGOs.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and offers protection from slavery and forced labor; however, forced labor is not criminally prohibited unless it results from human trafficking. The government did not have written procedures to guide officials on the proactive identification and referral of trafficking victims.

The International Labor Organization noted with concern that the law allows for prisoners to be hired out to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies, and associations.

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

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. Although the criminal code prohibits the use of children in some illicit activities, such as prostitution, the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than 18 for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of illegal drugs, is not criminally prohibited.

The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 15 once a child has finished the school year. The minimum legal age for industrial work is 18. The law provides special protections for workers younger than 18 regarding working conditions, and it prohibits hazardous work. There are no specific restrictions on working hours for those younger than 18. There is no comprehensive list of what constitutes hazardous work; however, the law prohibits children younger than 18 from working in industrial settings, including using machinery and working in extreme temperatures. Children ages 15 to 17 require a parent’s permission to work.

The Ministry for the Public Service, Home Affairs, Labour, and Gender Affairs is responsible for enforcing statutes that regulate child labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping, and the law were not effectively enforced.

There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws, and the government did not report any investigations (see section 6, Children). Nevertheless, government officials, civil society, and educators suspected that children from poor families were vulnerable to unorganized commercial sexual exploitation and engaged in sexual activity in exchange for goods or services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, religion, national extraction, social origin, ethnic origin, political opinion or affiliation, age, disability, serious family responsibility, pregnancy, marital status, and HIV or AIDS status. The law requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work but sets different rates of severance pay for men and women. Although the law prohibits employers from terminating employees on the grounds of sexual orientation, civil society groups received reports of LGBTQI+ persons being denied jobs or leaving jobs due to a hostile work environment. There are no specific penalties for discrimination; penalties for discrimination are covered under the general penalties section of the labor code. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage for some sectors, including office clerks, shop assistants, and messengers. On average the sector-specific minimum wages were below the official poverty level.

The legislated workweek is 40 hours, with a maximum of eight hours per day. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestic workers, and industrial workers. Labor laws, including overtime rules and occupational health and safety standards, apply to all workers, whether in the formal or informal sector. The Department of Labour reported that some workers filed complaints regarding violations of regulations regarding work conditions, work hours, or minimum wages. The sectors in which violations typically occurred were manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail sales, restaurants, hotels, finance, insurance, and services, particularly private security services.

The labor code provides penalties that were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as fraud, but the government effectively enforced the existing law. The Ministry for the Public Service, Home Affairs, Labour, and Gender Affairs was responsible for monitoring implementation of labor laws. Employers were generally responsive to ministry requests to address labor code violations, and authorities rarely levied fines.

Officers effectively monitored compliance with standards governing pensions, terminations, vacation, sick leave, contracts, and hours of work. Inspectors have the authority to initiate sanctions, institute proceedings before the tribunal, or hold informal inquiries when complaints are brought to their notice. There were no reported violations of wage laws, and most categories of workers received wages higher than minimum wage, based on prevailing market conditions. Labor unions reported in March that some employers used the COVID-19 pandemic to lay off and rehire workers at a lower salary for the same job. The government launched investigations following these reports.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that were current and appropriate. The government conducted OSH inspections, but the number of inspectors was not adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as negligence. Public-health measures due to COVID-19 limited or prevented some inspections. In September an inmate at the Bordelais correctional facility reportedly died from injuries sustained after a steam iron exploded in the tailor shop.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these cases. In May the public service union expressed concern regarding the end of all alternative working arrangements (including remote work) in some government departments despite the absence of adequate arrangements to ensure the safety of workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The union advised workers to avoid situations that would be harmful to their wellbeing. The ministry’s labor department reported receiving 25 complaints regarding workplace health and safety. As of November, approximately one-half of the complaints were resolved.

Informal Sector: The informal sector was mainly made up of micro and small businesses and accounted for a large share of employment. It included a wide cross section of sectors, such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, transportation, accommodation, and other service activities. The government does not legally define or collect statistics on the informal economy, whose workers do not benefit from employment-related social protections.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The prime minister is the head of the government. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor general. On November 5, Ralph Gonsalves was elected to a fifth consecutive term as prime minister. Regional and local observers assessed the election as generally free and fair.

The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police is the only security force in the country and is responsible for maintaining national security. Its forces include the Coast Guard, Special Services Unit, Rapid Response Unit, Drug Squad, and Antitrafficking Unit. Police report to the minister of national security, a portfolio held by the prime minister. 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 the criminalization of libel and the criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct between men, which were not enforced during the year.

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports the government employed them systematically.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were less than adequate, although they varied depending on the facility.

Physical Conditions: As of September, the prison population was 385. The two facilities for male prisoners were near capacity throughout the year. Limited prison capacity prevented authorities from segregating juvenile offenders, with offenders between the ages of 16 and 21 held with adult prisoners. Prisoners younger than age 16 were held in a separate facility. Female prisoners were held in a makeshift facility while construction of a women’s prison was underway.

Limited physical space and inadequate training for prison officials hindered accommodations for prisoners with disabilities.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. No representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited or monitored the prisons during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a judicial authority to issue arrest warrants. The bail system was generally effective. Authorities generally gave detainees prompt access to a lawyer. For indigent detainees accused of a capital offense, the state provides a lawyer. For other crimes the state does not provide a lawyer, and defendants without the financial means to hire a lawyer must represent themselves.

