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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, but in fact, most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign leading up to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved to conduct domestic election observation.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; restrictions on independent trade unions, workers’ rights, and use of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.

The United Nations reported three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Bangladesh in 2017; the allegations remained pending.

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

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently accounted for such deaths by claiming when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify coconspirators, the suspect was killed during an exchange of gunfire when accomplices at the location shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or other police units and criminal gangs. The media also sometimes used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations claimed law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. A domestic human rights organization, Human Rights Support Society (HRSS), reported security forces killed more than 400 individuals in crossfire incidents from January through September. Another domestic human rights organization, Odhikar, reported security forces killed 415 individuals in crossfire incidents from January through October.

The government initiated an antinarcotics drive in May aimed at addressing a perceived narcotics problem in the country. The drive resulted in an increase of reported extrajudicial killings relative to last year. Local media reported approximately 230 alleged drug dealers were killed and 17,000 arrests were made from May through June. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern over the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent and contended the antinarcotics drive was a government effort to exert increased political control over the populace in advance of the national election.

On May 26, RAB forces shot and killed Teknaf City Municipal Councilor Ekramul Haque in Cox’s Bazar District during a gunfight with drug dealers. Haque’s family members disputed RAB’s assertion Haque was involved in narcotics and claimed plainclothes government agents picked up Haque from his home hours before his death to discuss what the government agents alleged was a recent real estate purchase. Community members also disputed Haque’s involvement with illegal narcotics.

Odhikar reported 57 detainees died while under law enforcement custody in the first 10 months of the year.

On March 6, according to press reports, plainclothes law enforcement officers arrested Zakir Hossain Milon, a student leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on allegations of obstruction of justice. During his interrogation Milon complained of an “illness” and was transported to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), where staff physicians declared him dead on March 12. Family members alleged Milon died from torture by law enforcement while under interrogation, claiming when they retrieved the remains from DMCH, the victim’s fingernails were missing, and his lower extremities showed multiple severe bruises.

Competition among factions and members of the ruling party for local offices or dominance in their respective neighborhoods provoked violent intraparty clashes, resulting in killings and injuries between supporters of rival candidates. Human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported political violence resulted in approximately 30 deaths and 2,850 injuries from January through October.

Terrorists inspired two attacks this year. On March 3, Foyzur Rahman attacked Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal at a university in Sylhet. Rahman attacked Iqbal with a knife deeming him an “enemy of Islam.” Iqbal had been a staunch critic of Islamist politics and growing intolerance in local Bangladeshi society. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) found Rahman had links to Dawah Ilallah, an internet forum run by terrorist organization Ansarullah Bangla Team. Students attempted to restrain Rahman during his attack and turned him over to law enforcement. Iqbal survived the attack with injuries to his head and upper extremity.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, committed mostly by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. HRSS stated there were 58 enforced disappearances from January through September. Odhikar stated there were 83 enforced disappearances from January through November.

Authorities took into custody in 2016 the sons of three former opposition politicians convicted by Bangladesh’s International Criminal Tribunal. The detainees were never formally detained or charged with a crime. Authorities released Humam Quader Chowdhury seven months later, but Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem and Amaan Azmi remained missing at year’s end. The government did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.

High-ranking government officials repeatedly denied incidents of enforced disappearance and claimed victims were hiding of their own accord. A 2017 judicial inquiry concluded enforced disappearances occurred and ordered the Police Bureau of Investigation to take actions regarding disappeared persons. Local law enforcement maintains they continued investigating these disappearances throughout the year.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including the intelligence services and police, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. Odhikar reported five deaths from torture during the first 10 months of the year.

The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occurred during remand.

On May 4, the Detective Branch (DB) of the Bangladesh Police detained Ashraf Ali on suspicion of kidnapping. After 35 hours of detention, Ali was taken to DMCH where he died three hours later. An autopsy conducted at DMCH concluded Ali suffered severe bruising on his lower body and sustained intestinal torsion. According to hospital authorities, DB asked the staff physicians at the hospital to issue a death certificate stating Ali died of natural causes. The physicians refused, reportedly due to Ali’s physical condition upon arrival. Ali’s family stated Ali was a hernia patient but was in otherwise good health.

On August 5, photojournalist Shahidul Alam was arrested for making “provocative comments” when reporting on student protests for road safety (see section 2. a.). When Alam was brought to court on August 6, he appeared unable to walk unassisted and showed visible injuries. During his testimony in front of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Alam alleged on the first night of detention, he was blindfolded, a weight was placed on his head, and he was hit on the face. Subsequent medical reports released to the court on August 9, a day after a legally required medical examination at a public hospital, stated Alam had been deemed “physically and mentally sound.” On August 22, Alam’s wife, Rahnuma Ahmed, issued a press release requesting his transfer to a hospital. Ahmed reported during a visit to the jail, her husband claimed he was suffering from breathing difficulties, pain in his gums, and vision problems. Ahmed reported these health issues did not predate his detention. Alam was released on bail on November 20.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Bangladeshi peacekeepers reported from 2015-17 remained pending. The cases alleged both sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex) and abuse (sexual assault against minors) involving peacekeepers deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two allegations have been substantiated according to UN investigations. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations. The investigations by Bangladesh authorities were pending at the end of the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of proper sanitation. There are currently no private detention facilities. ASK claimed these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, which it claimed totaled 74 from January through December.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, in November more than 95,000 prisoners occupied a system designed to hold approximately 37,000 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, as of October, Bangladesh prisons held more than 90,000 prisoners compared to an official capacity of roughly 36,000; prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. In 2016 human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water, although prison authorities maintained each prisoner had access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely. Authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals whom prison officials designated as “VIPs” to access “Division A” prison facilities with improved living and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and the provision of another prisoner without VIP status to serve as an aide in the cell.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, authorities incarcerated many juveniles with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.

Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Authorities must issue permission for these women to leave this “safe custody.”

Although Dhaka’s central jail had facilities for those with mental disabilities, not all detention facilities had such facilities, nor are they required to by law. Judges may reduce punishments for persons with disabilities on humanitarian grounds. Jailors also may make special arrangements, for example, by transferring inmates with disabilities to a prison hospital.

Administration: Prisons had no ombudsmen to whom prisoners could submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated they were constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from governmental inspectors and nongovernmental observers who were aligned with the incumbent party. No reports on these inspections were released.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The act was widely cited by law enforcement in justifying their arrests. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities sometimes held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Bangladesh Police, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has a mandate to maintain internal security and law and order. Numerous units of the Bangladesh Police operate under competing mandates. The most significant among such units are the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU), the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)–a mostly counterterrorism-focused Special Mission Unit–and the Detective Branch (DB).

The military, which reports directly to the prime minister (who also holds the title of minister of defense), is responsible for external security. The military may also be “activated” as a backup force with a variety of domestic security responsibilities when required to aid civilian authorities. This includes responding to instances of terrorism.

The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and National Security Intelligence (NSI) are the two primary intelligence agencies with overlapping responsibilities and capabilities. Both are responsible for domestic as well as foreign affairs and report directly to the prime minister in her capacity as minister of defense. Media reports asserted that the DGFI and, to a lesser degree, the NSI engaged in politically motivated violations of human rights. This included violations against suspected terrorists, members of opposition parties, civil society, and others.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and other security forces. While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption within the security forces, these mechanisms were not regularly employed. The government continued to take steps to improve police professionalism, discipline, training, and responsiveness–and to reduce corruption. Police basic training continued to incorporate instruction on the appropriate use of force as part of efforts to implement community-based policing.

According to police policy, all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, triggered an automatic internal investigation, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police. The government neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence of the professional standards units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received only administrative punishment.

Security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity. Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity. Officers with political ties to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.

The government continued support of the Internal Enquiry Cell that investigates cases of human rights abuses within the RAB, which did not widely publish its findings and did not otherwise announce significant actions against officers accused of human rights abuses.

Security forces failed to prevent societal violence (see section 6).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrests and detentions be authorized by a warrant or occur as a result of observation of a crime in progress, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 grants broad exceptions to these protections.

Under the constitution detainees must be brought before a judicial officer to face charges within 24 hours, but this provision was not regularly enforced. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods with impunity.

There is a functioning bail system, but law enforcement routinely rearrested bailed individuals on other charges, despite a 2016 directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of persons when they are released on bail in new cases without producing them in court.

Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest. Detainees are legally entitled to counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it, but the country lacked sufficient funds to provide for this entitlement.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information about other suspects. The expansiveness of the 1974 Special Powers Act grants a legal justification to arrests that would often otherwise be considered arbitrary, since it removes the requirement that arrests be based on crimes that have previously occurred. This year experienced a significant increase in arrests of opposition party activists. According to figures provided to the Dhaka Tribune by the BNP, 434,975 criminal charges in 4,429 cases were lodged against BNP members from September 1 through November 14. Law enforcement also arrested at least 100 students, most of whom participated peacefully in the quota reform and road safety protest movements.

On September 5, DB officers in Dhaka arrested numerous students from their student residences late at night, allegedly for their roles in the road safety protests in July and August. While authorities later released some of the students, 12 of the students were kept in custody for days before being brought before a judge. Human rights activists criticized the DB for its initial denial of the arrests and failure to produce them before the court within 24 hours of arrest, as mandated by the law. Some of the students released by DB alleged physical abuse during their informal detention.

In a September 11 article, the Daily Star newspaper published a listed of allegedly false criminal charges by police against opposition party BNP activists. The list included charges against an 82-year bedridden man in a hospital, a person who was abroad on the day of the alleged incident, and an individual who died approximately two years before the alleged crime. On November 7, the BNP submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office what it claimed to be a partial list of 1,046 “fictitious cases” filed against its leaders and activists.

Police routinely detained opposition activists in their homes, in public places, or when commuting to and from their respective parties’ events. On September 10, multiple newspapers reported police in Dhaka apprehended dozens of BNP supporters as they were returning home after participating in a peaceful human chain in front of the National Press Club to demand the release of incarcerated party chair Khaleda Zia.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.

In July, Hasnat Karim, a UK citizen detained without charges and denied bail for more than two years as part of the investigation into the 2016 Holey Bakery Attack that killed more than 20 persons, was released. Law enforcement authorities decided not to charge Karim, due to a lack of evidence against him.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Pursuant to the Special Powers Act, a magistrate must inform a detainee of grounds for detention within 15 days. Regulations require an advisory board, appointed by the government, to examine each case of detention that lasts longer than four months. Detainees have the right to appeal.

Judicial vacancies hampered legal challenges to cases of detention. In 2017 The Daily Star reported delays in the recruitment of judges were hampering judicial proceedings and leading to a substantial case backlog. The article noted approximately 400 lower court judgeships, including 50 district judgeships, remained vacant. On January 16, the Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister reported to parliament that 3,309,789 cases were pending with the court system on the last day of 2017.

On May 31, the president appointed 18 additional judges to the High Court division of the Supreme Court, raising the number of High Court Judges to 98. As of September the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court had appointed four judges on an 11-member bench.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. In 2014 parliament passed the 16th amendment, authorizing parliament to remove judges. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional. The resulting public dispute with parliament and the prime minister resulted in the resignation and departure from the country of Chief Justice S. K. Sinha. In an interview with BBC Bangla broadcast on September 19, Sinha claimed he was placed under house arrest following judgment and forced by the intelligence service to leave the country. In his autobiography, released in August, Sinha claimed the prime minister, the president, and law minister pressured him to rule in favor of the government. A petition filed by the government seeking to review the decision remained pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The government continued to pursue corruption charges against Sinha at year’s end. Media observers and political commentators alleged the charges were politically motivated.

On January 3, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court accepted a government draft of disciplinary rules for lower court judges, putting an end to protracted negotiations between the judiciary and government. While the Supreme Court claimed the rules did not undermine its supremacy and it did not lose its oversight over the lower courts, some senior jurists interpreted the rules as making the lower courts subordinate to the executive branch. On February 2, the president appointed Appellate Division judge Syed Mahmud Hossain as the Chief Justice of Bangladesh, superseding Justice Abdul Wahab Miah, who had been officiating as the Chief Justice since October 2017. Miah immediately resigned as a Supreme Court justice, citing “personal reasons.”

On September 4, the Law Ministry transferred criminal proceedings against former BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from a public courtroom to a closed facility at a prison. The Law Ministry cited security reasons for the transfer. Subsequent proceedings took place in the prison on September 5 without Zia’s lawyers present. An appeal was filed September 5 challenging the lack of a public tribunal for the accused. The appeal was rejected by the High Court.

On June 6, a High Court panel reproved a Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate court for “abusing the process of the court” to prolong disposal of a bail petition filed by Zia.

Human rights observers maintained magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or they ruled based on influence by or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak human resources.

Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to appeal, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language. The government does not provide free interpretation for defendants who cannot understand or speak Bengali. Defendants also have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense.

Accused persons have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt although defendants who do not confess their guilt are often kept in custody. The government frequently did not respect these rights.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. Deputy commissioners from various districts requested the government expedite the passage of an amendment to the Mobile Court Act of 2009 giving executive magistrates increased judicial powers. Parliament had not introduced such legislation by year’s end. In 2017 the High Court ruled that empowering executive magistrates with judicial powers was “a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and violates the theory of separation of powers.” The government appealed the verdict through the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court, which stayed the verdict, allowing the mobile courts to function pending the Appellate Panel’s next decision.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. The opposition BNP maintained thousands of its members were arrested arbitrarily throughout the year.

On February 8, former prime minister of Bangladesh and chairperson of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, was sentenced to five years imprisonment on corruption and embezzlement charges, on charges first filed in 2008 under a nonpartisan caretaker government. International and domestic legal experts commented on the lack of evidence to support the conviction, suggesting a political ploy to remove the leader of the opposition from the electoral process. The courts were generally slow in considering petitions for bail on her behalf. A person convicted under similar circumstances would normally receive an immediate bail hearing. In Zia’s case the bail hearing was postponed nearly a month. When the High Court granted bail on March 12, the order was immediately stayed for two months by the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. Upon confirming the bail order, approximately three months after the conviction, the government obtained arrest warrants in other cases against her.

ASK claimed 1,786 BNP party members were arrested in the eight days preceding Zia’s sentencing. A BNP spokesperson told Human Rights Watch thousands had been detained including members of the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, and others not linked to any party. It was not possible to verify these numbers independently.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, lack of public faith in the court system deterred many from filing complaints. While the law has a provision for an ombudsman, one had not been established.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government did not implement the 2001 Vested Property (Return) Act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 2.d.). The act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority communities continued to report land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had increased. They also claimed local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved in evictions or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6). In 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act which may allow for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the CHT. The amendment has not yet provided resolution to any of the disputes (see section 2.d.).

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged the Bangladesh Police, the NSI, and the DGFI employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.

The government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications in an effort to intimidate the public. The government formed a monitoring cell to “detect rumors” on social media. State Minister for Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Tarana Halim said content that threatens communal harmony, disrupts state security, or embarrasses the state would be considered rumors and sent to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations in Dhaka.

According to human rights NGOs, authorities continued to use approval provisions to disallow gatherings by opposition groups. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

Throughout the year the BNP was hindered by the government from hosting assemblies and rallies. The BNP was denied applications “for security reasons” to hold rallies in Dhaka on March 11, 19, and 29 at the Suhrawardy Udyan, one of the few large places designated for political rallies, but it was ultimately permitted to host its rally at a different location.

In a separate instance, the BNP claimed it received verbal permission to conduct a rally on its founding anniversary on September 1 in Dhaka and to conduct a human chain in front of the National Press Club on September 10. Law enforcement officials, however, apprehended hundreds of participants in the two BNP events. The BNP reported law enforcement detained 304 leaders and activists in the first three days of September and approximately 200 leaders and activists during the party’s human chain later in the month. The assistant inspector general of police headquarters denied reports of raids to detain opposition activists.

The incumbent Awami League (AL) and its allies were allowed to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan and other venues of their choice throughout the year.

On September 15, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would instruct the DMP commissioner to allow political parties to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan. According to Prothom Alo, on September 29, the DMP gave permission to the BNP to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan, under 22 conditions, including that they provide their own security and install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the venue. The DMP also “banned all activities that can hamper public safety; carrying sticks; speech hurting religious sentiments, and arriving at the venue in processions.”

During the year police used force to disperse peaceful demonstrations. According to the Daily Star, on March 14, police dispersed a group of approximately 1,000 protesters marching towards the secretariat building in Dhaka, using batons and tear gas and injuring 15 protesters. The protesters were scheduled to arrive at a prescheduled sit-in at the secretariat. After the violent dispersal occurred, a DMP spokesperson defended the government’s actions on the grounds the protesters were obstructing traffic.

Beyond formal government hindrance and police obstruction of peaceful demonstrations, there were reports the government deployed ruling party student activists to areas where peaceful assemblies took place. On August 4, alleged Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists attacked a group of students in Dhanmondi with batons, rocks, and pistols in an effort to quell road safety protests. The action resulted in a reported 150 injuries. Multiple news outlets reported police did not try to prevent or restrain the attackers. Police detained dozens of students and supporters publicly supporting the road safety protestors.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive, such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5., and 7.a.).

The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act places restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5). The government announced in October 2017 a number of NGOs were no longer allowed to operate in Cox’s Bazar, including Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Islamic Relief, and Allama Fazlullah Foundation. The three organizations remain barred from operating in Cox’s Bazar during the year, according to media reports.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners.

More than 700,000 individuals, mostly Rohingya women and children, have fled violence in Burma since August 2017, which the Secretary of State determined in November constituted a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military. The total number of Rohingya refugees hosted in Bangladesh was approximately one million living in refugee camps and host communities in Cox’s Bazar near the Burmese border. The government restricts Rohingya refugees to the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts in Cox’s Bazar, although the government has allowed exceptions for medical treatment in Cox’s Bazar city.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August 2017 influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March. In October the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported it identified approximately 100 cases of human trafficking among Rohingya refugees since September 2017 with the majority subjected to labor trafficking.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claims it is not bound under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this document.

The government does not recognize the new Rohingya arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.” In practice, however, the government abides by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception is the Rohingya do not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout Bangladesh. While the refugees are able to move largely unrestricted in the Ukhia and Tekhaf subdistricts, the government established checkpoints to prevent their movement outside this area.

Members of the political opposition were sometimes prevented from moving around the country or faced harassment and detention when attempting to do so. Senior BNP leader and former law minister Moudud Ahmed was confined to his house in Noakhali twice during the year. Ahmed claimed police officials barricaded him in his home, preventing him from contact with his supporters and constituents, and from attending party-related events. He alleged police curbed his freedom of movement at the behest of Obaidul Quader, General Secretary of the incumbent Awami League and Minister for Road Transport and Bridges, who is his electoral rival in the area. Police claimed the measures were intended to increase security at Ahmed’s home in his capacity as a senior political figure.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays renewing their passports; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. On September 12, authorities at Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka delayed immigration clearance for BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to government policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict from 1973-97. This policy relocated landless Bengalis to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The IDPs in the CHT had limited physical security. Community leaders maintained indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.

In 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. In December 2017 the government reappointed Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque chair of the commission for three years. The Land Ministry formulated rules for implementation of the act, but the rules have yet to be officially promulgated.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs resided in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and close remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Prior to the August 2017 Rohingya influx, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and IOM provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar. Since the additional influx of refugees in August 2017, approximately one million Rohingya refugees lived in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population is less than 18 years old. A National Task Force, established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, leads the coordination of the overall Rohingya crisis. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief coordinates the Rohingya response with support from the Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) and the deputy commissioner provide coordination.

The government temporarily deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District in the fall of 2017 to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. In response to growing security concerns, the military has again become more active in the refugee camps, conducting patrols 24 hours a day. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. International organizations alleged some Bangladeshi border guard, military, and police officials were involved in facilitating the trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from “looking the other way” for bribes allowing traffickers to access Rohingya in the camps to direct involvement.

Refoulement: There was no refoulement or forced repatriation. On November 15, in an effort to demonstrate it was not blocking returns as alleged by Burma, Bangladesh sent buses to selected Rohingya camps to pick up anyone ready to return. Bangladesh called off the operation when no refugees volunteered. Several times during the year, senior government officials reaffirmed Bangladesh’s commitment to voluntary, safe, and dignified refugee returns, based on informed consent.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided significant protection and assistance to Rohingya resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the 2017 arrival of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. The government is working jointly with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue ID cards that replace prior cards and provide for protection of Rohingya refugees as well as better systems for accessing services and assistance. The card also affirms the government’s commitment against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded their access to the justice system, leading to underreporting of cases of abuse and exploitation and impunity for traffickers.