Although lengthy delays prior to preliminary inquiries were reported, government authorities and civil society reported compliance with Court of Appeal guidelines that require a preliminary hearing to be held within nine months of detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arrested a woman suspected of having injured Prime Minister Gonsalves during a protest in August in Kingstown. An attorney representing the suspect reported that police intimidated the woman and forced her to confess to the charge; the attorney also noted being unable to contact her client for several hours and complained of not receiving information related to the charge. The accused subsequently pleaded not guilty. In September she was charged with another offense.

Police raided the homes of several opposition supporters and other activists following the injury of Prime Minister Gonsalves during the protest in Kingstown. A week after the incident, two opposition activists were arrested and charged with public order offenses related to the August protest and other demonstrations prompted by the government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy and other national issues. In September one of the political activists was arrested again for alleged breaches of parliamentary privileges. As of October, the individuals were free on bail and awaiting trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and are informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Defendants have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial and to be present at the trial. Defendants can select an attorney of their choice. The court appoints attorneys only for indigent defendants charged with a capital offense. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have access to free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants could confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Witnesses and victims sometimes refused to testify because they feared retaliation. Defendants may appeal verdicts and penalties.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners and detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one may bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may appeal domestic courts’ decisions to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal or the United Kingdom’s Privy Council.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides 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 media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: In June a local newspaper reported that police forced one of its journalists to delete a recording of an interview at a local hospital with a patient who accused police of brutality.

Libel/Slander Laws: Civil society observers reported concerns about criticizing the government, primarily due to fear of facing libel charges, including under the cybercrime act. Civil society representatives indicated these fears resulted in media outlets practicing self-censorship. The act establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for offenses including libel by electronic communication, cyberbullying, and illegal acquisition of data. In August Prime Minister Gonsalves threatened to sue a newspaper columnist, a former speaker of the lower house of parliament, for libel, accusing him of publishing an article that contained defamatory words. The prime minister’s lawyer asked the columnist to pay a substantial sum in damages or be sued. The prime minister agreed not to take legal action against the newspaper outlet that published the story after it subsequently removed the article at his request.

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. Civil society representatives, however, reported citizens were hesitant to participate in antigovernment protests due to fear of retaliation (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

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

Information on the government’s cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was unavailable.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status; the government addresses each case individually. The government has not established a system for protecting refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2020 the United Labour Party won nine of the 15 elected seats in the unicameral House of Assemble, which also includes six appointed senators. The New Democratic Party won most of the popular vote but secured only six seats. Regional observers from the Caribbean Community declared the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. There was one woman, an appointed senator, in the 21-seat legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively.

Corruption: NGO representatives alleged that multiple COVID-19 relief measures, including programs directed at supporting small businesses and food security, were awarded solely to supporters of the government.

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

Several domestic human rights organizations, including the domestic Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA), generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The government held various meetings with civil society that included the SVGHRA. The SVGHRA’s viewpoints were often dismissed, however, due to the government’s perception that it was aligned with the opposition. Even when government officials shared the group’s concerns, senior officials reportedly intimidated their subordinates into investigating allegations of human rights abuses.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. Sentences for rape begin at 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities referred allegations of rape or physical or sexual abuse of women to police, who were generally responsive to these complaints.

According to the most recently available data from the Family Court,124 protection orders were issued between January and July. The government occasionally offered sexual abuse awareness training, but civil society representatives argued such efforts were insufficient to address the root problems that perpetuated an environment of insensitivity to sexual abuse victims. Police and human rights groups reported that perpetrators commonly made payoffs to victims of rape or sexual assault in exchange for victims not pressing charges.

Civil society groups continued to report that domestic violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. There were some high-profile prosecutions of perpetrators during the year; moreover, the Division of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of National Mobilization offered programs to assist women and children. In the past the ministry maintained a crisis center for survivors of domestic violence, but the center was closed for renovations throughout the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment; authorities could prosecute such behavior under other laws. Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, particularly in the workplace. Local human rights groups and women’s organizations considered enforcement in the workplace ineffective, citing a lack of sensitivity by government officials, particularly towards economically vulnerable populations.

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

Contraception was widely available. There were no legal or social barriers to accessing contraception, but some religious beliefs and cultural barriers limited its usage.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of National Mobilization, Family, Gender Affairs, Youth, Housing, and Informal Human Settlement. The local NGO Marion House worked with various divisions of the ministry (e.g.., the Gender Affairs Division and the Child Development Division), in addition to the Family Court and Ministry of Health, to assist victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights to family, nationality, and inheritance as men. Women receive an equitable share of property following separation or divorce. The law requires equal pay for equal work, and authorities generally enforced it. No specific law prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, and women were restricted from working in some industries.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits racial discrimination but does not specifically mention ethnicity. The country does not have a racially or ethnically diverse population. Approximately 71 percent of the population is Black, and 23 percent is mixed, primarily of African descent; 3 percent is indigenous.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or by descent via either parent. Birth registration usually took place within a few days of a child’s birth.

Child Abuse: The law provides a legal framework, including within domestic violence laws, for the protection of children. The Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development monitored and protected the welfare of children. The division referred all reports of child abuse to police for action and provided assistance in cases where children applied for protection orders with the Family Court. The police commissioner reported that officers received training in several areas, including child abuse and investigation of sexual offenses.

Child abuse cases were reported. Unlawful sexual intercourse with children younger than age 15 remained a problem, with some cases possibly linked to transactional sex. Government and NGO interlocutors indicated that child abuse remained a significant problem. In July a barber was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the 2019 rape of a child.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not include provisions that expressly prohibit the use of children for prostitution, pornography, or pornographic performances. The law prohibits girls younger than age 15 and boys younger than 16 from engaging in consensual sexual relations, and the government enforced the law. The law prohibits statutory rape, with special provisions for persons younger than age 13. Observers noted that male and female teenagers engaged in commercial and transactional sex. There continued to be indications adults may have exploited their children in sex trafficking to generate income. Government officials conducted sensitization workshops in the community and schools to address the problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. The law does not mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and access to buildings generally was difficult. Government officials and NGOs reported government funding for organizations supporting persons with disabilities was insufficient to meet needs. No significant reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, or abuses against persons with disabilities by government officials or employees were received during the year. NGOs reported subtle discrimination in hiring practices throughout the economy. The government reported that programs to improve recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities such as the Youth Employment Scheme and the Secondary Education Training Program were no longer operational.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Anecdotal evidence suggested there was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, especially in employment. The government provided food packages to some persons with HIV or AIDS, but civil society reported that eligible participants had to preregister at health centers, which some individuals were reluctant to do due to fear of public identification and discrimination. NGOs operated a network to assist persons with HIV or AIDS with medical services and psychosocial support.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is illegal under gross indecency statutes, and sexual conduct between men is illegal under anal intercourse laws. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, and anal intercourse carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, although these laws were rarely enforced. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Local civil society organizations continued to note an increase in physical and verbal attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. In sentencing two men who had pleaded guilty to assaulting and robbing an LGBTQI+ person in a 2018 incident, a High Court judge declared in October that the court “could not turn a blind eye to….the underlying theme of these offenses,” calling for all citizens “regardless of their orientation….to be allowed to live their lives in peace.” The offenders faced up to 44 years in prison but were instead given suspended sentences and minimal monetary fines.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law does not require employers to recognize a particular union as an exclusive bargaining agent. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and dismissal for engaging in union activities. Although the law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, a court may order reinstatement.

The government recognizes the right to freedom of association, with restrictions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted with concern the discretionary authority of the government over trade union registration and the government’s unfettered authority to investigate the financial accounts of trade unions.

The government generally respected the right to collective bargaining in the private sector. Authorities formed arbitration panels, which included tripartite representation from government, businesses, and unions, on an ad hoc basis when labor disputes occurred.

Workers providing essential services – defined as the provision of electricity, water, hospital, and police services – are prohibited from striking unless they provide at least 14 days’ notice to authorities. Some of these sectors were not covered under the ILO’s description of essential services.

The government generally did not enforce labor laws effectively. Penalties were undefined and thus were not commensurate with penalties for other violations involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties against forced labor carry punishments commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. The ILO expressed concern that membership in an illegal organization could result in prison labor, in contravention of Convention 105, Abolition of Forced Labor.

While there were no forced labor investigations during the year, civil society representatives reported that a small number of persons, including minors, remained vulnerable to forced labor in underground economic activities in the drug trade and prostitution.

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 bars the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum working age at 14. Compulsory education ends at age 16. The law prohibits children and youth from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Children younger than age 18 may not work for more than 12 hours a day. The laws and regulations do not specify the types of hazardous work prohibited to children.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The Department of Labor did not conduct any inspections specifically related to child labor. Instead, the government relied on general labor inspections to identify any child labor violations, but these inspectors had no specialized training on identifying child labor. The government, however, reported hiring an additional labor inspector to improve overall labor enforcement. There were no reported complaints related to child labor. Covered under national trafficking-in-persons legislation, penalties for the worst forms of child labor could result in 20 years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations related to employment and occupation prohibit discrimination based on sex, age, or disability. While the constitution generally covers discrimination, no laws specifically prohibit discrimination against a person based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, social origin, or language. There are legal restrictions against employing women in certain occupations, including mining, construction, factory work, energy, and water.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in employment or protect workers impacted by it. Whether the law covers discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status was untested in court. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: Minimum wages varied by sector and type of work and were below the poverty line. The law prescribes hours of work for categories, such as industrial employees (40 hours per week), professionals (44 hours per week), and agricultural workers (30 to 40 hours per week). The law provides that workers receive time-and-a-half pay for hours worked above the standard workweek. There was a prohibition against excessive or compulsory overtime, which authorities did not enforce effectively.

Occupational Safety and Health: Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment; however, the government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as negligence. The law also appeared to exempt public-sector employees as well as those working on public-sector projects from these laws.