Freedom of Movement: There continued to be restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered Rohingya refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 2017 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the Ukhia and Tefnaf subdistricts.

Many camp authorities have introduced curfews and law enforcement patrols, particularly at night, in response to reported concerns about violent attacks, abductions, or kidnappings in the camps.

Employment: The government did not formally authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally, although it allowed limited cash-for-work schemes for Rohingya to perform construction and maintenance tasks within the camps. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The rapid increase in the population has occurred has strained services both inside and outside of the designated camps and makeshift settlements. The UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) coordinates the multitude of actors and agencies providing basic services to the Rohingya. Nonetheless, according to the ISCG, refugees lived in congested sites that were poorly equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons. While agencies have responded with significant efforts to move those most vulnerable, the shortage of land remains a central issue that hinders the ability of Rohingya to have access to basic services.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through fifth grade throughout the country, remained a significant challenge for those children residing in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements. According to the ISCG, the education response since 2017 has focused on the provision of preprimary and primary education for refugee girls and boys and by September had reached a total of 139,444 children. There remained a significant gap for preprimary and primary-age children in the camps as well as inadequate coverage of adolescents between 15 to 24 years of age.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. The health sector maintained information about all of the health facilities within the camps and the surrounding areas. There were 278 functional facilities known to the health sector, with a further 37 planned or under construction. Based on the data available, overall coverage met the minimum requirements.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Rohingya in the country were legally or in fact stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

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: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free, fair, and credible and was marred by irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies won only seven. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. According to data assembled by the NGO Democracy International, there were 1,324 acts of violence against the opposition BNP and its political allies and 211 acts of violence against the ruling AL and its allies during the month prior to the election.

The government did not grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to the majority of international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). ANFREL issued a statement on December 23 noting that as of December 21, the government granted accreditation to 13 of 32 applications submitted, and due to significant delays in the accreditation approval by the EC and the ministries of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, it was forced to terminate its observation mission on December 22. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Home Ministry, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the EC to conduct domestic election observation.

City elections held during the year in Khulna, Gazipur, Barisal, Rajshahi, and Sylhet were similarly characterized by credible reports of harassment, arrests, intimidation, and violence against opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as election-day rigging, fraud, and irregularities. The ruling AL party won four of the five elections and narrowly lost the contest in Sylhet to the BNP.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders. BNP leader Khaleda Zia was convicted and imprisoned on February 8 based on corruption charges filed under a nonpartisan caretaker government in 2008. She was unable to take advantage of bail awarded in this case pending appeal because of more than two dozen other charges filed against her in recent years by the government. Police implicated approximately 435,000 BNP members in criminal charges in the run-up to the national election and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated.

The 86 criminal charges filed by the government against BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in the previous years remained unresolved. Alamgir remained free on bail. The charges involved attacks on police, burning buses, and throwing bombs. Other opposition activists faced criminal charges. Jamaat leaders and members could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement. Although Jamaat has been deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name, the fundamental constitutional rights of speech and assembly of its leaders and members continued to be violated. Media outlets deemed critical of the government and the AL were subjected to government intimidation and cuts in advertising revenue, and they practiced some self-censorship to avoid adverse responses from the government. AL-affiliated organizations (such as the BCL student wing) reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. While Jamaat’s appeal of a 2012 High Court decision canceling the party’s registration remained pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the EC issued a notification deregistering Jamaat on October 28, disqualifying the organization from participating in the national election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. In July parliament amended the constitution to extend by 25 more years a provision that reserves 50 seats for women in parliament. These female parliamentarians are nominated by the 300 directly elected parliamentarians. The seats reserved for women are distributed among parties proportionately to their parliamentary representation.

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 frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. According to a 2018 survey by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), law enforcement agencies were the most corrupt of 18 government departments and sectors providing services to the people. The Department of Immigration and Passports and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority were deemed the second and third most corrupt, TIB said in its survey report published on August 30. These sectors were followed, among others, by the services related to judiciary, land, education, health, agriculture, power, gas, local government institutions, insurance companies, and taxes and duties. Overall, 66.5 percent of the households surveyed by TIB fell victim to corruption, the report said.

On August 20, the cabinet approved a law prohibiting the arrest of any public servant by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) without permission from the government. Campaigners for good governance and transparency decried the provision saying it aimed to shield corrupt officials and clip the wings of the ACC. The law still needed parliamentary approval and presidential assent to become effective.

According to ACC data, 180 of the 2,476 cases on trial were resolved (brought to completion) from January through October. Of these 110 resulted in conviction and 70 resulted in acquittal. Approximately 2,800 cases remained pending with the ACC through October.

In 2017 the ACC introduced a hotline to receive corruption complaints. The call center received 75,000 calls in the first seven days and approximately 500,000 through May 2018. Most of the complaints implicated government land offices, hospitals, railway and road transportation authorities, schools, and utility services in corruption.

From January 2016 to April, the ACC filed more than 100 cases against 759 government employees. The accused included employees to the level of Joint Secretary. The ACC filed a charge sheet or criminal complaint against 83 government employees from January to April. It filed charge sheets against 288 government employees in 2017 and 399 government employees in 2016, according to a Daily Ittefaq report.

According to its strategic plan for the year, the ACC formed 25 teams to monitor and investigate corruption in different government offices. The ACC also formed an intelligence unit so it could launch an effective campaign against corruption.

In some cases the government allegedly used the ACC as a political tool, including having the ACC launch or threaten inquiries into the activities of some businesspeople, newspaper owners, opposition political activists, and civil society members for criticizing the government. In 2017 the Supreme Court rebuked the ACC for maintaining a “pick and choose” policy with regard to pursuing corruption allegations against politically connected individuals.

The government took steps to address widespread police corruption through continued expansion of its community-policing program and through training.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires candidates for parliament to file statements of personal wealth with the EC. The law does not require income and asset disclosure by officials.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers commented on the diminished strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Although the ACC dropped a case against Odhikar in 2016, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On June 6, Special Branch (SB) officers entered Odhikar offices demanding information on the organization’s activities. SB also requested the mobile phone numbers of the organization’s officers. On June 25, SB officers entered Odhikar offices again demanding information on the organization’s president. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed security officers constantly monitored their telephone calls, emails, and movements.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue in contrast with most citizens, who were almost never audited.

Numerous NGOs entered Bangladesh in response to the August 2017 Rohingya influx. During the year the NGO Affairs Bureau imposed restrictions on 41 NGOs related to the Rohingya relief effort. The 41 NGOs were permitted to finish ongoing projects, but they were denied the ability to commence new projects. The government did not disclose the names of the NGOs, nor did the government state why restrictions were imposed on the NGOs.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government had not responded to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded, limiting the commission’s effectiveness and independence. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and advising the government on key human rights issues.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of a female by a male and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the female is older than 13. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

There were reports of sexual violence with impunity. On August 17, police freed Awami League official Mohammed al-Helal four hours after he was arrested on charges of raping an 18-year-old girl in her home in Sherpur Upazila in 2017. Responding to the victim’s cries for help, locals restrained Helal and handed him over to police. When the victim’s family tried to file a case against Helal, Officer-in-Charge Khan Mohammed Erfan refused to file the case. Helal attempted to give the victim’s mother 18,000 BDT ($211) to refrain from pursuing a case against him. The victim’s family then filed a case against Helal with the Borga Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2 in 2017. In July the Borga Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2 issued an arrest warrant for Helal. Helal was taken into custody but was freed later, on technical grounds.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to furnish witnesses.

In April the High Court released a 16-point guideline on the handling of rape cases by law enforcement personnel and other parties to the matter. The guidelines came in response to a 2015 writ petition following complaints of delays in recording rape cases. According to the guidelines, the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical/DNA tests are required to be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. The High Court guidelines also stipulated every police station must have a female police officer available to victims of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the victim are required to be recorded in the presence of a lawyer a social worker or protection officer, or any other individual the victim deems appropriate. Victims with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the victim to a timely medical examination.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries. From January through September, HRSS documented 35 women killed and an additional 41 women injured as a result of dowry-related violence.

On March 6, Rima Begum died at Ujirpur Health Complex after sustaining injuries from dowry-related violence by her husband. Begum’s brother, Arif, said during his sister’s one and a half year marriage to her husband, Shipon Howlader, Begum was often subjected to violence by Howlader and his parents for insufficient dowry. Begum’s father, Akkel Ali, filed a case with the Ujirpur Police Station against Howlader and his parents for the death of his daughter.

On September 16, parliament, in an apparent bid to stop abuse of the 1980 Dowry Prohibition Act, adopted the Dowry Prohibition Act of 2018 incorporating new provisions and rearranging some of the provisions in the original law. The new law contains provisions that have imposed a maximum five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 50,000 BDT (approximately $590) or both for the filing of a false charge under the law. Anyone demanding dowry will be imprisoned for one to five years, or fined 50,000 BDT (approximately $590), or will face both punishments, according to the new law.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of “fatwas” (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence.

Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims–usually women–leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were often related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land disputes. From January through September, HRSS documented 13 incidents of acid violence against women.

The law seeks to control the availability of acid and reduce acid-related violence directed toward women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its effect. The Commerce Ministry restricted acid sales to buyers registered with relevant trade organizations.

On February 4, Sujan Chandra Paul and Arjun Chandra Paul, along with two other assailants, threw acid on the newlywed Jharna Rani, while she was riding on a motorcycle in Baliadangi Upazila with her husband, causing severe burns to her. The Paul family had proposed the marriage of their sister to Rani’s husband, Dilip Kumar, who refused. Rani’s father filed a case with the Baliadangi Police Station against the suspects for the attack on Rani. The charges against the assailants were pending at the end of the year.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline, a 2016 Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) document noted harassment remained a problem and monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines were poor, which sometimes prevented girls from attending school or work.

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

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories now part of the country. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through fifth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Despite free classes, teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school.

Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread problems. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. In 2016 the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation.

On August 4, Supreme Court Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain expressed frustration with 75 judges of 69 juvenile courts across the country for keeping more than 21,500 juvenile cases pending, including 614 cases pending for more than five years. The Children Act of 2013 calls for opening child friendly courts across the country.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. In 2017 parliament passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.” The government ignored the recommendations and concerns raised by child rights organizations, human rights organizations, and development partners concerning this act. In 2017 the High Court ruled that the government should explain why the provision allowing the marriage of a minor should not be declared illegal in response to a writ petition filed by BNWLA. BNWLA’s petition argued the Muslim Family Law describes marriage as a “contract,” and a minor could not be a party to a contract.

In June, Abhaynagar subdistrict officials stopped the underage marriage of 15-year-old Bonna Roy. Officials and police officers arrived at the fiance’s family’s home shortly before the ceremony after receiving an anonymous tip. The fiance fled the scene. The fiance’s father was arrested and subsequently released on bail. Roy was returned to her parents.

According to government data, 52 per cent of girls were victims of child marriage in 2011. UNICEF’s 2018 report estimated this figure at 59 per cent. The secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs disagreed with UNICEF’s findings and claimed to the Prothom Alo newspaper the rate of child marriages fell significantly in the country during the year. According to the UNICEF report, child marriage prevalence has fallen by 15 percent globally, whereas the rate of decrease in South Asia was 30 percent.

In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited.

Displaced Children: See section 2.d.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country, but politicians and imams reportedly used anti-Semitic statements to gain support from their constituencies.

Trafficking in Persons

See the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees have not yet been activated. In many cases local authorities are not aware of their responsibilities under this law. A report prepared by several NGOs in 2016 highlighted negligence in areas such as accessibility in physical structures; access to justice; rights of women with disabilities; freedom from exploitation, violence, and abuse; the right to education, health, and a decent work place; the right to employment; and political rights and representation.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, 90 percent of children with disabilities did not attend public school. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

The government did take official action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. On February 15, the Bangladesh Police arrested Amzad Ali for the rape of a girl with disabilities. Amzad lured the girl into an open field with promises of agricultural produce. Upon cries for help, the girl’s sister rushed to the scene, and Amzad fled. Members of the community telephoned the Bangladesh National Help Desk. The family of the victim filed a case against Amzad under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act.

On January 21, Bangladesh Police arrested the father, grandparents, and aunt for the murder of one-month old Akita Khatun. Akita was born prematurely and suffered from severe disabilities. According to Assistant Superintendent of Ishwardi Police Mohammad Johurul Haque, Akita’s family did not want the burden associated with caring for a child with disabilities. The child’s relatives hid her in a cabinet away from her mother. Later, police found Akita dead in the cabinet in her home. Akita’s mother, Nishi Khatun, told police she was tortured by her in-laws for not birthing a male child and for Akita’s disabilities. The cases against Akita’s father, grandparents, and aunt remained pending.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government established 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances.

Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility in elections.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for economic and political reasons. Police had not filed charges against Muslim villagers accused of vandalizing and burning approximately 30 Hindu houses in Rangpur in November 2017 in response to a rumored Facebook post demeaning Islam.

NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

Indigenous People

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) indigenous community experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which had not been fully implemented. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported continued land encroachment by Rohingya settlers from Burma. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas. According to an August 9 Daily Starnewspaper report, the last six Marma families of Saingya Marmapara village in Bandarban moved out of the village in January because influential individuals made continued land grab attempts. In this village 42 Marma families used to live; however, most have departed at the behest of “land grabbers.” According to the tribal headman, who has taken shelter at his relative’s house in a neighboring village, the land and jhum crop left behind are now under the control of Jasim Uddin Mantu, Chairman of Sylvan Wye Resorts and Spa Limited.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year.

The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intraindigenous community violence causing dozens of deaths. According to press accounts, at least 34 members of the two indigenous groups were killed by intraindigenous community rivals from January to August. On August 18, seven individuals, including three leaders of the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum (UPDF), were killed and six were injured in two attacks where firearms were used in Khagrachhari District. On May 28, three UPDF members were shot and killed as they were conducting a meeting at a private home in Baghaichhari Upazila of Rangamati District. On May 3, Shaktiman Chakma, chairman of Naniarchar Upazila Council in Rangamati and leader of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) (MN Larma faction), was shot and killed on his way to work. PCJSS blamed the killing on UPDF, which denied the accusation. The factional clashes between and within UPDF and PCJSS resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reports said many leaders of these factions are engaged in extortion of money. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remain unresolved.

There were reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel. According to the Kapaeeng Foundation, at least 32 indigenous women and children faced sexual assaults from January to July. Of them 11 were raped and four were killed after their rape. According to media reports, two members of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) in Bandarban offered two minor girls belonging to the Tripura tribe money in exchange for a sexual favor. When the two minor girls refused, they allegedly raped the girls on August 22. The commanding officer of BGB battalion at Naikhangchhari dismissed the incident as a rumor but promised to “look into it.”

Police heavily guarded the hospital where the two girls were admitted and prevented media and NGO personnel from visiting the 12- and 17-year-old girls.

On January 22, security personnel allegedly raped an 18-year-old Marma girl and sexually assaulted her 13-year-old sister during a raid on the village Orachhari in Rangamati. The accused officials publically denied any incidence of rape but administratively confined to the battalion headquarters a personnel member accused of the rape. Police filed a general diary on insistence from civil society but prevented media and NGO personnel from talking to the victims.

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

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal under the Bangladesh Penal Code. The government does not actively enforce the law. LGBTI groups reported the government retains the law as a result of societal pressure. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTI individuals, as well as those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, and to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized, but recognized, part of society, but it faced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities.

Members of LGBTI communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTI groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services.

There were no reports of incidents of involuntary, coercive medical, or psychological practices to “treat” or punish LGBTI individuals.

Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

The case of Xulhaz Mannan, a human rights activist who was killed in 2016, remained unresolved at the year’s end.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante killings occurred. Local human rights organizations acknowledged the number of reported cases probably represented only a small fraction of the actual incidents. Illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred. According to Odhikar 45 individuals suffered from vigilante killings from January through October, primarily by public lynching.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations said that cumbersome requirements for union registration remained. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Ministry of Labor and Employment may grant approval for registration of a union. The ministry may request a court to dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units.

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Fire-fighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions. The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Export processing zones (EPZs), which do not allow trade union participation, are a notable exception to the national labor law.

Prospective unions continued to report rejections based on reasons not listed in the labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported in 2017 that the country had 7,751 trade unions, covering nearly three million workers, with 596 unions in the garment sector. This figure includes 561 new unions in the garment sector since 2013. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions and the leather and tannery sector had 13. According to the Solidarity Center, a significant number of the unions in the ready-made garment sector ceased to be active during the year due to factory closures or alleged unfair labor practices on the part of employers, and it has become increasingly harder to register unions in larger ready-made garment factories. After a sharp increase in trade union applications in 2014, there has been a decline every year since. During the year the number of trade-union applications declined again, but the approval rate by the Department of Labor increased.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production or if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor. Workers and union activists continued to face repercussions from widespread strikes that occurred in 2016 in Ashulia, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, which led to the termination of at least 1,600 workers and left approximately 25 labor leaders and activists in jail. While factories resumed operations by the end of December, labor leaders and workers continued to report police harassment, intimidation, and general antiunion behavior. Ongoing intimidation tactics included frequent police visits to union meetings and offices, police taking pictures and video recordings of union meetings, and police monitoring of NGOs involved in supporting trade unions. While most workers from the Ashulia labor unrest were reinstated, labor leaders still have cases pending against them despite international pressure to resolve these cases.

In response to unrest in the Dhaka industrial suburb of Ashulia in 2016, the government formed a permanent tripartite consultative council to address labor concerns in the garment industry. The state minister for labor and employment and the ministry’s deputy secretary serve as president and secretary of the 20-member council. The council also includes six representatives from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, six additional representatives from the government, and six worker representatives. The council was supposed to meet at least three times a year, but the president may convene meetings as needed. Labor leaders expressed concern that worker representatives were appointed, not elected, and that some of the appointed council members were either not active in the ready-made garment industry, were leaders of very small federations, or were closely aligned with industry. According to the Solidarity Center, in October government officials filed charges stemming from the 2016 Ashulia incident against 15 labor activists and political leaders despite previous government assurances that all cases would be dropped.

Legally registered unions that are recognized as official Collective Bargaining Agents (CBAs) are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers. This occurred rarely, but instances were increasing. The law provides criminal penalties for unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights. Labor organizations reported that in some companies, workers did not exercise their collective bargaining rights due to their unions’ ability to address grievances with management informally or due to fear of reprisal.

The law includes provisions protecting unions from employer interference in organizing activities; however, employers, particularly in the readymade garment industry, often interfered with this right. Labor organizers reported acts of intimidation and abuse, the termination of employees, and scrutiny by security forces and the intelligence services. Labor rights NGOs alleged that some terminated union members were unable to find work in the sector because employers blacklisted them. The BGMEA reported that some factory owners complained of harassment from organized labor, including physical intimidation, but statistics and specific examples were unavailable.

According to the labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a Participation Committee (PC). In 2015 the government passed the Bangladesh Labor Rules calling for an amended labor law. The rules include an outline of the process for the PC’s workers representative elections.

A separate legal framework under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) governs labor rights in the EPZs, with approximately 458,000 workers. EPZ law specifies certain limited associational and bargaining rights for Worker Welfare Associations (WWAs) elected by the workers, such as the rights to bargain collectively and represent their members in disputes. The law prohibits unions within EPZs. While an earlier provision of the EPZ law banning all strikes under penalty of imprisonment expired in 2013, the law continues to provide for strict limits on the right to strike, such as the discretion of the BEPZA’s chairperson to ban any strike he views as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. The BEPZA has its own inspection regime with labor counselors that function as inspectors. WWAs in EPZs are prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. There were no reports of legal strikes in the EPZs.

The government adopted standard operating procedures regarding union registration. With the exception of limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, national labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but this right was rarely exercised.

The government did not always enforce applicable law effectively or consistently. For example, labor law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. It also establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously.

Penalties for violating the law increased in 2013, enabled by the issuance of implementing rules. The maximum fine for a first violation is 25,000 BDT (approximately $300); the fine doubles for a second offense. The law also allows for imprisonment of up to three years. If a violation results in death, the law allows a fine of up to 100,000 BDT ($1,250), four years’ imprisonment, or both. Administrative and judicial appeals were subjected to lengthy delays.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses are five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 BDT ($625). Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also provides that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.).

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The minimum age for work is 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law allows for certain exceptions, permitting children who are ages 12 or 13 to perform restricted forms of light work. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through fifth grade.

The Labor Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.

Under the ministry’s 2012-16 child labor national plan of action, the National Child Labor Welfare Council is charged with monitoring child labor. The council met only twice, however, since its inception. The government-mandated child protection networks at district and subdistrict levels to respond to a broad spectrum of violations against children, including child labor; to monitor interventions; and to develop referral mechanisms.

The law specifies penalties for violations involving child labor, including nominal fines of less than 5,000 BDT ($63). These penalties insufficiently deterred violations. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants.

Child labor was widespread in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of six- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), agriculture was the primary employment sector for boys, and services was the main sector for girls. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce was under the age of 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, reported laborers worked long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, and also without contractual agreements.

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, primarily in dangerous activities in agriculture. Children working in agriculture risked using dangerous tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. Children frequently worked long hours, were exposed to extreme temperatures, and suffered high rates of injury from sharp tools. Children also worked in such hazardous activities as stone and brick breaking, dyeing operations, blacksmith assistance, and construction. Forced child labor was present in the fish-drying industry, where children were exposed to harmful chemicals, dangerous machines, and long hours of work. In urban areas street children worked pulling rickshaws, garbage picking, recycling, vending, begging, repairing automobiles, and in hotels and restaurants. These children were vulnerable to exploitation, for example, in forced begging, forced smuggling, or selling drugs.

Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations.

The lower-wage garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented the majority of garment-sector workers, making up approximately 56 percent of the total ready-made garment workforce, according to official statistics although statistics varied widely due to a lack of data. The ILO estimated that women made up 65 percent of the ready-made garment workforce. Despite representing a majority of total workers, women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 study by Andreas Menzel (Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute) and Christopher Woodruff (Oxford University) during the year found that women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The board may convene at any time, but it is supposed to meet at least every five years in a tripartite forum to set wage structures and benefits industry by industry. By law the government may modify or amend wage structures through official public announcement in consultation with employers and workers. In the garment industry, the board increased the minimum monthly wage from 5,300 BDT ($66) which was set in 2013, to 8,000 BDT (approximately $95). Ready-made garment industry workers conducted public protests after the announcement. They had requested a minimum wage of 16,000 BDT (approximately $190). The increase took effect on December 1. Also dissatisfied were more senior workers, whose pay was not increased at the same rate as the minimal wage. That left some of them earning only marginally more than entry-level workers.

In September a member from the country’s intelligence community threatened trade union leaders in Chittagong with bodily harm should workers protest the new minimum wage, according to Solidarity Center. Wages in the apparel sector often were higher than the minimum wage, and wages in the EPZs typically were higher than general wage levels, according to BEPZA. Among the lowest minimum wages were those for tea packaging, set in 2013 at 69 BDT ($0.86) per day as established by a memorandum of understanding. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation (which averaged 6 to 8 percent annually since 2010, according to World Bank data), but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours, but it may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime cannot be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than six hours a day or a half-hour of rest for more than five hours’ work a day. Factory workers are supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers receive one and one-half days off per week.

The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The law says that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year. The days and dates for such festivals are supposed to be fixed by the employer in consultation with the CBA, if any, or on the recommendation of the participation committee in absence of the CBA.

Labor law implementing rules outline the process for the formation of occupational safety and health committees in factories, and the government reported that approximately 2,175 safety committees were formed as of July. The committees include both management and workers nominated by the CBA or, in absence of CBA, workers representatives of the factory’s Worker Participation Committee (WPC). Where there is no union or WPC, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) arranges an election among the workers for their representatives.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. Although increased focus on the garment industry improved compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors, and penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

DIFE’s resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively. In 2017, DIFE employed 317 labor inspectors; however, this number is likely insufficient for a workforce that includes more than 83 million workers, and the DIFE lacked authority to sanction employers directly without filing a court case. The ministry nonetheless took steps to increase DIFE’s staff and technical capacity.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,138 workers and injured more than 2,500. In the aftermath of the collapse, private companies, foreign governments, and international organizations worked with the government to inspect more than 3,780 garment factories. Many factories began to take action to improve safety conditions, although remediation in many cases proceeded slowly due to a range of factors, including failure to obtain adequate financing. Two private buyers’ initiatives, the Alliance and the Accord, conducted initial fire and safety inspections of 2,400 factories, but government oversight and enforcement of garment factories outside of these initiatives remained limited. These initiatives also covered only the formal ready-made garment industry, leaving thousands of informal garment and nongarment factories without proper oversight. Boiler or chemical-related explosions increased the focus on nonfire industrial accidents. The Alliance terminated its operations at the end of the year, following the successful remediation of more than 400 factories under its purview. Several U.S. brands worked with a new local organization to sustain the culture of safety at remediated factories.

The court case against Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, and 40 other individuals on charges, including murder began in 2016. Rana received a maximum three-year sentence for failing to declare his personal wealth to an antigraft commission. The murder trial against Rana and others continued.

A trial against those implicated in the 2012 Tazreen Fashions fire started in 2015 after charges were brought against 13 individuals, including chairman Mahmuda Akhter and managing director Delwar Hossain, in September 2015. Media reported that the trial was stalled at year’s end.

Workers’ groups stated that safety and health standards established by law were sufficient and that more factories took steps toward compliance. The law provides for a maximum fine of 25,000 BDT (approximately $300) for noncompliance, but this did not deter violations.

Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely. In the ready-made garment sector, employers often required workers to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to the Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers in many cases delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits.

Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector in which the majority of citizens worked, and it was difficult to enforce labor laws in the sector. The BBS 2010 Labor Force Survey reported the informal sector employed 47.3 million of the 56.7 million workers in the country.

Bhutan

Executive Summary

Bhutan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the head of state, with executive power vested in the cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Lotay Tshering. In September and October, the country held its third general elections, in which approximately 71 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. International election witnesses reported the elections were generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included continued incarceration of Nepali-speaking political prisoners; the existence of defamation laws that could be used to retaliate against critics; restrictions on freedom of assembly and association; restrictions on domestic and international freedom of movement for some residents; the government’s refusal to readmit certain refugees who asserted claims to Bhutanese citizenship; and child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were 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, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: According to police, there were no separate prisons designated for women and children.

Administration: Police administer the prison system. Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. In November 2017 police recommended action against personnel accused of abusing an inmate. There was no available information regarding recordkeeping on prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: No international human rights groups sought access to monitor prisons during the year. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has not renewed its memorandum of understanding with the government since 2012 and did not actively revisit the issue during the year, although the ICRC continued to facilitate family visits for around 23 prisoners.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is responsible for internal security. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) is responsible for defending against external threats but also has responsibility for some internal security functions, including counterinsurgency operations, protection of forests, and security for prominent persons. The RBP reports to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, and the king is the supreme commander in chief of the RBA.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the RBA and the RBP, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the law, police may only arrest a person with a court-issued warrant or probable cause. Police generally respected the law. Police may conduct “stop and frisk” searches only if a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed exists. Arresting authorities must issue an immediate statement of charges and engage in reasonable efforts to inform the family of the accused. The law requires authorities to bring an arrested person before a court within 24 hours, exclusive of travel time from the place of arrest. The law provides for prompt access to a lawyer and government provision of an attorney for indigent clients. Bail is available depending on the severity of charges and the suspect’s criminal record, flight risk, and potential threat to the public. In addition, bail can be granted after the execution of the bail bond agreement. Police can hold remanded suspects for 10 days pending investigation, which courts can extend to 49 days. In cases of “heinous” crimes, the period can then be extended to 108 days should the investigating officer show adequate grounds. The law expressly prohibits pretrial detention beyond 108 days. The Anticorruption Act empowers an Anticorruption Commission to arrest, in accordance with the country’s broader civil and criminal code, a person having committed or about to commit a corruption-related offense. The arrested individual must make a court appearance within 24 hours.

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 stipulates that defendants must receive fair, speedy, and public trials, and the government generally respected this right. A court must hold a preliminary hearing within 10 days of registration of a criminal matter. Before registering any plea, courts must determine whether the accused is mentally sound and understands the consequences of entering a plea. Defendants benefit from a presumption of innocence, have the right to confront witnesses, and cannot be compelled to testify. Convictions require that cases be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The government has prescribed a standing rule for courts to clear all cases within a year of the case filing. The country has an inquisitorial judicial system and has no jury trials. The law stipulates a defendant’s right to plead or defend himself or herself in person and that a defendant’s right to a speedy trial not limit his or her time to prepare a defense.

Defendants have the right to appeal to the High Court and may make a final appeal to the king, who traditionally delegates the decision to the Royal Advisory Council. Trials are conducted publicly, although a court can order that press and the public be removed from the courtroom for part or all of the trial in the interest of justice. While the law does not require that defendants in criminal trails receive the free assistance of an interpreter, in practice interpreters are provided free of charge or the proceedings are conducted in a language the defendant understands. The court must provide the opportunity for the parties to present relevant evidence, including witness testimony. Prosecutors and defendants are allowed to conduct direct and cross-examination.

Cases are tried pursuant to the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC). State-appointed prosecutors for the attorney general generally are responsible for filing charges and prosecuting cases for offenses against the state. In some cases other government departments, such as the Anticorruption Commission (ACC), file charges and conduct prosecutions.

The law provides for the right to representation. Although representation occurred frequently in criminal cases, in civil cases most defendants and plaintiffs represented themselves. The law states that criminal defendants may choose legal representation from a list of licensed advocates. The government promoted the use of judiciary websites for legal information as a means of self-help for defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Family members of prisoners, previously estimated at two dozen, are allowed to meet their relatives and receive a travel allowance paid by the ICRC. Most political prisoners were Nepali-speaking persons associated with protests in the early 1990s. Government officials claimed that those remaining in prison were convicted of having committed violent crimes during demonstrations. The government reported that as of December 2016, there were 57 prisoners serving sentences resulting from convictions under the National Security Act or its related penal code provisions. No international monitors sought access to these prisoners. Since 2010 the government has released 47 political prisoners, including one granted amnesty by the king.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides the right to initiate proceedings for the enforcement of “fundamental rights” enumerated within the text, and individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. The CCPC governs the resolution of criminal trials and civil litigation and states a suit may be initiated by a litigant or a member of the litigant’s family. The CCPC also provides for compensation to those detained or subjected to unlawful detention but later acquitted. Often local or community leaders assisted in resolving minor disputes. As plaintiffs and defendants often represented themselves in civil matters, judges typically took an active role in investigating and mediating civil disputes.

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

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

Citizens seeking to marry noncitizens require government permission. Government workers are barred from receiving promotions in the case of marriage to a noncitizen. In case such a government worker is employed in the defense or international relations sector, automatic discharge is required.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The law permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2018report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees but that other local and international NGOs worked with increasing freedom from official scrutiny. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. To register an NGO, an individual must be a citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, provide his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement was sometimes restricted based on location of permanent residence. Additionally, the government is generally reluctant to repatriate Nepali-speaking refugees who currently live outside of the country.

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

In-country Movement: The law establishes different categories of citizenship and determines whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally, which primarily affected those foreigners married to a Bhutanese citizen and their children and those who are permitted to reside in Bhutan to conduct business.

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis, although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father also were affected. Citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.

Exile: In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

As of September, after years of international efforts resulting in the resettlement of thousands of refugees, UNHCR reported approximately 6,500 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in the two refugee camps it administered in Nepal.

There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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 Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s, the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. Tibetan officials reported the Tibetans had largely successfully integrated into society. According to the CTA’s 2017-18 annual report, 1,847 Tibetan refugees lived in Bhutan; approximately 1,654 of them have refugee resident permits. No current records indicate any of these refugees hold work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. Authorities keep the country’s border with China closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population was decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship, according to the Department of Immigration.

Freedom of Movement: Tibetan refugees reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Employment: Reports suggested some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to previous information from the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India, although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India.

The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. Officials repeated the census in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. The government categorized those who did not meet the new criteria as illegal immigrants and expelled them. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south. Officials conducted the last census in 2017. While records do not show any figures on stateless persons, informed sources estimated 1,000 families are stateless.

For a child to qualify for Bhutanese citizenship, both parents must be Bhutanese citizens. NGOs and media sources highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because their fathers’ nationality was undocumented. Nonetheless, the government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category. In May 2017 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the government to end discrimination against children based on ethnic origin, particularly in access to education.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public health care, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

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 government successfully held national elections in September and October. Voter participation stood at approximately 66 percent in the first round and 71 percent in the second. International witnesses generally considered the elections free and fair. There were no reports of significant irregularities during the election process.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution states that political parties shall promote national unity and shall not resort to regionalism, ethnicity, or religion to incite voters for electoral gain. Political parties are required to be broad based, have a national membership, not be limited to a particular regional or other demographic constituency, and not receive money or other assistance from foreign sources. The government provided funding only for general elections and maintained rigid guidelines on party financing. Four parties contested the 2018 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women were underrepresented in public office. Women occupied 15 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. Seven of the 10 women candidates who contested the National Assembly election won, up from three in the previous election. There are also four women in the National Council or upper house.

As part of the country’s strict separation of religion from politics, the law barred ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from participating in politics. This prohibition meant clergy could not vote or run for office. No other laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The government took an active role in addressing official corruption through the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly and the Royal Audit Authority, which monitored the use of government funds. The ACC is authorized to investigate cases of official corruption and allows citizens to post information on its website regarding corrupt practices. The ACC reportedly faced resource constraints. The constitution enables the ACC to act as an independent body although its investigative staff was primarily civil servants answerable to the Royal Civil Service Commission. Based on the UN Convention against Corruption, the 2011 Anticorruption Act expands the mandate of the ACC to cover the private sector and enhances the ACC’s investigatory powers and functions.

The 2017 ACC report detailed 155 complaints of “abuse of functions,” 30 of embezzlement, five of bribery, and 20 other related corruption offenses. Approximately one-fourth of corruption complaints emanated from the local government. In May, the Office of the Attorney General charged 12 people for embezzlement and fraud in a banking scandal under the Anti-Corruption Act 2011.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public servants, and persons working for NGOs using public resources, their spouses, and dependents to declare their income, assets, and liabilities.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. According to international NGOs, local civil society organizations practiced self-censorship to avoid issues perceived as sensitive by the government. Sensitive issues included women’s rights and environmental issues. The government reportedly did not permit human rights groups established by the Nepali-speaking community to operate by categorizing them as political organizations that did not promote national unity (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not renew its agreement with the ICRC allowing the ICRC to make prison visits to persons detained for crimes against the security of the state after the agreement expired in 2013. The ICRC continued to engage with the government to facilitate prison visits for Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. In May 2017 the ICRC helped launch the Bhutan Red Cross Society. Several humanitarian training activities took place following the launch.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly Human Rights Committee conducted human rights research on behalf of the National Assembly. The Civil Society Organization (CSO) Authority has the legal authority to regulate civil society operations. Of the 42 registered CSOs, 34 were categorized as public-benefit organizations and eight as mutual-benefit organizations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The penal code makes no reference to gender in its definition of rape. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences range from five to 15 years in prison. In extreme cases a person convicted of rape may be imprisoned for life. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) stated that in the last four years, it received 44 cases of child molestation, according to a June press report. It issued charges in 38 cases, of which 23 resulted in convictions.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence range from a prison sentence of one month to three years. Offenders also are fined the daily national minimum wage of approximately three dollars for 90 days. Three police stations housed women and child protection units to address crimes involving women and children, and eight police stations housed desks with officers specifically devoted to women and children’s issues. In a case that drew significant public attention, the OAG in May filed charges against a man accused of raping a woman who was returning home from work. The government trained police on gender issues, and allowed civil society groups to undertake further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center.

Sexual Harassment: The Labor Employment Act has specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported these provisions were generally enforced.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for equal inheritance for sons and daughters. In some areas, however, traditional inheritance practices stipulate inheritance is matrilineal and that daughters inherit family land. It is not normal practice for daughters to assume their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage in most of the country.

The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home. The government generally enforced this law.

Children

Birth Registration: Under the constitution, only children whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan acquire Bhutanese citizenship at birth. Parents must register a birth before a child turns one year old, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. Civil society groups noted disproportionate barriers to citizenship faced by Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa communities and the wives of non-Bhutanese citizens.

Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children, although education is not compulsory. Gender parity at the primary level has been achieved. Girls have unequal access to the country’s secondary and tertiary schools because of their distance, their lack of adequate sanitation, and transportation difficulties.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for perpetrators.

Early and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18. Statistics from the 2010 Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS) Report indicated that 31 percent of marriages occurred before the age of 18 and 7 percent before the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child prostitution, and the sale of children. Authorities generally enforced the law. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have a Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution specifically protects the rights of citizens with disabilities. Legislation directs the government to attend to the security of all citizens in the “event of sickness and disability.” The law requires that new buildings allow access for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce this legislation consistently. There were reports hospitals were generally accessible to persons with disabilities but residential and office buildings were not.

No government agency had specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law establishing different categories of citizenship and governing domestic and international travel restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis and foreign-born individuals. Reports suggested that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances, which are required to obtain a passport, secure government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. The government claimed Nepali speakers were proportionally represented in civil service and government jobs. In its Freedom in the World 2018 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees.

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

The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation. One woman who sold food for a living reported instances of customers refusing to purchase her products due to her gender identity, according to a May media report.

The law does not provide any distinct legal status for transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While NGOs claimed persons with HIV/AIDS faced no widespread stigma, observers noted such persons feared being open about their condition.

The government provided free medical and counseling services to persons with HIV/AIDS and maintained programs meant to prevent discrimination.

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. Workers can form a union with the participation of at least 12 employees from a single workplace. There is no national trade union. The law does not mention the right to conduct legal strikes. Most of the country’s workforce engages in agriculture, a sector that is not unionized.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively with employers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Violators may face misdemeanor charges and be compelled to pay damages.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. The law grants workers the right to pursue litigation.

Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were respected, although there were few employee unions. No unions formed during the year.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, Department of Labor, in its Annual Report 2017-2018, noted it had achieved all of its internal performance targets despite a shortage of officers and funding.

In the Department of Labor’s Annual Report 2017-2018, noted 24 labor inspectors conducted 2,256 inspections, issued 179 improvement notices, and imposed 20 penalties. The ministry received reports of 497 workplace disputes, of which 239 were forwarded to the court system, and 172 were resolved. The complaints received ranged from nonpayment of wages, termination without notice, resignation without notice, and other issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws. The law makes exceptions with regard to prison labor, work that might be required during an emergency, and work required for “important local and public” celebrations. The penal code criminalizes trafficking for illegal, but not exploitative, purposes. Violations of the labor law with respect to worst forms of child labor, forced and compulsory labor, improvement notice, prohibition notice, nonpayment of compensation, minimum age of admission into employment, employing foreigners without permit, and not complying with permits issued by the government are felonies subject to three to five years’ imprisonment. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Government officials acknowledged domestic servants working in private homes where the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources has no jurisdiction may be subject to forced labor. Officials relied on citizens to report forced labor of domestics directly to police.

Migrant workers from India who worked in the country’s construction and hydropower sectors and Indian women and girls who worked in domestic service or as caregivers were vulnerable to forced labor. Ministry of Labor and Human Resources noted approximately 54,972 migrants worked in the country as of June, mostly from India. Young, rural citizens were transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, and some of these individuals were subjected to domestic servitude. Unconfirmed reports suggested that girls who worked as domestic servants and entertainers in drayungs (karaoke bars) were subjected to labor trafficking through debt and threats of physical abuse.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 13, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working in dangerous occupations, including mining, construction, sanitary services, carpet weaving, or serving in bars.

While child labor laws were enforced, the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources reported that limited resources placed constraints on the number of inspections conducted and inspectors employed. Penalties included up to nine years of nonbailable imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Children performed agricultural and construction work, completed chores on family farms, or worked in shops and restaurants after school and during holidays. Child labor also occurred in hotels and automobile workshops. Girls were employed primarily as domestic workers, where they were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination for employees and job applicants and prescribes equal pay for equal work. Of the 497 workplace disputes, three were categorized as discrimination. Nepal-based organizations representing refugees claimed that Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were subject to discrimination with respect to employment and occupation (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage is greater than the national poverty level. The law defines the workday as eight hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, and employers are required to grant regular rest days; however, these laws were sometimes difficult to enforce. According to one media report, although the government extended maternity leave three more months in 2016, most organizations in the private sector had not implemented the new rule. Work in excess of the legal workday must be paid at 1.5 times the normal rate.