Major occupational safety and health issues included industrial safety, specifically exposure to harmful substances and compliance with safety protocols. Inspectors conducted unannounced inspections but were not authorized to levy sanctions. The largest difficulty was government capacity. The ILO reported no training had been provided to labor inspectors since 2011 and that most officers who had been trained were no longer employed by the Department of Labor. The frequency of inspections decreased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and reportedly had not changed since then. The Department of Labor does not have the legal authority to impose fines for violations, but it conducted follow-up inspections to assess if the shortfalls had been addressed; no employers were fined or cited for workplace violations. Judicial officials have the authority to prosecute violations of workplace law and impose fines. Workers who receive less than the minimum wage may file a claim with labor inspectors, who investigate and, if warranted, refer the matter to arbitration. The Labor Department received complaints from workers concerning violations of working conditions but did not provide further details regarding the frequency or severity of these violations.

Informal Sector: The government does not collect data on the informal sector. Workers apparently are not covered by wage, hour, or occupational safety and health laws or inspections.

Suriname

Executive Summary

Suriname is a constitutional democracy with a president elected by the unicameral National Assembly. Elections for the National Assembly took place in May 2020. International observers considered these elections to be free and fair. In July 2020 the National Assembly elected Chandrikapersad Santokhi as president.

The armed forces are responsible for national security and border control, with the military police having direct responsibility for immigration control at the country’s ports of entry. All elements of the military are under the control of the Ministry of Defense. Civilian police bear primary responsibility for maintaining law and order and report to the Ministry of Justice and Police. Police and military personnel continued to conduct regular, joint patrols as part of the government’s efforts to combat crime, and both also served jointly on special security teams. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and police. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of cruel and degrading treatment of individuals by police, serious and widespread acts of corruption, and the existence of some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Corruption cases were investigated, and the government implemented the laws on corruption effectively at times.

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 July 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2012 amendment to the Amnesty Law violated the constitution and international conventions to which the country is party. Based on this ruling, the National Assembly voted on August 28 to revoke the 2012 amendment and restore the original text of the 1989 Amnesty Law. The decision and change in law effectively ended the ability of former military dictator and former democratically elected president Desire Bouterse and other convicted individuals to receive amnesty for the December 1982 murders. Subsequently, on August 30, a court-martial reaffirmed and upheld the 2019 conviction and 20-year sentence against Bouterse for the December 1982 extrajudicial killing of 15 political opponents.

In October a court convicted 14 of the 18 prison officials on trial for excessive use of force resulting in the death of prisoner Giovanni Griffith in 2019 in the Hazard Penitentiary Facility in Nickerie. All 14 convicted officials received suspended sentences of two years in prison and two years of probation. Three of the defendants in the case were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and the case against one was terminated because the defendant died during the trial.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the law prohibits such practices, human rights groups, defense attorneys, and media reported mistreatment by police, including unnecessary use of force during arrests and beatings of persons in detention. In May a lawyer told the press that her client was knocked to the ground and then kicked in the mouth by police officers while detained at the Keizerstraat detention facility.

Impunity was not a widespread problem within the police force. The Personnel Investigation Department investigated allegations reported by citizens against police and took appropriate disciplinary action. The Internal Affairs Unit conducted its own investigations involving various forms of misconduct. Penalties varied from reprimands to the dismissal of officers as well as prison sentences.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met minimum international standards, but there were numerous problems in the country’s 21 detention centers.

Physical Conditions: There were no significant reports regarding prison center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Nonetheless, aging prisons required upgrades and were understaffed. Facilities lacked adequate emergency exits. Cells had individual padlocks. There were no emergency evacuation drills. There were multiple outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus at different prison facilities throughout the year, with both prisoners and guards testing positive. There were reports of shortages of water and cleaning supplies in prison facilities, leading to unsanitary conditions.

As a result of COVID-19 precautionary measures, visitation rights for persons incarcerated in prisons were significantly restricted and limited to drop-offs of clothing and other essentials. Contact with family and others, including clergy, was also restricted. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and families reported that authorities made very little effort to find ways for prisoners to communicate with their families and clergy.

There were cases when persons in pretrial detention were housed with convicts.

Overcrowding was a problem in the detention centers. Older buildings had inadequate lighting, poor ventilation, poor sanitation, and flooding in some cases. Police had no standard operating procedures for management of detention facilities. Police were assigned to detention facilities without any specialized training. Facilities lacked adequate guards, relying instead on regular-duty police when additional assistance was necessary. Officers did not have adequate personal protective health equipment to handle detainees with medical problems.

At least two detention facilities closed because they failed to meet minimum standards for operation. The minister of justice and police confirmed to the National Assembly in June that some facilities had to be closed due to lack of maintenance, high chance of escape, and unsanitary conditions.

COVID-19 outbreaks at several police stations and the detention facilities connected to them further limited detention capacity and prompted authorities to develop new protocols for processing detainees. One detention facility was identified as a quarantine facility where all new detainees spent the first 10 days of their detention in quarantine. Due to the absence of security staff who departed the facility because they lacked the necessary health equipment such as masks and gloves to deal with infected prisoners, 13 detainees escaped.