Government occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate. Labor regulations grant workers the right to leave work situations that endanger their health and safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The government generally enforced minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards, fines and imprisonment effectively in the formal sector. Such penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to cover the country’s industries. Labor regulations were not effectively applied in the informal sector. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2017-2018, noted 90 accidents took place during the period, of which 33 were fatal. Such workplace accidents took place predominantly in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. Under the constitution the 29 states and seven union territories have a high degree of autonomy and have primary responsibility for law and order. Voters elected President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 551 million participants, free and fair despite isolated instances of violence.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; rape in police custody; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and reports of political prisoners in certain states. Instances of censorship, the use of libel laws to prosecute social media speech, and site blocking continued. The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the “national interest,” thereby curtailing the work of these NGOs. Widespread corruption; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honor killings remained major issues. Violence and discrimination based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and caste or tribe, including indigenous persons, also occurred.

A lack of accountability for misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a small number of convictions.

Separatist insurgents and terrorists in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and of civilians, and recruited and used child soldiers.

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

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

There were reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and insurgents.

According to Ministry of Home Affairs 2017-18 data, the Investigation Division of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported 59 nationwide “encounter deaths,” a term used to describe any encounter between the security or police forces and alleged criminals or insurgents that resulted in a death. This number was less than the prior reporting period. The South Asian Terrorism Portal, run by the nonprofit Institute for Conflict Management, reported the deaths of 152 civilians, 142 security force members, and 377 terrorists or insurgents throughout the country as of September 23.

Reports of custodial death cases, in which prisoners or detainees were killed or died in police custody, continued. On March 14, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir told the upper house of parliament the NHRC registered 1,674 cases of custodial deaths between April 2017 and February. Approximately 1,530 were deaths in judicial custody, while 144 deaths occurred under police custody. According to the Asian Center for Human Rights’ Torture Update India report released on June 26, more than five custodial deaths per day occurred on average between April 2017 and February 28. This was an increase from 2001 to 2010, when an average of about four custodial deaths were recorded.

On July 22, authorities suspended a senior police officer in Rajasthan after cattle trader Rakbar Khan died in police custody. Villagers reportedly assaulted Khan on suspicion of cow smuggling before authorities picked him up. Police took four hours to transport Khan to a local hospital 2.5 miles away, reportedly stopping for tea along the way, according to media sources. Doctors declared Khan dead upon arrival. State authorities arrested three individuals in connection with the assault and opened a judicial inquiry into the incident; however, authorities filed no criminal charges as of August 20.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, were reported in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Institute for Conflict Management recorded 213 fatalities from terrorist violence through June, compared with 317 for all of 2017.

On June 14, Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and two police bodyguards were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Srinagar as they departed the office. A police investigation alleged militants targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

On June 25, a judicial commission investigative report presented to the Madhya Pradesh state assembly justified the use of force in the killings of eight suspected members of the outlawed Students’ Islamic Movement of India after they escaped from a high-security prison in 2016. Police and prison authorities shot and killed the individuals after they allegedly killed a guard and escaped from Bhopal’s high-security prison.

As of August the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed charges against 20 Manipur Police personnel in response to a 2017 directive by the Supreme Court that the CBI should examine 87 of 1,528 alleged killings by police, army, and paramilitary forces between 1979 and 2012 in Manipur.

Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a central government designation of a state or union territory as a “disturbed area” authorizes security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA, although in 2016 the Supreme Court concluded that every death caused by the armed forces in a disturbed area, whether of a common person or a terrorist, should be thoroughly investigated, adding that the law must be equally applied.

The AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and parts of Mizoram, and a version of the law was in effect in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There was considerable public support for repeal of the AFSPA, particularly in areas that experienced a significant decrease in insurgent attacks. Human rights organizations also continued to call for the repeal of the law, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.

In July the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders urged authorities to complete investigations into the alleged encounter killings after CBI officials failed to meet a third deadline on July 2 set by the Supreme Court for inquiries into the cases. The experts stated the government has an obligation to ensure prompt, effective, and thorough investigations into all allegations of potentially unlawful killings.

The NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative noted in its 2016 report that, of 186 complaints of human rights violations reported against the armed forces in states under the AFSPA between 2012 and 2016, 49.5 percent were from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The data supplied by the Ministry of Home Affairs under the Right to Information Act did not indicate, however, whether complaints were deemed to have merit.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir, documenting alleged violations committed by security forces from June 2016 to April 2018. The report estimated civilian deaths by security forces ranged from 130 to 145, and between 16 to 20 killings by armed groups. The government of Jammu and Kashmir reported 9,042 injured protesters and 51 persons killed between July 2016 and February 2017. The report called for the repeal of the AFSPA in all states and territories, and an international probe into the human rights situation in the Indian state.

Nongovernmental forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, committed numerous killings and bombings in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas (see section 1.g.). Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and key infrastructure facilities such as roads, railways, and communication towers.

b. Disappearance

There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in hundreds of unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families about the status of detainees. There were reports, however, that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and insurgents occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).

In February the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances informed the government about 16 newly reported cases of enforced disappearances that allegedly occurred between 1990 and 1999.

There were allegations of enforced disappearance by the Jammu and Kashmir police. Although authorities denied these charges and claimed no enforced disappearance cases had occurred since 2015, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons submitted inquiries for 639 cases of alleged disappearance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In July the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission ordered its police wing to investigate these cases.

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

The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that government officials, specifically police, employed such practices.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).

The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but NGOs and citizens alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. In some instances, authorities submitted these confessions as evidence in capital cases. Authorities allegedly also used torture as a means to extort money or as summary punishment. According to human rights experts, the government continued to try individuals arrested and charged under the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. Under the repealed laws, authorities treated a confession made to a police officer as admissible evidence in court.

On July 13, a 45-year-old Dalit man, B. Murthy, was found hanging in a police station in Mandya, Karnataka. According to several Dalit organizations, police suspected Murthy of being a motorcycle thief and tortured him in police custody. Four police officers were suspended for dereliction of duty. The Criminal Investigation Department took over the investigation of this death but at year’s end had not produced its findings.

On August 2, activist Talib Hussain was allegedly tortured in the custody of Samba police in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and suffered a fractured skull, according to the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Hussain was a witness in the gang rape and murder case of eight-year-old Asifa Bano (see section 6).

On March 9, the Odisha Human Rights Commission directed the state government to pay 300,000 rupees ($4,225) in compensation to the family of Abhay Singh, an antiques dealer, who died while in police custody in June 2017.

There were continued reports that police raped female and male detainees. The government authorized the NHRC to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information about cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed the NHRC underestimated the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and the possibility of retribution, compounded by a perception of a lack of oversight and accountability, especially if the perpetrator was a police officer or other official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded; and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded, understaffed, and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were physically mistreated.

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Prison Statistics India 2015 report, there were 1,401 prisons in the country with an authorized capacity of 366,781 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 419,623. Persons awaiting trial accounted for more than two-thirds of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, although at times authorities detained them in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often detained pretrial detainees along with convicted prisoners. In Uttar Pradesh occupancy at most prisons was two, and sometimes three, times the permitted capacity, according to an adviser appointed by the Supreme Court.

In 2017 Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the lower house of parliament there were 4,391 female jail staff for a population of 17,834 female prisoners as of 2015. On May 21, the NHRC issued notices to all states and union territories seeking statistical reports on the number of children who live with their mothers in jails. The commission issued notices based on a media report that 46 children, including 25 boys and 21 girls, were in jails with their mothers.

On February 5, the Karnataka state government filed an affidavit before the Karnataka High Court stating that 48 unnatural deaths occurred in the state’s prisons between January 2012 and October 2017; of these, compensation was paid in one case.

On June 20, prosecutors filed murder, conspiracy, criminal intimidation, and destruction of evidence charges against the jail warden and five other prison officials for the 2017 death of Manjula Shetye, a female convict in Mumbai. The officials were arrested in 2017 for allegedly assaulting Shetye following her complaint about inadequate food. A government doctor who signed the death certificate was suspended.

Administration: Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, although some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in conflict areas, including the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year, but civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials. In March media reported the NHRC completed its investigative report that confirmed torture allegations by 21 inmates on trial in a jail in Bhopal. The report allegedly recommended appropriate legal action be taken against the jail authorities and the doctor involved in the torture and its cover up.

Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to recommending that authorities redress grievances. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.

In many states the NHRC made unannounced visits to state prisons, but NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers. An NHRC special rapporteur visited state prisons to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The rapporteur visited prisons on a regular basis throughout the year but did not release a report to the public or the press.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.

According to human rights NGOs, some police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 29 states and seven union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are under state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, and forced confessions by security forces remained common. Police continued to be overworked, underpaid, and subject to political pressure, in some cases contributing to corruption. The HRW 2018 India country report found that lack of accountability for past abuses committed by security forces persisted even as there were new allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, including in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

The effectiveness of law enforcement and security forces varied widely throughout the country. According to the law, courts may not hear a case against a police officer unless the central or state government first authorizes prosecution. Nonetheless, NGOs reported that, in many instances, police refused to register victims’ complaints, termed “first information reports,” on crimes reported against officers, effectively preventing victims from pursuing justice. Additionally, NGOs reported that victims were sometimes reluctant to report crimes committed by police due to fear of retribution. There were cases of officers at all levels acting with impunity, but there were also cases of security officials being held accountable for illegal actions. Military courts investigated cases of abuse by the armed forces and paramilitary forces. Authorities tried cases against law enforcement officers in public courts but occasionally did not adhere to due process. Authorities sometimes transferred officers after convicting them of a crime.

The NHRC recommended the Criminal Investigations Department of the state police investigate all deaths that take place during police pursuits, arrests, or escape attempts. Many states did not follow this nonbinding recommendation and continued to conduct internal reviews at the discretion of senior officers.

While NHRC guidelines call for state governments to report all cases of deaths from police actions to the NHRC within 48 hours, state governments did not consistently adhere to those guidelines. The NHRC also called for state governments to provide monetary compensation to families of victims, but the state governments did not consistently adhere to this practice. Authorities did not require the armed forces to report custodial deaths to the NHRC.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, insurgency, or cases arising in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, although an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and under-resourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.

Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family members access to detainees, but this was not always observed.

Other than in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted provisions allowing detainees to meet family or lawyers were not followed in practice, especially in the states of Orissa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

On September 14, Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of the pro-Dalit organization Bhim Army, was released from jail. Azad was arrested in June 2017, following clashes between Dalits and security forces that left one dead and many injured in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In November 2017 Azad was charged under the National Security Act after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail, and he was held for 10 months under the act before being released.

The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. Authorities in the state of Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but police allegedly and routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.

Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed. NCRB data from 2015 showed most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and nearly 65 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail.

The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism for up to 180 days, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals and allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens of the country. It presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of arms or explosives, or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA.

On August 28, Maharashtra police detained five human rights activists in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government and assassinate the prime minister. All five asserted wrongful arrest and detention, and further claimed that the arrests were intended to muzzle voices of dissent, as all five activists were active in protesting arrests of other human rights defenders. Maharashtra police synchronized police actions with counterparts across the country to arrest Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi, and Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad under the UAPA. Police alleged the activists were part of a Maoist conspiracy to incite violence at a public rally that led to violent caste-related clashes in Maharashtra in December 2017. On August 29, the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra police to place the detained individuals under house arrest instead of in jail and cautioned that if the country did not allow dissent to be the safety valve of democracy, “the pressure cooker will burst.” On October 27, the Supreme Court declined a request to extend the house arrest. On the same day, a Pune Court rejected their bail applications, and the Maharashtra Police placed Gonsalves, Pereira, and Bharadwaj in jail.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases police reportedly continued to arrest citizens arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.

Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 293,058 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2016. In July 2017 Amnesty International released a report on pretrial detention in the country, noting that shortages of police escorts, vehicles, and drivers caused delays in bringing prisoners to trial. According to the Amnesty report, the pretrial population is composed of a disproportionate amount of Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis who made up 53 percent of prisoners awaiting trial. A committee convened by the Maharashtra government on orders of the Bombay High Court found persons awaiting trial during the year accounted for 73 percent of the prison population.

The government continued efforts to reduce lengthy detentions and alleviate prison overcrowding by using “fast track” courts, which specified trial deadlines, provided directions for case management, and encouraged the use of bail. Some NGOs criticized these courts for failing to uphold due process and requiring detainees unable to afford bail to remain in detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence, but judicial corruption was widespread.

The judicial system remained seriously overburdened and lacked modern case management systems, often delaying or denying justice. According to Department of Justice statistics released in September, there were 427 judicial vacancies out of a total of 1,079 judicial positions on the country’s 24 high courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, except in proceedings that involve official secrets or state security. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except as described under UAPA conditions, and may choose their counsel. The constitution specifies the state should provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot afford it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen, but circumstances often limited access to competent counsel. An overburdened justice system resulted in lengthy delays in court cases, with disposition sometimes taking more than a decade.

There were reported cases in which police denied suspects the right to meet with legal counsel as well as cases in which police unlawfully monitored suspects’ conversations and violated their confidentiality rights.

While defendants have the right to confront accusers and present their own witnesses and evidence, defendants sometimes did not exercise this right due to lack of proper legal representation. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Courts must announce sentences publicly, and there are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. NGOs reported the state of Jammu and Kashmir held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals under the PSA. The Jammu and Kashmir state government reported that more than 1,000 prisoners were detained under the PSA between March 2016 and August 2017. According to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, political prisoners made up one-half of all state detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals, or NGOs on behalf of individuals or groups, may file public-interest litigation (PIL) petitions in any high court or directly to the Supreme Court to seek judicial redress of public injury. Grievances may include a breach of public duty by a government agent or a violation of a constitutional provision. NGOs credited PIL petitions with making government officials accountable to civil society organizations in cases involving allegations of corruption and partiality.

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

While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court has found such a right implicit in other constitutional provisions. In August 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a “fundamental right” in a case involving government collection of biographical information.

The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision, although, at times, authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.

On August 8, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology S.S. Ahluwalia told the lower house of parliament the existing legislation and policies relating to privacy and data security were “insufficient,” according to recommendations the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released on July 18.

Both the central and state governments intercepted communications under legal authority. The Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2012 by the Government of India Planning Commission, the most recent review available, noted the differences between two provisions of law (section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act 1885 and section 69 of the Information Technology Act 2000, as amended) had created an unclear regulatory regime that was, according to the report, “inconsistent, nontransparent, prone to misuse, and does not provide remedy or compensation to aggrieved individuals.”

In addition the UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorist cases. In the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly occasionally detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Security forces, including local police, often disrupted demonstrations and reportedly used excessive force when attempting to disperse protesters. On May 22, Tamil Nadu police opened fire on protesters who were demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, killing 15 individuals. The Tamil Nadu government claimed the police only fired on individuals who used logs and petrol bombs to set fire to vehicles during the protests.

There were sometimes restrictions on the organization of international conferences. Authorities required NGOs to secure approval from the central government before organizing international conferences. Authorities routinely granted permission, although in some cases the approval process was lengthy. Some human rights groups claimed this practice provided the government tacit control over the work of NGOs and constituted a restriction on freedoms of assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government required “prior approval” for some NGOs to receive foreign funds, suspended foreign banking licenses, or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without the proper clearances or that mixed foreign and domestic funding, and in other instances canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations. On April 3, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju informed the lower house of parliament that the government had canceled the registration of more than 14,000 NGOs in the last four years, although some of the cancellations reportedly pertained to defunct organizations. Some human rights organizations claimed these actions were sometimes used to target specific NGOs.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials who they said were purportedly under pressure to demonstrate strict enforcement of the law. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on nonpublic investigations by the Intelligence Bureau. On June 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an online tool to facilitate real-time monitoring of foreign funds deposited into NGO bank accounts. On June 5, it announced NGOs found in violation of FCRA provisions would be assessed a civil fine instead of having their licenses canceled or suspended. The rules, however, were not applicable retroactively. Some NGOs reported the new rules would severely affect smaller organizations that would be unable to pay the steep penalties–amounting to 10 percent of their total funds–and that did not have the compliance expertise, leaving only large entities able to maintain their FCRA licenses.

Some NGOs alleged they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” issues like human rights or environmental activism. The Center for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) and its partner program unit People’s Watch continued court proceedings against the nonrenewal of their FCRA license. A September 12 report by the UN secretary general cited the use of FCRA regulations to “restrict the work of NGOs cooperating with the United Nations, for example by a refusal to renew or grant licenses, including for the CPSC.”

On October 25, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a government agency that investigates financial crimes, raided the premises of Amnesty International India’s Bengaluru office and froze its bank accounts on suspicion that it had violated foreign funding guidelines. Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s executive director stated, “The Enforcement Directorate’s raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods that are commonly found in repressive states. Our staff have been harassed and intimidated.” The searches came days after the ED searched the premises of environmental nonprofit Greenpeace India in Bengaluru on October 12, also for allegedly violating foreign funding rules. Greenpeace India refuted the allegations stating, “This seems to be part of a larger design to muzzle democratic dissent in the country.”

In February the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public-health advocacy group, was placed in the “prior permission” category, requiring the organization to seek permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs each time it wanted to receive and use funds from foreign sources. The Ministry of Home Affairs indicated the center and state governments would review PHFI’s use of foreign funds quarterly and that the investigation into PHFI’s alleged FCRA violations would continue.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. In 2015 the implementation of a land-boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh enfranchised more than 50,000 previously stateless residents, providing access to education and health services.

The country hosts a large refugee population, including 108,005 Tibetan refugees and approximately 90,000 refugees from Sri Lanka. The government generally allows the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries and Burma. In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased challenges regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits. Rohingya refugees were registered by UNHCR but not granted legal status by the government.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees like any other foreigners. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to forced returns and abuse.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor exploitation. Problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and early and forced marriage also continued. Gender-based violence and sexual abuse were common in camps for Sri Lankans. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

UNHCR and NGOs observed an increase in antirefugee (specifically anti-Rohingya) rhetoric throughout the year in advance of state and 2019 national elections, which reportedly led to an increased sense of insecurity in refugee communities. On October 4, the Supreme Court rejected a plea to stop the deportation of seven Rohingya immigrants from Assam. The court noted the individuals, held in an Assam jail since 2012, were arrested by Indian authorities as illegal immigrants and that Burma was ready to accept them as their nationals. According to media reports, the nationality of the immigrants was confirmed after the Burmese government verified their addresses in Rakhine State. Rights groups said the government’s decision to deport them placed them at risk of oppression and abuse. According to HRW, the government deported the seven ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Burma where “they are at grave risk of oppression and abuse.” HRW further noted, “The Indian government has disregarded its long tradition of protecting those seeking refuge within its borders.”

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits upon arrival when traveling to certain restricted areas.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The trend of delaying issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from the state of Jammu and Kashmir continued, sometimes up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed in the state, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: On July 31, the government of Assam published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a document intended to define individuals with a claim to citizenship in a state that experienced an influx of foreigners in 1971. In 1985 the government declared that anyone who entered Assam without proper documentation after March 24, 1971, would be declared a foreigner. The names of four million residents were excluded from the final draft list, leading to uncertainty over the status of these individuals, many of whose families had lived in the state for several generations. Individuals will be required to go through an appeals process to have their names included in the final list of Indian citizens. The Supreme Court is overseeing the process, and four million individuals were given 60 days from September 25 to file a claim or objection. On September 24, ruling BJP party president Amit Shah called Bangladeshis who may be in Assam “termites” who will be struck from the list of citizens.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Authorities located IDP settlements throughout the country, including those containing groups displaced by internal armed conflicts in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Maoist-affected areas, the northeastern states (see section 1.g.), and Gujarat. The 2018 annual report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center asserted 806,000 individuals were displaced because of conflict and violence as of December 2017, with 78,000 new displacements due to conflict in 2017. Estimating precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence was difficult, because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the issue of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs, but they had access to NGOs and human rights organizations, although neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

NGOs estimated Gotti Koya tribe members displaced due to prior paramilitary operations against Maoists numbered 50,000 in Chhattisgarh and 27,000 in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In October 2017 the Hyderabad High Court directed the Telangana government not to displace the Gotti Koya tribal members or demolish their dwelling units.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government detained Rohingya in many of the northeastern states of the country. For example, after serving the allotted time for illegal entry into the country, the government obtained travel permits for seven Rohingya refugees from Burmese authorities and, according to media reports on October 4, the seven Rohingya were transported from prison to the border town of Moreh in Manipur state to be deported.

In July, Minister of State Kiren Rijiju informed the lower house of parliament that the Ministry of Home Affairs instructed state governments to identify Rohingya migrants through the collection of biometric data. The Ministry of Home Affairs directed state governments to monitor Rohingya and restrict their movements to specific locations. The government advocated for the return of Rohingya migrants to Burma.

Access to Asylum: Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries, including Afghanistan.