Lawyers reported on multiple occasions that their clients were denied access to medical care while in detention. These denials related both to detainees with preexisting conditions and detainees injured while in detention. One person in pretrial detention died because of an untreated medical condition. Repeated requests from his lawyer to have the suspect released pending trial due to medical circumstances were denied.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. Government officials continued regular monitoring of prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: In general the government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers. Access to facilities was, however, limited due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and brought them before an independent judiciary. The law provides that detainees should be brought before a judge within seven days to determine the legality of their arrest, and courts generally met the seven-day deadline. An assistant district attorney or a police inspector may authorize incommunicado detention. If additional time is needed to investigate a charge, a judge may extend the detention period in 30-day increments up to a total of 150 days. There is no bail system. Release pending trial depends on the type of crime committed and the judge handling the case. Detainees receive prompt access to counsel of their choosing, but the prosecutor may prohibit access if the prosecutor believes access could harm the investigation. Legal counsel is provided at no charge for indigent detainees. Detainees are allowed weekly visits from family members.

Pretrial Detention: Both the criminal and civil courts experienced multiple delays due to COVID-19, prolonging the pretrial detention of those awaiting trial in criminal court. In keeping with COVID-19 precautionary measures, the Court of Justice put in place an alternative system that allowed judges to question detainees via telephone, with their lawyers present, to meet required deadlines. In multiple cases defense attorneys successfully pleaded for their clients to be released pending trial, citing the threat of COVID-19 infection.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary.

There were 29 judges in the country, well short of the estimated 40 needed for proper functioning of the judicial system, and there was a significant backlog of cases. Cases both in criminal and civil courts were postponed repeatedly for various reasons, adding significantly to the backlog. Multiple closures of the courts due to COVID-19 infections led to additional delays in both criminal and civil procedures, extending the case backlog even further. In the civil courts, the backlog was estimated to be between five and six years.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have a right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to trial without undue delay and the right to counsel. There were court-assigned attorneys for both the civil and criminal systems. All trials are public except for indecency offenses and offenses involving children. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants’ attorneys may question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on the defendant’s behalf. The courts assign private-sector lawyers to defend indigent detainees. If necessary, free interpretation is provided. The law protects the names of the accused, and authorities do not release those names to the public or media prior to conviction.

The right to trial without undue delay was consistently under pressure due to lack of sufficient judges to process cases. Most cases, particularly high-profile cases, were processed only once per month. Delays were further exacerbated by multiple closures or technical incapacities due to COVID-19. In addition to noting the need for additional judges and clerks, the president of the Court of Justice noted in October that cases were also delayed because the court lacked experts to assist in the judicial investigation of complex cases primarily involving cross-border crimes.

Legal assistance to indigent detainees was under pressure as lawyers threatened to cease legal assistance due to lack of payment by the government. Many cases requiring interpreters or psychologists were delayed due to lack of pay for those specialists.

There are parallel military and civilian court systems, and military personnel generally are not subject to civilian criminal law. The military courts followed the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from military courts to the civil system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations in local courts. Individuals and organizations have the right to appeal decisions to regional human rights bodies; most cases are brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against the country in several cases, but the government only sporadically enforced those rulings; the government sometimes took no action (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples).

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

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

The April 2020 case of the alleged attempted kidnapping of a former candidate for the National Assembly, Rodney Cairo, remained under judicial investigation. Security personnel allegedly acting on the orders of the then director of national security, Lieutenant Colonel Danielle Veira, raided Cairo’s home after Cairo criticized the then minister of defense on his Facebook page. Veira was subsequently relieved of her duties. In January Veira was officially identified as a suspect in the Cairo case, in which the pending charges were hostage taking, complicity to hostage taking, incitement to hostage taking, armed robbery, and complicity to armed robbery.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. While there are no formal restrictions on the press, actions by government and nongovernment actors impeded the ability of independent media to conduct their work. The government does not have laws that facilitate access to public information; access to high-ranking government officials and public information can be cumbersome.

On December 14, journalist Jason Pinas of the daily newspaper De Ware Tijd was attacked and beaten by members of Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk’s security detail while taking photographs of the vice president and alleged supporters. Security agents also took Pinas’s phone. On December 16, President Santokhi asked the acting attorney general to investigate the matter. The Prosecutors’ Office stated on December 23 that it identified and questioned three suspects, including a police officer, who admitted to the attack and offered to apologize and pay for damages. Despite their admission of assault, the suspects were released. At year’s end the case was pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media freely criticized the government on policy issues and for what it claimed was restricted access to the government and governmental events. Government representatives contended there was no censorship, self-censorship, or content restriction. The political affiliations of individual news outlets had little apparent relationship to their criticism.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s criminal defamation laws carry harsh penalties for convictions, with prison terms between three months and seven years. The harshest penalty is for expressing public enmity, hatred, or contempt towards the government.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, and the government asserted it did not monitor private, online communications without appropriate legal oversight. Nevertheless, journalists, members of the political opposition and their supporters, and other independent entities alleged government interference with and unlawful oversight of email and social media accounts.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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.