UNHCR did not have an official agreement with the government but maintained an office in New Delhi where it registered refugees and asylum seekers from noncontiguous countries and Burma, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The office’s reach outside of New Delhi was limited, however. The government permitted UNHCR staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Authorities did not permit UNHCR direct access to Sri Lankan refugee camps, Tibetan settlements, or asylum seekers in Mizoram, but it did permit asylum seekers from Mizoram to travel to New Delhi to meet UNHCR officials. Refugees outside New Delhi faced added expense and time to register their asylum claims.

The government generally permitted other NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government assisted UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily. The benefits provided to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees by the state government of Tamil Nadu were applicable only within the state. The central government approved the extension of funding to run the camps until 2020.

Employment: The government granted work authorization to many UNHCR-registered refugees, and others found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Although the country generally allowed recognized refugees and asylum seekers access to housing, primary and secondary education, health care, and the courts, access varied by state and by population. Refugees were able to use public services, although access became more complicated during the year because many refugees were unable to acquire the digitized identity (Aadhaar) card necessary to use some services. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR was able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access. The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers to apply for long-term visas that would provide work authorization and access to higher education, although the rate of renewal for long-term visas slowed significantly. For undocumented asylum seekers, UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was under consideration for UNHCR refugee status.

The government did not fully complete a 2012 Ministry of Home Affairs directive to issue long-term visas to Rohingya. It has reportedly slowed renewals for those with long-term visas significantly, limiting access to formal employment in addition to education, health services, and bank accounts.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during sensitive political times such as elections, and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

Government services such as mother and child health programs were available. Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained Indian citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was an Indian citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at an Indian consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities can also confer citizenship through registration under specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years. Tibetans reportedly sometimes faced difficulty acquiring citizenship despite meeting the legal requirements.

The Assam state government began a process to update the NRC to determine who has legal claim to citizenship in the country, and who is determined to have migrated illegally per a 2014 Supreme Court order. According to official reports, the government has excluded an estimated four million persons from the NRC draft list published on July 30. The central and state governments indicated that all persons not listed were able to file claims and objections for 60 days from September 25. The future legal status of those excluded is not clear. Many individuals may be declared citizens at the end of the process, while others may be at risk of statelessness.

According to UNHCR and NGOs, the country had a large population of stateless persons, but there were no reliable estimates. Stateless populations included Chakmas and Hajongs, who entered the country in the early 1960s from present-day Bangladesh, and groups affected by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. In September 2017 the central government stated it would appeal to the Supreme Court to review its 2015 order to consider citizenship for approximately 70,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees. Media quoted Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju saying the Supreme Court order was “unimplementable.”

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received Indian birth certificates. While Indian birth certificates alone do not entitle refugees to Indian citizenship, refugees may present Indian birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship. According to the Organization for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation, approximately 16,000 of 27,000 Sri Lankan refugee children born in the refugee camps have presented birth certificates to the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai. According to UNHCR, the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission issued 2,858 birth certificates during the year.

UNHCR and refugee advocacy groups estimated that between 25,000 and 28,000 of the approximately 90,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu were “hill country” Tamils. While Sri Lankan law allows “hill country” refugees to present affidavits to secure Sri Lankan citizenship, UNHCR believed that until the Sri Lankan government processes the paperwork, such refugees were at risk of becoming stateless.

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 Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In 2017 a national electoral college elected President Ramnath Kovind to a five-year term. During the year the nine states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Tripura held elections for their state assemblies. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 300 million participants, free and fair, despite very isolated instances of violence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens age 18 and older. There were no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election, and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices and ideas prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including positions as ministers, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. While some Christians and Muslims were identified as Dalits, the government limited reserved seats for Dalits to Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Members of minority populations have previously served as prime minister, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, and members of parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at all levels of government. On July 18, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh informed parliament’s lower house that the CBI registered 314 corruption-related cases between January and June compared with 632 cases in 2017. NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, or government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Media reports, NGOs, and activists reported links among politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, militant groups, and security forces in infrastructure projects, narcotics trafficking, and timber smuggling in the northeastern states. In Manipur and Nagaland, allegations of bribes paid to secure state government jobs were prevalent, especially in police and education departments.

On February 1, the ED filed money-laundering charges against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who stood accused of misrepresenting “proceeds of crime” as agricultural income totaling more than 72.56 million rupees (one million dollars). The former chief minister faced separate charges from the CBI, which alleged the senior politician amassed assets disproportionate to his reported income from 2009 to 2011.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates asset declarations for all officers in the Indian Administrative Services. Both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court upheld mandatory disclosure of criminal and financial records for candidates for elected office.

On September 25, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the judiciary could not disqualify politicians facing charges related to serious offenses and stop them from contesting elections. The court asked the parliament to frame laws to bar those accused of crimes from being able to run for elected office.

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

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances, groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). Reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country advocated for social justice, sustainable development, and human rights, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took action in response to their reports or recommendations. The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

In July 2017 the Supreme Court rejected the relief plea of activists Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, and their colleagues from charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds. Additional charges were filed on May 30 for allegedly securing and misusing fraudulently 14 million rupees ($200,000) worth of government funds for educational purposes between 2010 and 2013. The activists claimed authorities filed the case in retaliation for their work on behalf of victims of the 2002 Gujarat riot. The case continued at year’s end.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to decline access by the United Nations to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and limit access to the northeastern states, and Maoist-controlled areas. The June 14 OHCHR publication Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir cited impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice as key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government rejected OHCHR’s report as “false, prejudicial, politically motivated, and [seeking] to undermine the sovereignty of India.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body, established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC’s budgetary dependence on the government and its policy of not investigating abuses more than one year old. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, did not investigate cases thoroughly, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Twenty-four of 29 states have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. In six states the position of chairperson remained vacant. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. In the course of its nationwide evaluation of state human rights committees, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The HRLN claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The Jammu and Kashmir commission does not have the authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by members of paramilitary security forces. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the army. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by Ministry of Home Affairs paramilitary forces operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast states and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the OHCHR Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir, there has been no prosecution of armed forces personnel in the nearly 28 years that the AFSPA has been in force in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, although marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than age 15. Official statistics pointed to rape as the country’s fastest-growing crime, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of victims to report rapes, although observers believed the number of rapes still remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape victims were inadequate, and the judicial system was overtaxed and unable to address the problem effectively. Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape victims and their attackers, in some cases encouraging female rape victims to marry their attackers. The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted that low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated. The NGO Lawyers Collective noted the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and victims remained major concerns. Doctors continued to carry out an invasive “two-finger test” to speculate on sexual history, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the test violated a victim’s right to privacy. In 2015 the government introduced new guidelines for health professionals’ medical examinations of victims of sexual violence. It included provisions regarding consent of the victim during various stages of examination, which some NGOs claimed was an improvement. According to media reports, only nine state governments adopted the guidelines. A November 2017 HRW report, Everyone Blames Me, found that medical professionals, even in states that adopted the guidelines, did not always follow them.

On August 6, parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill to increase the minimum mandatory punishments for rape from seven years’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 increased from 10 years to between 20 years and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than age 12 was punishable by either life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Incidents of gang rape of minors remained prevalent. On January 10, an eight-year-old Muslim girl in the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district was allegedly kidnapped, drugged, and gang-raped over several days. The ensuing investigation resulted in the arrest of eight individuals, including four police personnel. On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered the trial moved to Punjab’s Pathankot district following protests in Jammu and Kashmir demanding the officers’ release. The case continued at year’s end.

Women in conflict areas, such as in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized compared with other caste affiliations. Activists in Manipur complained that the armed forces, instead of resorting to extrajudicial killings, were tacitly encouraging rape and sexual violence by criminal gangs as part of their counterinsurgency strategy.

Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The NCRB estimated the conviction rate for crimes against women was 18.9 percent. Acid attacks against women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. In February the Delhi government announced it would cover 100 percent medical expenses for victims of acid attacks in all private hospitals within the National Capital Territory of Delhi. In May the Supreme Court approved assistance for victims of acid attacks under the Compensation Scheme for Women Victims, Survivors of Sexual Assault, and Other Crimes 2018. The scheme outlined a maximum assistance of 800,000 rupees ($11,500) for injuries from acid attacks.

The government made efforts to address the safety of women. In August the minister of state for women and child development told the lower house of parliament the government allocated 2,919 crore rupees ($410 million) toward enhancing women’s safety in eight cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. Projects included increased surveillance technology, capacity building, and awareness campaigns. The MWCD also approved five additional one-stop crisis centers for women in distress, increasing the number of such centers to 200. These centers provide medical, legal, counseling, and shelter services for women facing violence. On September 20, the government launched an online National Database on Sexual Offenders. The registry included accused and convicted sexual offenders. Only police and legal authorities had access to data.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

On July 30, the Supreme Court observed a public interest litigation hearing seeking to ban the practice of FGM/C. The government, represented by Attorney General K. K. Venugopal, told the court that it supports the petitioners’ plea that the practice be punishable under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act. Days after a September 14 meeting between the prime minister and the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who supports the practice of FGM/C, the government reportedly reversed its position, and the attorney general stated the matter should be referred to a five-member panel of the Supreme Court to decide on the issue of religious rights and freedom.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowry, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed authorities arrested 20,545 persons for dowry deaths in 2016. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling makes it mandatory for all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry-death cases with murder.

“Sumangali schemes” affected an estimated 120,000 young women. These plans, named after the Tamil word for “happily married woman,” are a form of bonded labor in which young women or girls work to earn money for a dowry to be able to marry. The promised lump-sum compensation is normally withheld until the end of three to five years of employment and sometimes goes partially or entirely unpaid. While in bonded labor, employers reportedly subjected women to serious workplace abuses including severe restrictions on freedom of movement and communication, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking.

So-called “honor killings” remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, and were usually attributable to the victim’s marrying against his or her family’s wishes. On March 27, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to identify districts, subdivisions, and villages that witnessed incidents of honor killings to take remedial, preventive, and punitive measures to stop these crimes. In addition the Supreme Court ruled that state governments must create special cells in all districts for people to report harassment and threats to couples of intercaste marriage.

There were reports women and girls in the “devadasi” system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons in what amounted to a form of sex trafficking. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes into prostitution in temples to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. Some states have laws to curb sex trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls in temple service. Enforcement of these laws remained lax, and the problem was widespread. Some observers estimated more than 450,000 women and girls were exploited in temple-related prostitution.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for a victim accused of witchcraft. Most reports stated villagers and local councils usually banned those accused of witchcraft from the village. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing those who accuse others of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography. Employers who fail to establish complaint committees face fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($705).

On April 12, the NHRC issued notices to the government of Telangana and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting over media reports of sexual exploitation of women in the Telugu film industry. The commission noted the issues raised by an actress required the Telangana government to constitute a committee to redress the grievances of female employees relating to sexual harassment in the film industry in accordance with the provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government has promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades and, as a result, it made up 86 percent of contraceptive use in the country. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There are reports that these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies. Certain states maintained government reservations for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children and reduced subsidies and access to health care for those who have more than two. On October 25, in response to a petition filed by an Odisha resident who was not allowed to contest Panchayat (local self-governing body) elections as he had three children, the Supreme Court upheld provisions of the Panchayati Raj Act, which disallows candidates with more than two children from standing for election for posts in local government. The court stated the birth of a third child would automatically disqualify an individual from contesting. According to the NGO Lawyers Collective, such policies often induced families to carry out sex-selection for the second birth to assure they have at least one son, without sacrificing future eligibility for political office.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” schemes, some of which required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the latest census (2011), the national average male-female sex ratio at birth was 1,000 to 943. According to the National Institution for Transforming India, the national sex ratio at birth between 2013 and 2015 was 900 females per 1,000 males. The law prohibits prenatal sex selection, but authorities rarely enforced it. In March the government announced the expansion of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) project in all 640 districts across the country. The government launched the program in 2015 to prevent gender-biased sex selection, promote female education, and ensure the survival and protection of girls. Government data revealed sex ratio at birth showed improving trends in 104 out of 161 districts between 2015 and 2017. The program spent 25.40 crore rupees ($3.5 million) until July 20.

Children

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. UNICEF estimated authorities registered 58 percent of national births each year. Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap Report revealed that enrollment rates, for both male and female students, dropped by nearly 30 percent between primary and secondary school. Additionally, the report found that, while girls had a slight lead in primary and secondary education enrollment rates, boys had greater educational attainment at all levels. The NGO Pratham’s 2017 Annual Status of Education Report noted in January that the enrollment gap between males and females in the formal education system increased with age. While there was hardly any difference between boys’ and girls’ enrollment at age 14, 32 percent of females were not enrolled at age 18 as compared with 28 percent of males.

According to UNICEF more than 60 percent of secondary-school age children with disabilities did not attend school.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses. Although banned, teachers often used corporal punishment. The government often failed to educate the public adequately against child abuse or to enforce the law.

In 2017 humanitarian aid organization World Vision India conducted a survey of 45,844 children between the ages of 12 and 18 across 26 states and found that one in every two children was a victim of sexual abuse. The NGO Counsel to Secure Justice reported nearly 30 percent of child sexual abuse cases involved incest and that 99 percent of overall child sexual abuse cases were not reported.

NGOs reported abuse in some shelter homes resulted from a systematic lack of oversight, since many NGOs selected to run these spaces were nominated without any background checks. On April 26, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences submitted a report based on interviews conducted in October 2017 stating that girls at a state-run women’s shelter in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, were subjected to sexual assault by the home’s authorities. A police complaint was filed on May 31 against the NGO owned by Brajesh Thakur that ran the home, and Thakur was arrested on June 3. A raid on the home on July 24 and medical tests of its occupants established that 34 of the 44 residents, ranging between ages six and 18, were tortured and sexually abused. The police subsequently arrested 10 men and women who operated the home.

In other cases, shelter owners’ political connections enabled them to continue sexual abuse and exploitation of adult and child residents. In addition in some cases government officials demonstrated continued inaction to address longstanding complaints of mistreatment.

The government sponsored a toll-free 24-hour helpline for children in distress.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than age 18 and a boy younger than age 21 as “illegal,” but it recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address girls who were raped being forced into marriage.

According to international and local NGOs, procedural limitations effectively left married minors with no legal remedy in most situations. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey, 27 percent of women between 20 and 24 married before the age of 18, and 2017 UNICEF data revealed 7 percent of the same group of women married before the age of 15.

The law establishes a full-time child-marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child-protection authorities.

On July 26, a mahila court (a district court dealing with women’s issues) in Salem, Tamil Nadu, convicted three individuals, including the mother of the victim and the groom, for conducting the marriage of a minor girl in 2015. The court sentenced the mother and groom to 12 years’ imprisonment each.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into prostitution or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of prostitution. Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Special Courts to try child sexual abuse cases existed in all six Delhi courts. Civil society groups observed, however, that large caseloads severely limited judges’ abilities to take on cases in a timely manner. In an April study on the status of pending trials in child sexual abuse cases, the Satyarthi Foundation estimated child survivors may need to wait up to 99 years in some states for trials of their cases based on the speed of current cases on the calendar, despite a regulation that all cases should be decided within one year. The Counsel to Secure Justice reported some courts did not use separate witness rooms for children to provide testimony and police officials sometimes pressured child survivors of incest to compromise with the perpetrator and not report the case. Lack of training in handling forensic evidence also had adverse implications on case handling.

On February 21, a local court in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, delivered a verdict in a 17-year-old case of pedophilia and sentenced Australian national Paul Henry Dean, who was charged with sexually abusing children in Visakhapatnam and Puri, Odisha, to three years of imprisonment in addition to a fine of 32,000 rupees ($450). Child rights activists raised serious concerns over the duration of the court proceedings, the light sentence, and the accused’s obtaining bail the same day of the judgment.

Child Soldiers: No information was available on how many persons younger than age 18 were serving in the armed forces. NGOs estimated at least 2,500 children were associated with insurgent armed groups in Maoist-affected areas as well as child soldiers in insurgent groups in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There were allegations government-supported, anti-Maoist village defense forces recruited children (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in a number of group homes and orphanages.

The Calcutta Research Group reported police sometimes separated families detained at the India-Bangladesh border in the state of West Bengal by institutionalizing children in juvenile justice homes with limited and restricted access to their families.

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/Ingernational-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

The Gujarat government accorded the Jewish community minority status, making the community eligible for government entitlements for faith minorities.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law set a two-year deadline for the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law also reserves 3 percent of all educational places and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Despite these efforts, problems remained. Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. In July the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences after an acid attack survivor claimed the institution prohibited her from applying to a nursing position because of her disability.

Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate. There was limited accessibility to public buildings. A public interest litigation case was filed in the Supreme Court regarding accessibility to buildings and roads for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care. HRW reported women and girls with disabilities occasionally were forced into mental hospitals against their will.

In April HRW released its Sexual Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities in India report. According to the report, girls and women with disabilities who experienced sexual violence faced challenges reporting abuse to police, obtaining proper medical care, and navigating the court system. In August three hearing-and-speech-impaired girls reported sexual abuse in a private hostel in Bhopal. Madhya Pradesh police arrested the director of the private hostel and convened a special investigation team to probe into sexual abuse reports.

On March 22, the Tamil Nadu State Cooperative Societies Election Commission issued orders stating that nominations of persons with disabilities to elections of cooperative associations must not be rejected on the grounds of disability and that basic amenities for persons with disabilities must be put in place. The order came in the wake of protests by members of the Joint Action Committee of the Association for the Disabled against a state government official who allegedly ridiculed two visually impaired individuals and rejected their applications to contest elections for the post of director of a cooperative association.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution prohibits caste discrimination. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower caste groups to provide better-quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. On September 21, data published in the UN’s 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index showed a “positive trend” during the decade between 2005-06 and 2015-16 in the country, with Muslims, members of the Scheduled Tribes, and Dalits experiencing the greatest reduction in poverty. Discrimination based on caste, however, remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term “Dalit,” derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes (SC). According to the 2011 census, SC members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons).

Although the law protects Dalits, there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions such as temples, and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without monetary remuneration. Reports from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described systematic abuse of Dalits, including extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against Dalit women. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

On April 18, as many as 28 Dalit men from the Churu village in Rajasthan were subjected to clinical trials without their consent for Glenmark Pharmaceuticals. According to media reports, the men were transported to Jaipur’s Malpani Hospital with the promise of work at a medical camp but were locked in the hospital basement upon arrival and subjected to the trials.

On June 21, Madhya Pradesh police arrested four upper caste men for burning alive 55-year old Dalit farmer Kishorilal Jatav after he opposed their illegal tilling his land in a village in Bhopal district. The case continued at year’s end.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

Manual scavenging–the removal of animal or human waste by Dalits–continued despite its legal prohibition. HRW reported that children of manual scavengers faced discrimination, humiliation, and segregation at village schools. Their occupation often exposed manual scavengers to infections that affected their skin, eyes, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Health practitioners suggested children exposed to such bacteria were often unable to maintain a healthy body weight and suffered from stunted growth.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied them their rights.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted the majority of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, although some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

In May the Gujarat High Court requested Sabarkantha district officials to explain why they imprisoned 10 tribal members for more than a week due to their objection to a private company buying land to build a solar plant. Following the high court’s notice, the individuals were released.

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

On September 6, the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations in a unanimous verdict. Activists welcomed the verdict but stated it was too early to determine how the verdict would translate into social acceptance, including safe and equal opportunities at workspaces and educational institutions.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced physical attacks, rape, and blackmail. LGBTI groups reported they faced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police committed crimes against LGBTI persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The number of new HIV cases decreased by 57 percent over the past decade. According to official government records, there were 191,493 newly diagnosed cases in 2017. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable/high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. According to the National AIDS Control Organization’s HIV Sentinel Surveillance 2017 report, high prevalence states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka saw declining HIV trends among all high-risk groups in 2017.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons living with HIV. Antiretroviral drug stock outages in a few states led to treatment interruption. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV/AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to human rights violations and HIV.

In August in response to a Public Interest Litigation, the Delhi High Court issued a notice inquiring why the Ministry of Health had not implemented the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill that was passed in April 2017. The bill was designed to prevent discrimination in health care, employment, education, housing, economic participation, and political representation for those with HIV and AIDS. On September 10, the Health Ministry announced through an official gazette announcement the creation of rules to implement the act.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Societal violence based on religion and caste and by religiously associated groups continued to be a serious concern. Muslims and lower-caste Dalit groups continued to be the most vulnerable. Ministry of Home Affairs 2016-17 data showed 703 incidents of communal (religious) violence occurred, in which 86 persons were killed and 2,321 injured.