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The country relied on UNHCR to assign refugee or asylum seeker status. Once status is confirmed, refugees or asylum seekers obtain residency permits under the alien legislation law. Those with a UNHCR certificate receive a special certificate from the Ministry of Labor to work.

g. Stateless Persons

An amendment in 2014 to the Citizenship Law automatically grants citizenship to persons born in the country if that person is not automatically eligible for the citizenship of one of the parents. Children born prior to this amendment to undocumented parents are not eligible to receive citizenship until they turn 18. These children faced problems in access to various services, including education. There were reported cases of stateless children or children of foreign parents facing problems registering in schools due to improper or incomplete residency documentation.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The constitution provides for direct election of the 51-member National Assembly no later than five years after the prior election date. The National Assembly, in turn, elects the president by a two-thirds majority vote. Following legislative elections in May 2020, the National Assembly unanimously elected Chandrikapersad Santokhi as president on July 13, 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits political organizations from running on a combination ticket in elections, putting at a disadvantage smaller parties that seek to combine their strength to challenge larger parties.

Smaller parties and activists stated the 2019 introduction of a registration fee for political parties to participate in elections was an attempt to form an additional burden for smaller or less wealthy parties to take part in the elections. Despite these obstacles, 17 of the 20 parties that initially registered to take part in the elections were found eligible and participated.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively at times. The 2017 Anti-Corruption Law, which was unanimously approved by the National Assembly, had not been implemented as of October, but authorities stated they were able to prosecute cases of corruption based on existing law.

Corruption cases reported to the Attorney General’s Office were investigated. There were numerous accusations from political opponents, civil society, and media that officials engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: Practically every sector of government was accused of corruption, including the Central Bank of Suriname and state-owned companies such as the Postal Bank and the government health insurance company SZF.

The trial against the former minister of finance Gillmore Hoefdraad, former Central Bank governor Robert van Trikt, and three others continued during the year. The suspects were charged with fraud, corruption, money laundering, and other offenses. All the suspects, except for Hoefdraad, continued to be detained. Hoefdraad was still at large, with an INTERPOL Red Notice issued against him in July. The suspects faced sentencing recommendations varying between four and 12 years’ imprisonment.

In November 2020 former vice president Ashwin Adhin was detained for alleged destruction and misappropriation of government property. At the end of the year, the judicial investigation of Adhin was underway. In separate proceedings accomplices of Adhin who testified that they acted on Adhin’s orders were found guilty and convicted. Throughout the year numerous cases of alleged corruption by members of the 2010-20 Bouterse government were submitted for investigation.

The government strengthened its capacity to investigate and prosecute alleged cases of corruption. Different government entities signed cooperation agreements to share information and potential evidence for use in prosecuting alleged cases of corruption.

The Santokhi government faced its own allegations of corruption and nepotism, with formal complaints of alleged corruption filed against the ministers of finance and foreign affairs. The attorney general subsequently determined that no evidence of corruption could be found. There were allegations of corruption in land title issuance and land acquisition. NGOs and political parties outside the National Assembly accused the government of lacking political will to tackle corruption.

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

A number of independent domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. NGOs reported generally positive relationships with government officials, although officials were not always responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Justice and Police was responsible for advising the government on regional and international proceedings against the state concerning human rights. It was also responsible for preparing the state’s response to various international human rights reports. Its independence was limited, as it was exclusively under executive branch control. It did not solicit or investigate public complaints. The National Assembly has a commission dealing with human rights issues.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and prescribes penalties for rape or forcible sexual assault of 12 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The government enforced the law effectively, including applying its provisions in cases involving rape of men. Authorities investigated and prosecuted all reported cases of sexual abuse.

Violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law imposes sentences of four to eight years’ imprisonment for domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and Police provided resources and counseling for victims of domestic violence and raised awareness about domestic violence through public television programs. There were victims’ rooms in police stations in Paramaribo and Nickerie. Authorities trained police units to assist survivors and perpetrators of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau managed a shelter for female victims of domestic violence and children up to age 12 where victims can stay for up to three months. Use of the shelter was far below its capacity.

A second shelter for women in crisis situations opened in December 2020 with the capacity to provide temporary housing for 13 women and their children for up to six months. The shelter was an NGO initiative that received both government and private-sector support. The COVID-19 pandemic hampered the shelter’s ability to function.

The Office of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs continued its awareness programs on domestic violence against women and girls throughout the year. It also supported other organizations that assisted victims of domestic violence. While COVID-19 precautionary measures limited in-person programming, awareness messaging continued. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, funding initially allocated for the UN’s Enabling Gender-Responsive Disaster Recovery, Climate, and Environmental Resilience in the Caribbean program was reallocated to strengthen the responsiveness of organizations that provided support in cases of domestic violence during the pandemic.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific legislation criminalizing sexual harassment, but prosecutors cited various laws when filing sexual harassment cases. There were no reported court cases involving sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stalking is a criminal offense, and police may investigate possible cases of stalking without a formal complaint. Pending investigation, police may issue temporary restraining orders limiting contact between victim and suspect for up to 30 days. If found guilty, offenders can receive prison sentences ranging from four to 12 years and a large fine. The government enforced the law effectively.

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

Information on reproductive health was widely available, and no legal barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraceptives. In some rural areas, however, skilled health-care workers were sometimes not readily available due to the distances between villages.

Vulnerable populations were able to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health. In cases concerning persons with disabilities unable to provide consent, a legal guardian must be present.

Survivors of sexual violence had access to government-supported health insurance that arranged services for sexual and reproductive health. Emergency contraception in cases of rape was available during medical treatment of the victim. Survivors requested assistance either through the Ministry of Social Affairs, which was primarily responsible for issuing government-supported health insurance, or through the Bureau of Victim Care in the Ministry of Justice and Police, which provided counseling and health-care assistance to victims.

The maternal death rate in 2017 was 120 per 100,000 live births. The high rate of maternal mortality was attributed to infections (27 percent), bleeding (20 percent), and high blood pressure (14 percent). Of maternal mortality cases, 63 percent occurred postpartum. A July study reported that postnatal care was weak, as women often did not return to the doctor until six weeks after delivery for their child’s first doctor’s visit. Complications resulting from pregnancy or delivery were often not identified on a timely basis.

In mid-October the Steering Group for Maternal and Neonatal Care issued a warning that the COVID-19 pandemic raised maternal mortality. While the average number of women dying during or around pregnancy was 13 per year, between January and September, 30 women died during pregnancy, of whom 19 died due to COVID-19.

The adolescent birth rate for girls ages 15 to 19 was 65 per 1,000. There was a high rate of adolescent pregnancy in low-income city neighborhoods and in the interior of the country. Most adolescents in this age group claimed to have an unmet need for comprehensive sexual education. These pregnancies often led to girls dropping out of school, limiting their chances for development. Research released in July showed that the children from these early births themselves had children at a very early age.

Discrimination: The law provides for the protection of a woman’s right to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nonetheless, women experienced discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work as men. No law specifically addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. The law does not mandate equal work for equal pay. No law prohibits gender discrimination for access to credit.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law states that every person has equal rights to the protection of person and goods. It further states that nobody may be discriminated against based on his or her birth, gender, race, language, religion, descent, education, political beliefs, economic position, social circumstance, or any other status. The government enforced these protections effectively.

While there were no reported cases of governmental or societal violence against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities, there was an increase in racial discrimination and ethnically focused messaging on social media.

Indigenous Peoples

The law affords no special protection for, or recognition of, indigenous peoples. The IACHR identified the Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior, approximately 22 percent of the population) as tribal peoples and thus entitled to the same rights as the indigenous Amerindian communities (approximately 4 percent of the population).

Maroons and Amerindians living in the remote and undeveloped interior had limited access to education, employment, and health and social services. Both groups participated in decisions affecting their traditions and cultures, but they had limited influence in decisions affecting exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on their lands. Both Maroons and Amerindians took part in regional governing bodies, as well as in the National Assembly, and were part of the governing coalition.

The government recognizes the different Maroon and indigenous tribes, but the tribes hold no special status under national law, and there was no effective demarcation of their lands. Because authorities did not effectively demarcate or police Amerindian and Maroon lands, these populations faced problems with illegal and uncontrolled logging and mining. No laws grant indigenous peoples the right to share in the revenues from the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands. Organizations representing Maroon and Amerindian communities complained that small-scale mining operations, mainly by illegal gold miners, dug trenches that cut residents off from their agricultural land and threatened to drive these communities away from their traditional settlements. Many of these miners were themselves tribal or supported by tribal groups. Mercury runoff from these operations, as well as riverbank erosion, contaminated drinking water and threatened traditional food sources, especially freshwater fish.

Maroon and Amerindian groups complained about the government granting land within traditional indigenous peoples’ territories to third parties, who sometimes prevented the villagers from engaging in their traditional activities on those lands.

In August the government took initial steps towards the implementation of the 2015 ruling of the IACHR in the case of the Kalina and Lokono peoples of Marowijne. The government’s Council of Ministers approved part of the one-million-dollar transfer to the community development fund it was ordered to establish under the ruling. These funds were to be used for education, health care, food supply, and security.

In April the Mulukot Foundation, Association of Indigenous Village Heads, and NGO Cultural Survival submitted a shadow report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the country’s Universal Periodic Review in November, in which the organizations concluded that the government had not met its human rights obligations towards indigenous peoples.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides that citizenship transmits to a child when either the father or mother has Surinamese citizenship at the time of birth; when the parent is Surinamese but has died before the birth; or if the child is born in the country’s territory and does not automatically acquire citizenship of another country. Births must be registered with the Civil Registry within one week. Failure to do so within the mandated period results in a more cumbersome process of registration.

Child Abuse: Children suffered a high rate of physical and mental abuse. According to the most recent (2018) UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 88 percent of children ages two to 14 suffered either physical or mental abuse. In rural areas the rate was even higher, at 92 percent. Results of a study released in March showed that while an estimated 70,000 children encountered some form of abuse each year, only approximately 400 cases were reported.

To avoid intimidation by perpetrators, there were arrangements for children to testify in special chambers at legal proceedings. The Youth Affairs Office continued to raise awareness about sexual abuse, drugs, and alcohol through a weekly television program. The Youth Support Hotline, which received government support, expanded its services from eight hours per day to 24-hour service, with access to services through its social media pages as well. The hotline provided confidential advice and aid to children in need. UNICEF continued to cooperate with the government to train officials from various ministries dealing with children and children’s rights. The Ministry of Justice and Police operated three child protection centers in different parts of the country.