Amnesty International recorded 98 hate crimes across the country between January and June. In July the Supreme Court condemned the rise of hate crimes, urging state governments to enact laws against mob violence. The Supreme Court recommended each state should establish a special task force to monitor hate speech and investigate vigilante groups.

Reports of mob lynching increased in the past year. As of July 27, 24 persons were killed due to mob lynchings, a two-fold increase over 2017. Many of the acts of mob violence arose after rumors circulated over social media that a child had been kidnapped or a cow killed. Jharkhand had the highest number of mob-related deaths at seven reported cases, Maharashtra was second with five deaths. On March 20, a Jharkhand court sentenced 11 persons to life in prison for beating to death Alimuddin Ansari, a Muslim, who was suspected of trading in beef. On May 30, the body of cattle trader Hussainabba was found near Udupi, Karnataka. According to the complaint registered by his family members, Hussainabba was assaulted by members of a Hindu right-wing group while transporting 13 cattle and subsequently died of his injuries.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, although there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In the state of Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. For instance, in export processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations, such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association, successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities occasionally used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions and some, instead, established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded child labor (see section 7.c.), remained widespread.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. The government generally did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. Prosecutions were rare. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of these cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals.

Penalties under law varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; not all were sufficiently stringent. For example, bonded labor was specifically criminalized under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act), which prescribes penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment, which were not sufficiently stringent.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment continued to work with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to combat bonded labor. Based on the ILO’s concluded “convergence program,” the Odisha government entered into agreements with brick kiln owners in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to protect workers vulnerable to bonded labor.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported the federally funded, state-run Centrally Sponsored Scheme assisted in the release of 5,295 bonded laborers during the period April 2017 through March. Some NGOs reported delays in obtaining release certificates for rescued bonded laborers that were required to certify that employers had held them in bondage and entitled them to compensation under the law. The distribution of rehabilitation funds was uneven across states.

Estimates of the number of bonded laborers varied widely. Official government estimates place the number at 18 million workers in debt bondage. Most bonded labor occurred in agriculture. Nonagricultural sectors with a high incidence of bonded labor were stone quarries, brick kilns, rice mills, construction, embroidery factories, and beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes) production.

Bonded labor continued to be a concern in several states. On March 15, 155 migrant bonded laborers, including 31 children and 63 women, were rescued from a brick kiln in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu, by an NGO in cooperation with the district administration. Most of the rescued persons were paid less than 200 rupees ($3.00) a week. Police registered a case against the owner of the brick kiln. On August 1, government officials in Karimnagar District, Telangana, invoked section 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code to rescue 32 tribal workers from labor bondage at an irrigation canal worksite. The investigation revealed that each worker was paid an advance remuneration of 20,000 rupees ($280) for 12 hours of work every day for nine months.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. Although the central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation, especially in Arunachal Pradesh.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 14. The law also prohibits the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are prohibited from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than age 18 is prohibited, and where children younger than age 14 are prohibited from helping, including family enterprises. The law, however, permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained widespread.

State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Violations remained common. The law establishes a penalty in the range of 20,000 rupees ($280) to 50,000 rupees ($700) per child employed in hazardous industries. Such fines were often insufficient to deter violations, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment coordinated its efforts with states to raise awareness about child labor by funding various outreach events such as plays and community activities.

The majority of child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, in particular in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food service establishments. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). The NGO Child Rights and You stated in a July report that 23 million children between ages 15 and 18 worked in nonhazardous industries.

According to news reports, in a series of raids in February, district authorities and NGOs jointly rescued more than 150 child workers from roadside eateries, vehicle repair shops, artificial jewelry making units, and textile shops in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh.

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS or other communicable diseases, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The government effectively enforces the law and regulations within the formal sector. Penalties for violations included fines up to 93,750 rupees ($1,320), prison term ranging from three months to two years, or both. The law and regulations, however, do not protect those working within the informal sector (industries and establishments that do not fall under the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Federal law sets safety and health standards, but state government laws set minimum wages, hours of work, and additional state-specific safety and health standards. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty-level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek, as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, but it does not limit the amount of overtime a worker can perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages, hours of work, and safety and health standards. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards range from a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,410) to imprisonment for up to two years, but they were not sufficient to deter violations.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances, workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 16, seven workers at a farm in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, died allegedly due to asphyxiation caused by inhaling poisonous gases when they stepped into a septic tank without wearing protective gear to clean a flushing machine. On September 10, five workers in West Delhi engaged to clean a septic tank for an apartment building died when they were overcome by fumes.

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government system and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. The presidential administration controls the government, the legislature, and judiciary as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The 2015 presidential election, in which President Nazarbayev received 98 percent of the vote, was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition. The president’s Nur Otan Party won 82 percent of the vote in the 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observation mission judged the country continued to require considerable progress to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections. In June 2017 the country selected 16 of 47 senators and members of the parliament’s upper house in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in concurrence with the presidential administration.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; political prisoners; censorship; site blocking; criminalization of libel; restrictions on religion; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and restrictions on independent trade unions.

The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases; corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for those in positions of authority as well as for those connected to government or law enforcement officials.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings or beatings that led to deaths.

On April 30, the body of a 38-year-old resident of Karaganda who was allegedly shot and killed by Temirtau police officer Nurseit Kaldybayev was found in the city outskirts. Investigators proved that Kaldybayev had seized the victim’s car and intended to sell it to make money for his upcoming wedding party. On May 3, Kaldybayev was arrested and charged with premeditated murder. In August the Karaganda specialized criminal court found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to 19 years in jail.

On August 2, the Shakhtinsk Court convicted local prison director Baurbek Shotayev, prison officer Vitaly Zaretsky, and six prisoners–so-called voluntary assistants who receive special privileges in exchange for carrying out orders of prison staff–in the fatal torture of prisoner Valery Chupin. According to investigators, Chupin insulted a teacher at the prison school, and the prison director ordered that the voluntary assistants should discipline him. After brutal beatings and other abuse, Chupin was taken to a local hospital for emergency surgery, but he died. The judge sentenced Shotayev and Zaretsky to seven years of imprisonment each. The six prisoners convicted of carrying out the abuse received extended prison terms ranging from 10 to 17 years.

There were no official reports of military hazing resulting in death; however, there were instances of several deaths that the official investigations subsequently presented as suicides. Family members stated that the soldiers died because of hazing.

On July 15, 21-year-old conscript Bakytbek Myrzambekov died at the Ustyurt frontier station on the Kazakhstani-Turkmen border. According to the official report, on July 9, the soldier complained of food poisoning, was placed in the health unit two days later and died soon after of coronary artery disease. Family members did not believe the official explanation, denied he had heart problems, and asserted that he had died as a result of hazing, citing multiple bruises, including in the pelvic area.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits torture; nevertheless, police and prison officials allegedly tortured and abused detainees. Human rights activists asserted the domestic legal definition of torture was noncompliant with the definition of torture in the UN Convention against Torture.

The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) against Torture came into force in 2014 when the prime minister signed rules permitting the monitoring of institutions. The NPM is part of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and thus is not independent of the government. The Human Rights Ombudsman reported receiving 135 complaints alleging torture, violence, and other cruel and degrading treatment and punishment in 2017. In its April report covering activities in 2017, the NPM reported that despite some progress, problems with human rights abuses in prisons and temporary detention centers remained serious. Concerns included poor health and sanitary conditions; high risk of torture during search, investigation, and transit to other facilities; lack of feedback from prosecutors on investigation of torture complaints; lack of communication with families; discrimination against prisoners in vulnerable groups, including prisoners with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners, prisoners with HIV/AIDS, and other persons from vulnerable groups; and a lack of secure channels for submission of complaints. The report disclosed the problem of so-called voluntary assistants who are used to control other prisoners. Some observers commented that NPM staff lacked sufficient knowledge and training to recognize instances of torture.

In its official report, the prosecutor general indicated 103 cases of torture in the first seven months of the year, of which 16 cases were investigated and forwarded to courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life-threatening, and facilities did not meet international health standards. Health problems among prisoners went untreated in many cases, or prison conditions exacerbated them. Prisons faced serious shortage of medical staff.

Physical Conditions: According to Prison Reform International (PRI), although men and women were held separately and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners, during transitions from temporary detention centers, pretrial detention, and prisons, youth often were held with adults.

Abuse occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. Observers cited the lack of professional training programs for administrators as the primary cause of mistreatment.

To address infrastructural problems in prisons, authorities closed the eight prisons with the worst conditions. The NPM reported continuing infrastructure problems in prisons, such as unsatisfactory sanitary and hygiene conditions, including poor plumbing and sewerage systems and unsanitary bedding. It also reported shortages of medical staff and insufficient medicine, as well as problems of mobility for prisoners with disabilities. In many places the NPM noted restricted connectivity with the outside world and limited access to information regarding prisoners’ rights. PRI reported that there is widespread concern concerning food and nutrition quality in prisons. Prisoners and former prisoners have complained about their provisions and reported that they were served food past its shelf life.

The government did not publish statistics on the number of deaths, suicides, or attempted suicides in pretrial detention centers or prisons during the year.

Administration: Authorities typically did not conduct proper investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Human rights observers noted that in many cases authorities did not investigate prisoners’ allegations of torture or did not hold prison administrators or staff accountable. The law does not allow unapproved religious services, rites, ceremonies, meetings, or missionary activity in prisons. By law a prisoner in need of “religious rituals” or his relatives may ask to invite a representative of a registered religious organization to carry out religious rites, ceremonies, or meetings, provided they do not obstruct prison activity or violate the rights and legal interests of other individuals. PRI reported that some prisons prohibited Muslim prisoners from fasting during Ramadan.

Independent Monitoring: There were no independent international monitors of prisons. Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs), quasi-independent bodies that respond to allegations of and attempt to deter torture and mistreatment in prisons, carry out monitoring. In the first 10 months of the year, the PMCs conducted 340 monitoring visits to prisons facilities. Human rights advocates noted that some prisons created administrative barriers to prevent the PMCs from successfully carrying out their mandate, including creating bureaucratic delays, forcing the PMCs to wait for hours to gain access to the facilities, or allowing the PMCs to visit for only a short time.

Authorities began investigating the chair of the Public Monitoring Commission in Pavlodar, Elena Semyonova, on charges of dissemination of false information after she raised the issue of the torture and mistreatment of prisoners to EU parliamentarians in early July. The investigation was ongoing.

According to media reports, Aron Atabek, a poet who has been in prison for 12 years, complained to Semyonova regarding the conditions in his prison. He mentioned his cold, damp cell, his worn clothes, and the information vacuum he was held in without access to letters or television.

Improvements: The 2015 criminal code introduced alternative sentences, including fines and public service, but human rights activists noted they were not implemented effectively.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the practice occurred. The government did not provide statistics on the number of individuals unlawfully detained during the year. The prosecutor general reported that during the first six months of the year prosecutors released 423 individuals who were unlawfully held in police cells and offices.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security, including investigation and prevention of crimes and administrative offenses, and maintenance of public order and security. The Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption has administrative and criminal investigative powers. The Committee for National Security (KNB) plays a role in border security, internal and national security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups, such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. In July 2017 the president signed legislative amendments on a reform of the law enforcement agencies, including one giving power to the KNB to investigate corruption by officers of the secret services, anticorruption bureau, and military. The KNB, Syrbar (the foreign intelligence service), and the Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption all report directly to the president. Many government ministries maintained blogs where citizens could register complaints.

Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed, especially where corruption was involved or personal relationships with government officials were established.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A person apprehended as a suspect in a crime is taken to a police office for interrogation. Prior to interrogation, the accused should have the opportunity to meet with an attorney. Upon arrest the investigator may do an immediate body search if there is a reason to believe the detainee has a gun or may try to discard or destroy evidence. Within three hours of arrest, the investigator is required to write a statement declaring the reason for the arrest, the place and time of the arrest, the results of the body search, and the time of writing the statement, which is then signed by the investigator and the detained suspect. The investigator should also submit a written report to the prosecutor’s office within 12 hours of the signature of the statement.

The arrest must be approved by the court. It is a three-step procedure: (1) the investigator collects all evidence to justify the arrest and takes all materials of the case to the prosecutor; (2) the prosecutor studies the evidence and takes it to court within 12 hours; and (3) the court proceeding is held with the participation of the criminal suspect, the suspect’s lawyer, and the prosecutor. If within 48 hours of the arrest the administration of the detention facility has not received a court decision approving the arrest, the administration should immediately release him/her and notify the officer who handles the case and the prosecutor. The duration of preliminary detention may be extended to 72 hours in a variety of cases, including grave or terrorist crimes, crimes committed by criminal groups, drug trafficking, sexual crimes against a minor, and others. The court may choose other forms of restraint: house arrest, restriction of movement, or a written requirement not to leave the city and place of residence. According to human rights activists, these procedures were frequently ignored.

The Prosecutor General reported that the December 2017 amendments to the criminal procedure code reduced the number of causes for arrest and the length of time for preliminary detention from 72 to 48 hours, and cut the number of arrested suspects by 1,500. Authorities held in custody 83 percent of detained individuals for not more than 48 hours.

Although the judiciary has the authority to deny or grant arrest warrants, judges authorized prosecutor warrant requests in the vast majority of cases.

Persons detained, arrested, or accused of committing a crime have the right to the assistance of a defense lawyer from the moment of detention, arrest, or accusation. The 2015 criminal procedure code obliges police to inform detainees concerning their rights, including the right to an attorney. Human rights observers stated that prisoners were constrained in their ability to communicate with their attorneys, that penitentiary staff secretly recorded conversations, and that staff often remained present during the meetings between defendants and attorneys.

Human rights defenders reported that authorities dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before a detainee’s attorney arrived, and in some cases used defense attorneys to gather evidence. The law states that the government must provide an attorney for an indigent suspect or defendant when the suspect is a minor, has physical or mental disabilities, or faces serious criminal charges, but public defenders often lacked the necessary experience and training to assist defendants. Defendants are barred from freely choosing their defense counsel if the cases against them involve state secrets. The law allows only lawyers who have special clearance to work on such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Prosecutors reported six incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention in the first six months of the year.

The government frequently arrested and detained political opponents and critics, sometimes for minor infractions, such as unsanctioned assembly, that led to fines or up to 10 days’ administrative arrest.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows police to hold a detainee for 48 hours before bringing charges. Human rights observers stated that authorities often used this phase of detention to torture, beat, and abuse inmates to extract confessions.

Once charged, detainees may be held in pretrial detention for up to two months. Depending on the complexity and severity of the alleged offense, authorities may extend the term for up to 18 months while the investigation takes place. The pretrial detention term may not be longer than the potential sentence for the offense. Upon the completion of the investigation, the investigator puts together an official indictment. The materials of the case are shared with the defendant and then sent to the prosecutor, who has five days to check the materials and forward them to the court.

The 2015 criminal code introduced the concept of conditional release on bail, although use of bail procedures is limited. Prolonged pretrial detentions remain commonplace. The bail system is designed for persons who commit a criminal offense for the first time or for a crime of minor or moderate severity not associated with causing death or grievous bodily harm to the victim, provided that the penalties for conviction of committing such a crime contain a fine as an alternative penalty. Bail is not available to suspects of grave crimes, crimes that led to death or were committed by a criminal group, terrorist or extremist crimes, or if there is a justified reason to believe that the suspect would hinder investigation of the case or would escape, or if the suspect violated the terms of bail in the past.

The law grants prisoners prompt access to family members, although authorities occasionally sent prisoners to facilities located far from their homes and relatives, thus preventing access for those unable to travel.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The code of criminal procedure spells out a detainee’s right to submit a complaint, challenge the justification for detention, or to seek a pretrial probation as an alternative to arrest. Detainees have 15 days to submit complaints to the administration of the pretrial detention facility or to local court. An investigative judge has three to 10 days to overturn or uphold the challenged decision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and have the authority to suspend court decisions.

Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors stated that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in many criminal and civil cases.

Corruption in the judicial system was widespread. Bribes and irregular payments were regularly exchanged in order to obtain favorable court decisions. In many cases the courts were controlled by the interests of the ruling elite, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report for 2018. According to the same report, the process is not public and open as “all participants in criminal processes sign a pledge of secrecy of investigation.” Recruitment of judges was plagued by corruption, and becoming a judge often required bribing various officials, according to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index report for the year.

Business entities were reluctant to approach courts because foreign businesses have a historically poor record when challenging government regulations and contractual disputes within the local judicial system. Judicial outcomes were perceived as subject to political influence and interference due to a lack of independence. A dedicated investment dispute panel was established in 2016, yet investor concerns regarding the panel’s independence and strong bias in favor of government officials remained. Companies expressed reluctance to seek foreign arbitration because anecdotal evidence suggested the government looks unfavorably on cases involving foreign judicial entities.

Judges were punished for violations of judicial ethics. According to official statistics, during the first nine months of the year authorities convicted two judges for corruption crimes. On June 13, the court in Shymkent convicted Makhta-Aral District Court judge Abay Niazbekov for taking a bribe and sentenced him to 4.5 years of imprisonment and a life ban on working in government offices and state-owned enterprises. On January 30, authorities caught Niazbekov accepting a bribe of 500,000 tenge ($1,360) in his office.

Military courts have jurisdiction over civilian criminal defendants in cases allegedly connected to military personnel. Military courts use the same criminal code as civilian courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

All defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and by law are protected from self-incrimination. Trials are public except in instances that could compromise state secrets or when necessary to protect the private life or personal family concerns of a citizen.

Jury trials are held by a panel of 10 jurors and one judge and have jurisdiction over crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment, as well as grave crimes such as trafficking and engagement of minors in criminal activity. Activists criticized juries for a bias towards the prosecution as a result of the pressure that judges applied on jurors, experts, and witnesses.

Observers noted the juror selection process was inconsistent. Judges exerted pressure on jurors and could easily dissolve a panel of jurors for perceived disobedience of their orders. The law has no mechanism for holding judges liable for such actions.

Indigent defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and a government-provided attorney. By law a defendant must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment. Defense attorneys, however, reportedly participated in only one half of criminal cases, in part because the government failed to pay them properly or on time. The law also provides defendants the rights to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, to confront witnesses against them, and to call witnesses for the defense. They have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to observers, prosecutors dominated trials, and defense attorneys played a minor role.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported numerous problems in the judicial system, including lack of access to court proceedings, lack of access to government-held evidence, frequent procedural violations, denial of defense counsel motions, and failure of judges to investigate allegations that authorities extracted confessions through torture or duress.

Lack of due process remained a problem, particularly in a handful of politically motivated trials involving opposition activists and in cases in which there were allegations of improper political or financial influence.

Human rights and international observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that emphasized a confession of guilt regarding over collection of other evidence in building a criminal case against a defendant. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that officials obtained confessions by torture or duress.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Open Dialog Foundation maintained a list of approximately 24 individuals it considered detained or imprisoned based on politically motivated charges, including land code activist Maks Bokayev and individuals connected to the opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, led by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, and other individuals connected to Ablyazov. Convicted labor union leader Larisa Kharkova remained under restricted movement, unable to leave her home city without permission of authorities. Human rights organizations have access to prisoners through the framework of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

Land code activist Maks Bokayev was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for organizing peaceful land reform protests. Although the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his imprisonment was arbitrary, he remained in jail.

On October 22, a court in Almaty found businessman Iskander Yerimbetov guilty of fraud for illegally fixing prices in his aviation logistics company and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. Human rights observers criticized numerous violations in the investigation and court proceedings, including allegations of physical mistreatment, and condemned the case as politically motivated. On December 11, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined his deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary. The Working Group was concerned by the lack of a warrant at the time of arrest, procedural violations during his detention and trial, and Yerimbetov’s well-being while in detention.

On August 17, authorities released Vadim Kuramshin, a human rights defender designated by civil society organizations as an individual imprisoned on politically motivated charges, on parole after six years in prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Economic and administrative court judges handle civil cases under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. Although the law and constitution provide for judicial resolution of civil disputes, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable.

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

The constitution and law prohibit violations of privacy, but the government at times infringed on these rights.

The law provides prosecutors with extensive authority to limit citizens’ constitutional rights. The KNB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, may infringe on the secrecy of private communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Human rights activists reported incidents of alleged surveillance, including KNB officers visiting activists and their families’ homes for “unofficial” conversations regarding suspect activities, wiretapping and recording of telephone conversations, and videos of private meetings posted on social media.

Courts may hear an appeal of a prosecutor’s decision but may not issue an immediate injunction to cease an infringement. The law allows wiretapping in medium, urgent, and grave cases.