With the support of UNICEF, the Academic Hospital Paramaribo opened a social pediatric unit for abused children in March. The unit provided child victims of abuse with medical, social, and psychological guidance and worked with authorities to identify abusers.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Parental permission to marry is required until the age of 21. The marriage law sets the minimum age of marriage at 15 for girls and 17 for boys, provided parents of the parties agree to the marriage. Children in certain tribal communities often married at an age younger than that set by the law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for commercial child sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities investigated all reported abuses. While the legal age of sexual consent is 14, trafficking-in-persons legislation makes illegal the sexual exploitation of a person younger than age 18. Criminal law penalizes persons responsible for recruiting children into prostitution and provides penalties of up to six years’ imprisonment and a significant fine for pimping. The law also prohibits child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment and a fine. Lack of economic opportunities led to an increasing number of adolescent boys and girls trafficked for sex, sometimes by their parents, to support the family or to pay for education. One NGO reported commercial sexual exploitation of children as young as 14. While the country was not generally considered a destination for child sex tourism, in prior years there were cases of tourists involved in sexual exploitation of children.

Several cases of sexual exploitation, sexual and physical abuse, and neglect came to trial. Victims included both boys and girls. Sentences ranged up to 10 years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: Orphanages and other shelters for children are not government facilities and relied on private funds and charitable donations. As a result care for children was unequal and often inadequate. There were reported cases of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in some shelter facilities.

In July the Prosecutors’ Office introduced a new model for processing criminal cases involving youth delinquents. Children who have committed a simple, nonviolent criminal offense were sentenced to either an education program or a work project aimed at correcting their behavior. This new model was intended to be corrective rather than punitive and aimed to prevent children from becoming repeat offenders. The project was financed through UNICEF.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a Jewish community of approximately 100 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or discrimination.

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

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive general health benefits, but the process can be cumbersome. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and services. Authorities provided some training programs for persons with impaired vision or other disabilities. No laws or programs required access to buildings for persons with disabilities. There is also no law that requires government information and communication to be provided in accessible formats. The government sought to include sign language interpreters for government programming on television. A judge may rule to deny a person with a cognitive disability the right to vote, to take part in business transactions, or to sign legal agreements.

There was secondary and technical education for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, but not for those with visual disabilities. The Foundation for the Blind teaches braille and life skills to persons who are visually impaired. Children with disabilities attended school at a far lower rate than their peers without a disability. Depending on the disability, children could attend mainstream schools. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and medical services. Medical treatment is free for persons with HIV or AIDS covered under government insurance, but private insurers did not cover such treatment. NGOs reported discriminatory testing, and subsequent denial of assistance for persons with HIV or AIDS who applied for housing assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs.

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

Activists stated there were few official reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, primarily due to fear of retribution and because authorities did not take seriously complaints filed by members of the LGBTQI+ community. There were reports of discrimination against persons in the LGBTQI+ community in employment and housing.

The law prohibits discrimination and hate speech based on sexual orientation, specifically protecting the LGBTQI+ community. Violations are punishable by a fine or prison sentence of up to one year. The law does not set standards for determining what constitutes such discrimination or hate speech. The law on retirement benefits specifically excludes same-sex couples from benefits granted to heterosexual couples.

Within the LGBTQI+ community, the transgender community faced the most stigmatization and discrimination. Transgender women arrested or detained by police were placed in detention facilities for men, where they faced harassment and violence from other detainees.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, requires that workers terminated for union activity be reinstated, and prohibits employer interference in union activities. Labor laws do not cover undocumented foreign workers.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws involving the private sector. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In isolated cases private employers refused to bargain under or recognize collective bargaining rights, but the unions usually pressured the employers to negotiate. There were some reports that companies exploited legislative gaps and hired more contract employees than direct-hire staff to perform core business functions in order to cut costs.

The government itself (the largest employer in the country) was not bound by these laws, since it deemed labor laws apply only to private employees, not civil servants.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government investigated and, when necessary, prosecuted reported cases of forced labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Labor inspectors received training on detecting forced labor. Labor inspectors who were trained to identify trafficking victims were legally authorized to conduct inspections outside formal workplaces but lacked the manpower and capacity to do so.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and the minimum age for working on fishing vessels at 18. The law also specifies the circumstances under which children younger than 16 can perform certain types of labor. By law children ages 13 to 15 are allowed to assist in nonindustrial work of a light nature under specific circumstances. The law further specifies the responsibilities of employers and parents when employing young persons. Employers need a special exemption for children ages 13 and 14 to do any type of work. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing hazardous work, defined as work dangerous to life, health, and decency. The law also sets forth the penalties and fines that employers and parents can face when violating the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Children continued to be subjected to some of the worst forms of child labor, including dangerous tasks and possible exposure to hazardous substances in gold mines and commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on birth, sex, race, language, religious origin, education, political beliefs, economic position, or any other status. The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was enforcement of the law, but there was still discrimination reported in employment based on disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or AIDS status. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Women’s pay was less than men’s pay (see section 6, ). Individuals with disabilities and LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in hiring and the workplace. The law protects pregnant women from dismissal and formalizes maternity leave for women and paternity leave and special leave for fathers or other family members in case a mother is unable to take care of a child after birth. As with other labor laws, this law is not applicable to government employees.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage. The minimum wage was below the World Bank poverty income level. In the private sector, most unions were able to n