Government opponents, human rights defenders, and their family members continued to report the government occasionally monitored their movements.

In July 2017 the prime minister transferred the State Technical Service for centralized management of telecommunication networks and for monitoring of information systems from the Ministry of Information and Communication to the KNB.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right. The law defines unsanctioned gatherings, public meetings, demonstrations, marches, picketing, and strikes that upset social and political stability as national security threats.

The law includes penalties for organizing or participating in illegal gatherings and for providing organizational support in the form of property, means of communication, equipment, and transportation, if the enumerated actions cause significant damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens, entities, or legally protected interests of the society or the government.

By law organizations must apply to local authorities at least 10 days in advance for a permit to hold a demonstration or public meeting. Opposition figures and human rights monitors complained that complicated and vague procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult for groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations and noted local authorities turned down many applications for demonstrations or only allowed them to take place outside the city center.

Activists in Almaty applied to hold a public gathering on August 4 to demand police reform following the death of Olympic medalist Denis Ten. The mayor’s office refused the request, stating that the only place designated for public events in Almaty had already been reserved for another event. The Astana mayor’s office similarly declined a demonstration request. The Almaty activists subsequently submitted 31 petitions requesting a gathering to be held any day in the next month; the mayor’s office denied them all.

On May 10, several dozen individuals staged a protest initiated by fugitive banker and leader of the banned opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) Mukhtar Ablyazov to demand the release of political prisoners and an end to torture. The protest had not received government approval. Police dispersed the protestors and detained several, among them random passers-by and minors, according to activists. Some of those detained were punished by court fines or short administrative detentions. The government did not release any official data on the number of detained or punished protestors.

On June 23, the DCK called another unapproved rally. Police preemptively arrested a number of individuals thought to be involved in the protests. Human rights advocacy organizations reported that those detained included passersby, senior citizens, pregnant women, and children. In several cities reporters who came to cover the event were briefly detained. All detainees were taken to police stations and held there for several hours without food or water. Human rights observers criticized police for unjustified detention and numerous procedural violations in holding the detainees in custody. There were no official reports on the number of those detained. Human rights advocates stated that more than a hundred individuals were detained in Almaty, 30 in Astana, and at least a dozen in Shymkent. In some cities protestors dispersed without police involvement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for limited freedom of association, but there were significant restrictions on this right. Any public organization set up by citizens, including religious groups, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice, as well as with the local departments of justice in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires public or religious associations to define their specific activities, and any association that acts outside the scope of its charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or ultimately banned. Participation in unregistered public organizations may result in administrative or criminal penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, the closure of an organization, or suspension of its activities.

NGOs reported some difficulty in registering public associations. According to government information, these difficulties were due to discrepancies in the submitted documents.

Membership organizations other than religious groups, which are covered under separate legislation, must have at least 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in more than one-half the country’s regions for national registration. The government considered political parties and labor unions to be membership organizations but required political parties to have 40,000 signatures for registration. If authorities challenge the application by alleging irregular signatures, the registration process may continue only if the total number of eligible signatures exceeds the minimum number required. The law prohibits parties established on an ethnic, gender, or religious basis. The law also prohibits members of the armed forces, employees of law enforcement and other national security organizations, and judges from participating in trade unions or political parties.

According to Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur who visited Kazakhstan in 2015, the law regulating the establishment of political parties is problematic as it imposes onerous obligations prior to registration, including high initial membership requirements that prevent small parties from forming and extensive documentation that requires time and significant expense to collect. He also expressed concern regarding the broad discretion granted to officials in charge of registering proposed parties, noting that the process lacked transparency and the law allows for perpetual extensions of time for the government to review a party’s application.

Under the 2015 NGO financing law, all “nongovernment organizations, subsidiaries, and representative offices of foreign and international noncommercial organizations” are required to provide information on “their activities, including information regarding the founders, assets, sources of their funds and what they are spent on….” An “authorized body” may initiate a “verification” of the information submitted based on information received in mass media reports, complaints from individuals and entities, or other subjective sources. Untimely or inaccurate information contained in the report, discovered during verification, is an administrative offense and may carry fines up to 53,025 tenge ($159) or suspension for three months if the violation is not rectified or is repeated within one year. In extreme cases criminal penalties are possible, which may lead to a large fine, suspension, or closure of the organization.

The law prohibits illegal interference by members of public associations in the activities of the government, with a fine of up to 636,300 tenge ($1,910) or imprisonment for up to 75 days. If committed by the leader of the organization, the fine may be up to 1.06 million tenge ($3,180) or imprisonment for no more than 90 days. The law does not clearly define “illegal interference.”

By law a public association, along with its leaders and members, may face fines for performing activities outside its charter. The law is not clear regarding the delineation between actions an NGO member may take in his or her private capacity versus as part of an organization.

The law establishes broad reporting requirements concerning the receipt and expenditure of foreign funds or assets; it also requires labeling all publications produced with support from foreign funds. The law also sets out administrative and criminal penalties for noncompliance with these requirements and potential restrictions on the conduct of meetings, protests, and similar activities organized with foreign funds.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights activists noted numerous violations of labor migrants’ rights, particularly those of unregulated migrants. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted a growing number of migrants who were banned re-entry to Russia and chose to stay in Kazakhstan. The government does not have a mechanism for integration of migrants, with the exception of ethnic Kazakh repatriates (oralman). Labor migrants from neighboring Central Asian countries are often low-skilled and seek manual labor. They were exposed to dangerous work and often faced abusive practices. The migrants are in vulnerable positions because of their unregulated legal status; the laborers do not know their rights, national labor and migration legislation, local culture, or the language.

Among major violations of these migrants’ rights, activists mentioned the lack of employment contracts, poor working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, nonpayment or delayed payment of salaries, and lack of adequate housing. Migrant workers faced the risk of falling victim to human trafficking and forced labor, and the International Labor Organization indicated migrants had very limited or no access to the justice system, social support, or basic health services. In its 2018 report the International Federation for Human Rights stated violations of labor migrants’ rights additionally included corruption of police forces’ migration officers and in other government offices. The report noted increased discrimination against migrants in society, exacerbated by their lack of information, education, and language difficulties.

In-country Movement: The government required foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with migration police. Foreigners entering the country had to register at certain border posts or airports where they entered. Some foreigners experienced problems traveling in regions outside their registration area. The government’s Concept on Improving Migration Policyreport covers internal migration, repatriation of ethnic Kazakh returnees (oralman), and external labor migration. In 2017 the government amended the rules for migrants entering the country so that migrants from Eurasian Economic Union countries may stay up to 90 days. There is a registration exemption for families of legal migrant workers for a 30-day period after the worker starts employment. The government has broad authority to deport those who violate the regulations.

Since 2011 the government has not reported the number of foreigners deported for gross violation of visitor rules. Individuals facing deportation may request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements they would not leave their city of residence.

Authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas adjoining China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur.

Foreign Travel: The government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, yet there were certain instances in which the government could deny exit from the country, including in the case of travelers subject to pending criminal or civil proceedings or having unfulfilled prison sentences, unpaid taxes, fines, alimony or utility bills, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who present false documentation during the exit process could be denied the right to exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military personnel. The law requires persons who had access to state secrets to obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.

Exile: The law does not prohibit forced exile if authorized by an appropriate government agency or through a court ruling.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees from countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. There are approximately 600 recognized refugees in the country, and the government recognized six persons as refugees during the first nine months of the year. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably during the year compared with prior years.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR legally may appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation. The law and several implementing regulations and bylaws regulate the granting of asylum and refugee status.

The Refugee Status Determination outlines procedures and access to government services, including the right to be legally registered and issued official documents. The Department of Migration Police in the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts status determination procedures. Any individual seeking asylum in the country has access to the asylum procedure. According to UNHCR, the refugee system suffers from two major issues. First, access to the territory of Kazakhstan is limited. A person who crosses the border illegally may be prosecuted in criminal court, and may be viewed as a person with criminal potential. Second, access to asylum procedures falls short of the international standard. Authorities remain reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lack valid identity documents, citing security concerns.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and authorities in other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The government does not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial or medical assistance. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work, with the exception of engaging in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights.

Access to Basic Services: All refugees recognized by the government receive a refugee certificate that allows them to stay in the country legally. The majority of refugees have been residing in the country for many years. Their status as “temporarily residing aliens” hinders their access to the full range of rights stipulated in the 1951 convention and the law. Refugee status lasts for one year and is subject to annual renewal. This year, it became possible for refugees to apply for permanent residency provided that they have a valid passport. Some refugees have already received permanent residency this year, and they are to be eligible to become Kazakhstani citizens after five years. The law also lacks provisions on treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees have access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but have no access to social benefits or allowances.

UNHCR reported cordial relations with the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government usually allowed UNHCR access to detained foreigners to provide for proper treatment and fair determination of status.

The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations.

Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other. UNHCR reported three Uighurs received refugee status during the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and law provide avenues to deal with those considered stateless, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. As of September approximately 6,900 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless. The majority of individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

In July 2017 the president signed a law that allows the government to deprive Kazakhstani citizenship to individuals convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR, no one has yet been deprived of citizenship under this law.

According to UNHCR the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons is documented and considered as having permanent residency, which is granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals. A legal procedure exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years. In summary the law does not provide a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons. Existing legislation prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, which hindered their access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

Persons rejected or whose status of stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.

Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, with the exception of government positions. They may face challenges when concluding labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.

UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor migration, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited exercise of this right.

Although the 2017 constitutional amendments increased legislative and executive branch authority in some spheres, the constitution continues to concentrate power in the presidency itself. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, the KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. Parliament has never failed to confirm a presidential nomination. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent. Constitutional amendments exempt the president from the two-term presidential term limit and protect him from prosecution.

The law on the first president–the “Leader of the Nation” law–established President Nazarbayev as chair of the Kazakhstan People’s Assembly and of the Security Council for life, granted him lifetime membership on the Constitutional Council, allows him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulates that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An early presidential election in 2015 gave President Nazarbayev 97.5 percent of the vote. According to the New York Times newspaper, his two opponents, who both supported the Nazarbayev government, were seen as playing a perfunctory role as opposition candidates. The OSCE stated that the election process in most cases was managed effectively, although the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission stated voters were not given a choice of political alternatives and noted that both “opposition” candidates had openly praised Nazarbayev’s achievements. Some voters reportedly had been pressured to vote for the incumbent.

In June 2017 16 of the 47 members of the Senate were selected by members of maslikhats–local representative bodies–acting as electors to represent each oblast (administrative region) and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Four incumbent senators were re-elected, and the majority of the newly elected senators were affiliated with the ruling Nur Otan Party.

As a result of early Mazhilis elections in 2016, the ruling Nur Otan Party won 84 seats, Ak Zhol won seven seats, and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won seven seats. The ODIHR reported widespread ballot stuffing and inflated vote totals. The ODIHR criticized the election for falling short of the country’s democratic commitments. The legal framework imposed substantial restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights. On election day serious procedural errors and irregularities were noted during voting, counting, and tabulation.

In June the government amended the election law, reducing the independence of local representative bodies (maslikhats). Previously, citizens could nominate and vote for candidates running in elections for the maslikhats. Under the amended law, citizens vote for parties and parties choose who sits on the maslikhats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties.

There were six political parties registered, including Ak Zhol, Birlik, and the People’s Patriotic Party “Auyl” (merged from the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Social Democratic Party). The parties generally did not oppose President Nazarbayev’s policies.

To register, a political party must hold a founding congress with a minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates, including representatives from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 600 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana, Turkistan, and Almaty, registration from the Central Election Commission (CEC), and registration from each oblast-level election commission.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption was widespread in the executive branch, law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary, according to human rights NGOs. On July 12, the president signed into law a set of amendments to the criminal legislation mitigating punishment for a variety of acts of corruption by officials, including decriminalizing official inaction, hindrance to business activities, and falsification of documents; significantly reducing the amounts of fines for taking bribes; and reinstituting a statute of limitation for corruption crimes.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Agency on Civil Service Affairs and Combatting Corruption, the KNB, and the Disciplinary State Service Commission are responsible for combating corruption. The KNB investigates corruption crimes committed by officers of the special agencies, anticorruption bureau, and military. According to official statistics, 1,024 corruption-related offenses were registered during the first seven months of the year. The most frequent crimes were bribery (52 percent), embezzlement (21 percent), and abuse of power (17 percent). The government charged 663 officials with corruption, and 1,370 cases were submitted to courts.

On July 12, a court in Astana sentenced the former chairman of the Geology and Subsoil Committee of the Ministry of Investment and Development, Bazarbay Nurabayev, to seven-and-a-half years of imprisonment, confiscation of property, and a lifetime ban on government service. According to the court, Nurabayev systematically schemed to take bribes from businessmen in exchange for subsoil contracts in various regions of the country. He was caught accepting a bribe of $20,000 in March 2017.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials, applicants for government positions, and those released from government service to declare their income and assets in the country and abroad to tax authorities annually. The same requirement applies to their spouses, dependents, and adult children. Similar regulations exist for members of parliament and judges. Tax declarations are not available to the public. The law imposes administrative penalties for noncompliance with the requirements.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated with some freedom to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases, although some restrictions on human rights NGO activities remained. International and local human rights groups reported the government monitored NGO activities on sensitive issues and practiced harassment, including police visits to and surveillance of NGO offices, personnel, and family members. Government officials often were uncooperative or nonresponsive to their views.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs-led Consultative Advisory Body (CAB) for dialogue on democracy, human rights, rule of law, and legislative work continued to operate during the year. The CAB includes government ministries and prominent international and domestic NGOs, as well as international organization observers. The NGO community generally was positive regarding the work of the CAB, saying the platform enabled greater communication with the government regarding issues of concern. The government and NGOs, however, did not agree on recommendations on issues the government considered sensitive, and some human rights concerns were barred from discussion. NGOs reported that government bodies accepted some recommendations, although, according to the NGOs, the accepted recommendations were technical rather than substantive.

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Kadyr Kassiyet, the Legal Media Center, and PRI were among the most visibly active human rights NGOs. Some NGOs faced occasional difficulties in acquiring office space and technical facilities. Government leaders participated–and regularly included NGOs–in roundtables and other public events on democracy and human rights.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government invited UN special rapporteurs to visit the country and meet with NGOs dealing with human rights. The government generally did not prevent other international NGOs and multilateral institutions dealing with human rights from visiting the country and meeting with local human rights groups and government officials. National security laws prohibit foreigners, international organizations, NGOs, and other nonprofit organizations from engaging in political activities. The government prohibited international organizations from funding unregistered entities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Presidential Commission on Human Rights is a consultative and advisory body that includes top officials and members of the public appointed by the president. The commission reviews and investigates complaints, issues recommendations, monitors fulfillment of international human rights conventions, and publishes reports on some human rights issues in close cooperation with several international organizations, such as UNHCR, the OSCE, the IOM, and UNICEF. The commission does not have legal authority to remedy human rights violations or implement its recommendations in the reports.

A recent constitutional change stipulated that the Human Rights Ombudsman be selected by the Senate; however, the existing ombudsman was appointed by the president. He also serves as the chair of the Coordinating Council of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture.

The ombudsman did not have the authority to investigate complaints concerning decisions of the president, heads of government agencies, parliament, cabinet, Constitutional Council, Prosecutor General’s Office, CEC, or courts, although he may investigate complaints against individuals. The ombudsman’s office has the authority to appeal to the president, cabinet, or parliament to resolve citizens’ complaints; cooperate with international human rights organizations and NGOs; meet with government officials concerning human rights abuses; visit certain facilities, such as military units and prisons; and publicize in media the results of investigations. The ombudsman’s office also published an annual human rights report. During the year the ombudsman’s office occasionally briefed media and issued reports on complaints it had investigated.

Domestic human rights observers indicated that the ombudsman’s office and the Human Rights Commission were unable to stop human rights abuses or punish perpetrators. The commission and ombudsman avoided addressing underlying structural problems that led to human rights abuses, although they advanced human rights by publicizing statistics and individual cases and aided citizens with less controversial social problems and issues involving lower-level elements of the bureaucracy.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for conviction of rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases.

Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The law sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for any assault. The law also permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live, allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence, and replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if paying fines was hurting victims as well as perpetrators.

NGOs estimated that on average 12 women each day were subjected to domestic violence and more than 400 women died annually as a result of violence sustained from their spouses. Due in part to social stigma, research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that a majority of victims of partner abuse never told anyone of their abuse. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life-threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile.

On January 22, the Karatau District Court in Shymkent sentenced Khairulla Narmetov to 3.5 years in jail for injuring his wife Umida. In November 2017 he had attacked her with a knife and injured her severely. After a difficult six-hour surgery, doctors managed to save her life. During the court trial, Umida forgave her husband “for the sake of the children,” she said.

The government opened domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the NGO Union of Crisis Centers, there were 28 crisis centers, which provided reliable services to victims of domestic violence. Of these crisis centers, approximately a dozen have shelters.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of eight to 10 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to sort out their situation themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very bureaucratic process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness carries criminal liability in terms of sexual assault. In no instance was the law used to protect the victim, nor were there reports of any prosecutions.

According to studies conducted by NGOs, half of all working women (53 percent) were subject to sexual advances from male supervisors and 14 percent received advances from colleagues. None of those women reached out to police with complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.

In March a group of NGOs and media activists set up Korgau123, an organization to support victims of harassment, and launched a hotline.

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

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained a serious problem. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and other property rights.

Children

In 2016 the president issued a decree to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Child Rights (Children’s Ombudsman) to improve the national system of child rights protection.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper paperwork, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers were denied birth certificates.

Child Abuse: School violence was a problem, and experts estimated two of three schoolchildren suffered or witnessed violence. Violence and abuse were particularly serious in boarding schools and orphanages. An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 children suffered from either psychological or physical abuse by their parents. According to UNICEF, 75 percent of the public supported the use of violent methods of disciplining children, and children faced violence at home, schools, children’s group homes, and on the street. Humanium, an international child rights NGO, reported that mistreatment was becoming rarer, but still occurred regularly in boarding schools, foster homes, and prisons and detention centers. Children who were victims of such violence did not have easy access to adequate complaint mechanisms.

There were reports of selling newborn babies.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but it may be reduced to 16 in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement. According to the United Nations Population Fund about 3,000 early and forced marriages occurred annually. Many couples first married in mosques and then registered officially when the bride reached the legal age. The government did not take any action to address the issue.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex, but it provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse. The Children’s Ombudsman noted that the number of sexual violence incidents reported increased 38 percent compared with the previous year.

The law criminalizes the production and distribution of child pornography and provides administrative penalties to cover the sale of pornographic materials to minors. The country retains administrative penalties for child pornography. Perpetrators convicted of sexual offenses against minors receive a lifetime ban on working with children.

Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted that the number of street children, mainly in large cities, was high. According to the Children’s Ombudsman, the number of street children was increasing. The Children’s Rights Protection Committee reports that 1,422 street children, 233 orphans, 21 delinquent children and 12 children from problematic families were referred to Centers for Delinquent Children in the first quarter of the year. Of the total, 1,371 were returned to their families. The remaining children were sent to orphanages (97), foster families (33), or correctional boarding schools (22).

Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions, such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children, were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages or closed institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Children’s Rights Protection Committee, the number of orphans who lived in orphanages decreased from approximately 7,000 in 2016 to 6,223 in 2017. The rest of the 27,274 orphan children were in foster or other home care.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

Leaders of the Jewish community estimated that the country’s Jewish population was approximately 10,000. They reported no incidents of anti-Semitism by the government or in society.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination existed. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was lacking.

The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities, and the government enacted high-level enforcement measures to enhance economic opportunities as part of the president’s strategy 2050; nevertheless, there were reports persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment. The government identified the two biggest barriers facing persons with disabilities as poor infrastructure and lack of access to education, while persons with disabilities expressed difficulty accessing public transportation.

Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities: some airlines refused to sell tickets to persons with disabilities seeking to travel alone and insisted that they should be escorted by assistants; doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children; and treatment of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.

The government did not legally restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and arranged home voting for individuals who could not travel to accessible polling places.

There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers believed this led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed young persons under the age of 18 with the permission of their families. According to an NPM report, most of the hospitals required extensive maintenance. Other problems observed included shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and air.

Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions and signs of possible torture of patients, but any institutions holding children, including orphanages, were not on the list of institutions NPM members may visit.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Kazakh is the official state language, although Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication. The law requires presidential candidates to be fluent in Kazakh. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, but all prospective civil servants are required to pass a Kazakh language exam.

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

According to the constitution, no one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin; occupational, social, or property status; sex; race; nationality; language; religion or belief; place of residence; or any other circumstances. The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity.

Although gender reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care.

There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence. Although there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were reports of such actions. According to an NGO survey within the LGBTI community, 48 percent of respondents experienced violence or hate because of their sexual orientation, and 56 percent responded they knew someone who suffered from violence. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults.

NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially with regard to employment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, but stigma resulted in societal discrimination that continued to affect access to information, services, treatment, and care. The National Center for AIDS provides free diagnosis and treatment to all citizens.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers’ right to unionize, but limits workers’ freedom of association. The trade union law amended in July 2017, restricts workers’ freedom of association by requiring existing independent labor unions to affiliate with larger, progovernment unions at the industry, sector, or regional level and by erecting significant barriers to the creation of independent unions.

In January 2017 a southern regional court cancelled the registration of the Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CITUK), ordering its liquidation and removal from the national register. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK) is the successor to state-sponsored Soviet-era labor organizations and the largest national trade union association, with approximately 90 percent of union members on its rolls. The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent ones. Critics charged that the FTUK was too close to the government to advocate for workers effectively, was biased in favor of large employers and oligarchs, and that the law helped the FTUK in its unfair competition against independent labor unions.

In May the former chair of the Oil Construction Company (OCC) Trade Union, Amin Yeleussinov, who was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2017, was released on parole. Nurbek Kushakbaev, vice-chairperson of CITUK who was sentenced to two and a half years in April 2017, was also released on parole in May. Civil society organizations called for their convictions–as well as that of former chairman of CITUK, Larisa Kharkova–to be vacated. On June 6, the Appeals Court of the Mangystau Region revoked a April 11 ruling of the region’s economic court to close down the OCC Trade Union as illegal and returned the case for further review.

On September 25, police opened a criminal investigation into Yerlan Baltabay, the leader of an independent union of petrochemical workers in Shymkent, following a complaint by a member of his union about financial violations. Police searched Baltabay’s office and interrogated Baltabay without disclosing the nature of the charges against him. On October 18, authorities searched Baltabay’s house and seized documents relating to the union. Human rights observers noted the parallels to the investigation and ultimate conviction of Larisa Kharkova in 2017, and alleged that Baltabay has been targeted for his independent labor union activism.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and a court may order reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. Penalties for violations of these provisions included fines and imprisonment of up to 75 days, but these penalties did not deter violations. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 33.4 percent of working enterprises have collective agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike in principle but imposes onerous restrictions that make strikes unlikely. For example, the right to strike may be granted only after the dispute is brought to a reconciliatory commission for consideration. In addition by law there are a variety of circumstances in which strikes are illegal. A blanket legal restriction bars certain occupations from striking. Military and other security service members, emergency medical, fire, and rescue crews, as well as those who operate “dangerous” production facilities are forbidden to strike. By law such strikes are illegal.

Workers employed in the railway, transport and communications, civil aviation, health-care, and public utilities sectors may strike, but only if they maintain minimum services, do not interrupt nonstop production processes (such as metallurgy), and leave key equipment unaffected. Numerous legal limitations restrict workers’ right to strike in other industries as well. Generally, workers may not strike unless a labor dispute cannot be resolved through compulsory arbitration procedures. Decisions to strike must be taken in a meeting where at least one-half of an enterprise’s workers are present. A written notice announcing a strike must be submitted to the employer at least five days in advance.

Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal. The law also enables the government to target labor organizers whose strikes are deemed illegal, including by imposing criminal charges and up to three years in prison for conviction of participation in strikes declared illegal by the court.

The labor code limits worker rights to make claims on their employers. For example, its Article 12 requires employers to negotiate any labor-related act with official employee representatives. If there are multiple official representatives, they have five days in which to form a unified body to discuss the proposed act. If the group cannot come to consensus, the employer may accept the act without the consent of the employees. Article 52 lists 25 reasons an employer may fire a worker.

Disagreements between unions and their employers may be presented to a tripartite commission composed of representatives of the government, labor unions, and employer associations. State-affiliated and independent labor unions participate in tripartite commissions. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual agreements governing most aspects of labor relations.

Foreign workers have the right to join unions, but the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and the financing of unions by foreign entities, such as foreign citizens, governments, and international organizations. Irregular migrants and self-employed individuals resided in the country were not per se exempt from the law. Approximately two million of the nine million economically active citizens were self-employed in the second quarter of the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except when it is a consequence of a court sentencing or a condition of a state of emergency or martial law.

The penal code provides for punishment of convicted traffickers and those who facilitate forced exploitation and trafficking, including labor recruiters who hire workers through deliberately fraudulent or deceptive offers with the intent to subject them to forced labor or employers or labor agents who confiscate passports or travel documents to keep workers in a state of involuntary servitude. Conviction of trafficking in persons for the purpose of labor and sexual exploitation is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Conviction of kidnapping and illegal deprivation of freedom with the purpose of labor or sexual exploitation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison with confiscation of assets; such penalties were sufficient.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for conducting checks of employers to reveal labor law violations, including exploitation of foreign workers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings. The government effectively enforced the law in most cases. Police conducted interagency operations to find victims of forced labor. In 2017 police investigated 101 criminal cases on human trafficking, and courts convicted 29 traffickers, including 20 for sexual exploitation, eight for labor exploitation, and one for another violation.

Migrant workers were considered most at risk for forced or compulsory labor. According to a 2016 IOM report, there were an estimated 950,000 migrants in the country, with the majority of migrant workers coming from Uzbekistan, but there were also lesser numbers from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Migrant workers found employment primarily in agriculture and construction. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for handling issues related to migrant labor. In 2017 the government adopted a new Concept of Migration policy for 2017-2021 and an accompanying implementation plan. Together, these changes addressed both internal and external modern challenges, such as the excess of low-skilled labor due to increased inflow of labor migrants from other Central Asian countries and the deficiency of high-skilled labor in some sectors of the economy due to a low-level of education.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The general minimum age for employment is 16. With parental permission, however, children ages 14 through 16 may perform light work that does not interfere with their health or education. The law prohibits minors from engaging in hazardous work and restricts the length of the workday for employees younger than 18.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws and for administrative offenses punishable by fines. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating criminal offenses and training criminal police in investigating the worst forms of child labor.

The law provides for non-criminal punishments for violations of the law, including written warnings, suspensions, terminations, the withdrawal of licenses for specific types of activities, administrative penalties or fines, and administrative arrest (only by court decision and only up to 15 days for violation of legislation in relation to minors). Such violations include employment of minors without an employment agreement, which is punishable by fine with suspension of the employer’s license. Untimely or incorrect payment of salaries, non-provision of vacation or time off, excessive work hours, and discrimination in the workplace were also punishable by fines.

Prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor include criminal punishment under the penal code. Conviction of violation of minimum age employment in hazardous work is punishable up to five years in prison with or without a three-year ban on specific types of employment and activities. Conviction of engaging minors in pornographic shows or production of materials containing pornographic images of minors is punishable up to 10 years in prison; conviction of coercion of minors into prostitution is punishable up to 12 years in prison; conviction of kidnapping or illegal deprivation of freedom of a minor for the purpose of exploitation and trafficking in minors is punishable up to 15 years in prison, with a lifetime ban on activities and work with children. Such penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported child labor in domestic servitude, markets, construction sites, and activities such as car washes, cultivation of vegetables, and begging. For example, in 2017 seven children were found working in gas stations. Local NGOs indicated that child labor on family farms still exists in the seasonal production of cotton, and at least one child was found working in a cotton field in 2017. Media reported in 2017 a 16-year old boy died in a cotton field due to injuries suffered while loading cotton bales.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The government effectively enforced the law and regulations. Discrimination is an administrative offense punishable by a fine up to 481,000 tenge ($1,332). Some cases like illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority are considered a criminal offense and are punishable if convicted by fine, detention for up to 50 days’, or deprivation of the right to hold certain posts or engage in certain work-related activities.

Discrimination, however, occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, orphans, and former convicts. Disability NGOs reported that despite government efforts, obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation and asserted the law’s definition of gender discrimination does not comply with international standards. More women than men were self-employed or underemployed relative to their education level.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year the national monthly minimum wage was comparable to the monthly subsistence income level. As of August 1.3 million citizens of a nine-million person workforce were not registered as either employed or unemployed, meaning that they likely work in the informal economy. These workers are concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part work without health, social, or pension benefits.

The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours and limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to no more than 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50-percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers about any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action.

Overtime pay for holiday and after-hours work is equal to 1.5 times regular salary. The decision on pay is made by the employer or in compliance with a collective agreement, and the amount of pay is based on so-called industry-specific wage multipliers, stipulated by the industrial agreements.

On July 18, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of China National Petroleum Corporation-AktobeMunayGas, owned by China National Petroleum Corporation, which in February 2017 reduced the environmental allowance for 403 workers who reside in the ecologically challenging Aral Sea area from 50 percent to 20 percent. The company, supported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, argued that only workers who both reside and work in the Aral Sea area are entitled to a 50 percent allowance. Those who resided in the Aral Sea area, but worked elsewhere, may claim only the 20 percent allowance.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforces the minimum wage, work-hour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards. Under the entrepreneur code, labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification. Inspections based on risk assessment reports are announced in writing not less than 30 days prior the beginning of the inspection. There has been a presidential moratorium on announced inspections since 2014. Unplanned inspections are announced not less than one day prior the beginning of the inspection. The resources of labor inspectors are limited. Ministry inspectors conducted random inspections of employers. As of March inspectors conducted 1,364 inspections, detected 2,104 violations of labor law, and levied 365 fines for a total amount of 64.3 million tenge (close to $178,000). In 2017 the ministry had 258 labor inspectors.

The Human Rights Commission reported that the number of inspectors was insufficient. Moreover, the 2015 labor code introduced so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for the three-year period. In the opinion of labor rights activists, such a practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems. By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety issues from representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions. As of January there were 12,855 production councils operating in the country. Formal training was provided to 10,952 of 17,914 volunteer labor inspectors.

There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety. Occupational safety and health conditions in the construction, industrial, and agricultural sectors often were substandard. Workers in factories sometimes lacked quality protective clothing and sometimes worked in conditions of poor visibility and ventilation. As of September the government reported 975 workplace injuries, of which 133 resulted in death. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The minister of labor and social protection reported that in 2017, 370,000 workers labored in hazardous conditions.

Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Critics reported that employers, the FTUK, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection were more concerned with bureaucracy and filling out reports on work-related accidents, than with taking measures to reduce their number. A minimal noncompliance with labor safety requirements may result in a company’s refusal to compensate workers for industrial injuries. In 30 percent of cases, workers themselves were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations.

Kyrgyz Republic

Executive Summary

The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government designed to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. During presidential elections in October 2017, the nation elected former prime minister and member of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to succeed outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the elections as competitive and well administered, but it noted room for improvement in the legal framework to prevent misuse of public resources in election campaigns and to effectively deter vote buying.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included law enforcement and security services officers’ use of torture and arbitrary arrest; site blocking and criminal libel in practice; pervasive corruption; human trafficking, including forced labor; attacks and other bias-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and members of ethnic minority groups; violence against women and forced marriage; and child labor.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute or punish officials known to have committed human rights abuses, especially those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Nevertheless, physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. Police abuse reportedly remained a problem, notably in pretrial detention.

As in 2017, defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. During the first six months of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) registered 183 allegations of torture by government officials, including law enforcement (176 cases), the State Penitentiary Service (two cases), and other officials. As a result, 11 criminal cases were filed: four cases involving torture and seven cases of inhuman treatment. Two criminal cases against officials were being tried, and two criminal cases were under investigation. According to the PGO, seven criminal cases were suspended due to lack of physical evidence and a reluctance of accusers to submit to physical or psychological examination. A March report by the National Center to Prevent Torture (NCPT) and the Antitorture Coalition found that more than 30 percent of detainees in temporary detention centers reported some form of abuse. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies but that the independence of these bodies was under threat.

Golos Svobody played a central role in monitoring allegations of torture and was the main organizer of the Antitorture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the PGO to track complaints of torture.

The Antitorture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the PGO to facilitate investigations. According to members of the Antitorture Coalition, the cases it submitted against alleged torturers did not lead to convictions. In historical cases where police were put on trial for torture, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections, delaying the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately leading to case dismissal. In March, however, media reported the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of three members of the police for torture of A. Bolotov, E. Ibraimov, and S. Azhibekov. The police officers were sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. On October 9, four police officers were found guilty of torture by the Osh City Court in a case involving minors accused of a murder. Two officers were sentenced to eight years in prison, while the others were sentenced to 13 and 14 years in prison.

During the year NGOs reported that courts regularly included into evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture. Defense lawyers stated that, once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. According to Golos Svobody, investigators often took two weeks or longer to review torture claims, at which point the physical evidence of torture was no longer visible. Defense attorneys presented most allegations of torture during trial proceedings, and the courts typically rejected them. In some cases detainees who filed torture complaints later recanted, reportedly due to intimidation by law enforcement officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment.

Physical Conditions: Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while their cases were under appeal.

NGOs reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked capacity and expertise in running a facility. In some instances, the gangs controlled items that could be brought into the prison, such as food and clothing, while prison officials looked the other way. According to NGOs, authorities did not try to dismantle these groups because they were too powerful and believed that removing them could lead to chaos. Some prisoners indicated that prison order and safety was left to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.

Administration: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to the NGO Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases. Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: Most monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported receiving unfettered access. Some NGOs, including Bir Duino and Spravedlivost, had the right to visit prisons independently as part of their provision of technical assistance, such as medical and psychological care.

The NCPT, an independent and impartial body, is empowered by the government to monitor detention facilities. The center has seven regional offices and has the authority to make unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that center officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities, but they stressed, as they had in previous years, that a standardized approach to identifying torture cases and additional resources and staff members, were necessary to conduct its work.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest, it continued to occur. Human rights organizations reported arrests unfairly targeting ethnic Uzbeks for alleged involvement in banned religious organizations and for alleged “religious extremism activity.” Arrests for lack of proper identification documents were common. Attorneys reported that police frequently arrested individuals on false charges and then solicited bribes in exchange for release.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The investigation of general and local crimes falls under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while certain crimes such as terrorism and corruption fall under the authority of the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), which also controls the presidential security service. The PGO prosecutes both local and national crimes.

Both local and international observers said the GKNB and law enforcement officers engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, including some alleged to be politically motivated, detainee abuse, and extortion, particularly in the southern part of the country.

NGOs and other legal observers routinely noted the lack of women and ethnic minorities in the police force and in all government positions. Officially, women and ethnic minorities (non-Kyrgyz ethnicities) made up approximately 6 and 4 percent of the police force, respectively. According to national statistics, ethnic minorities constituted approximately 27 percent of the population.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the criminal procedure code, only courts have the authority to issue search and seizure warrants. While prosecutors have the burden of proof in persuading a judge that a defendant should be detained pending trial, activists reported detention without a warrant or in contravention of regulatory standards remained common. NGOs reported that police targeted vulnerable defendants from whom they believed they could secure a bribe. Observers alleged incidents in which police targeted ethnic Uzbeks by planting literature and then charging them with possession of banned religious materials. Authorities could legally hold a detainee for 48 to 72 hours before filing charges; authorities generally respected these limits. The law requires investigators to notify a detainee’s family of the detention within 12 hours. The general legal restriction on the length of investigations is 60 days. Courts, however, have discretion to hold a suspect in pretrial detention for as much as one year, depending on the severity of the charges, after which they are legally required to release the suspect. Once the case goes to trial, the courts have the authority to prolong detention until the case is closed without limitations on duration of custody. There is a functioning bail system, in addition to other alternatives to detention, such as restrictions on foreign travel and house arrest.

Persons arrested or charged with a crime have the right to defense counsel at public expense. By law the accused has the right to consult with defense counsel immediately upon arrest or detention, but in many cases the first meeting did not occur until the trial. As in past years, human rights groups noted incidents in which authorities denied attorneys to arrested minors, often holding the minors without parental notification and questioning them without parents or attorneys present, despite laws forbidding these practices.

The law authorizes the use of house arrest for certain categories of suspects. Reports indicated that law enforcement officers selectively enforced the law by incarcerating persons suspected of minor crimes while not pursuing those suspected of more serious offenses.

Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and Spravedlivost, recorded complaints of arbitrary arrest. Most observers asserted it was impossible to know the number of cases because the majority went unreported. According to NGOs in the southern part of the country, arrests and harassment of individuals allegedly involved in extremist religious groups–predominantly ethnic Uzbeks–continued.

There were reports of arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir; such arrests continued a trend that began to increase in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, some arrests were driven by corruption within the law enforcement system. There were allegations police would enter a home falsely claiming to have a search warrant, plant banned Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and arrest the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release.

Pretrial Detention: There were frequent reports of lengthy pretrial detention periods. Political machinations, complex legal procedures, poor access to lawyers, and limited investigative capacity often lengthened defendants’ time in pretrial detention beyond the 60-day limit, with some individuals being detained legally for as long as one year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption. Throughout the year there were multiple instances where the conduct and outcome of trials appeared predetermined. Numerous sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted that some judges paid bribes to attain their positions. Many attorneys asserted that bribe taking was ubiquitous among judges. Authorities generally respected court orders.

Numerous NGOs described pervasive violations of the right to a fair trial, including coerced confessions, use of torture, denial of access to counsel, and convictions in the absence of sufficiently conclusive evidence or despite exculpatory evidence. International observers reported threats and acts of violence against defendants and defense attorneys within and outside the courtroom, as well as intimidation of trial judges by victims’ relatives and friends.

In June a court ruled to extradite political activist Murat Tungishbayev to Kazakhstan. International human rights groups said that Tungishbayev faced a serious risk of torture in Kazakhstan, while his lawyer said the court’s verdict appeared predetermined. Prior to the delivery of the verdict, the ombudsman called for the prosecutor general to refuse the extradition request, calling it “illegal and unreasonable” under the law. The extradition was carried out at the end of June.

Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist convicted of murder and inciting hatred along with seven codefendants in the 2010 killing of a Bazar Korgon police officer, remained imprisoned at year’s end. In 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee issued findings that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhuman conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his defense. Askarov’s life sentence was upheld on appeal in January 2017.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the law provides for defendants’ rights, the customs and practices of the judicial system regularly contradicted the constitutional presumption of innocence, and pretrial investigations focused on the collection of sufficient evidence to prove guilt. The law requires investigators to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to provide interpreters as needed. Trials were conducted in the state language, Kyrgyz, or the official language, Russian. In a majority of trials, courtroom procedure required defendants to sit in caged cells.

Defense attorneys complained that judges routinely returned cases to investigators if there was not enough evidence to prove guilt, during which time suspects could remain in detention. Judges, according to attorneys, typically gave defendants a suspended sentence regardless of how little evidence existed to sustain a prison term.

Trials were generally open to the public, unless they allegedly involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants, and courts often announced verdicts publicly, even in closed proceedings. State prosecutors submit criminal cases to courts, while judges direct criminal proceedings. Criminal cases feature a single judge, while three-judge panels conduct appellate cases. Judges have full authority to render verdicts and determine sentences. A limited number of judges have clearance to access documents deemed secret, further circumscribing defendants’ access to impartial judicial review in cases purporting to relate to national security.

The law provides for unlimited visits between an attorney and a client during trial, but authorities occasionally did not grant permission for such visits. The government provided indigent defendants with attorneys at public expense, and defendants could refuse legal counsel and defend themselves. HRW, domestic NGOs, and local attorneys reported some state-provided criminal defense lawyers were complicit with prosecutors and did not properly defend their clients. Many observers, particularly in the southern part of the country, described these lawyers as “pocket attorneys” who would help secure bribes from their client to pass to police and judges, which would then secure the client’s eventual release. International observers reported the quality of representation was much worse in rural areas than in the capital. In many cases it was difficult for individuals accused of extremism-related crimes to find an attorney who was not closely connected to police.

The law permits defendants and their counsel to attend all proceedings, question witnesses, present evidence, call witnesses, and access prosecution evidence in advance of trial, but courts frequently did not follow these requirements. Witnesses typically were required to testify in person. Under certain circumstances courts allowed testimony via audio or video recording. Defendants and counsel, by law, have the right to communicate freely, in private, with no limitation on the frequency. Defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal a court’s decision. An appellate court can increase a lower court’s sentence against a defendant.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In November 2017 the Supreme Court upheld the sentencing of the Ata-Meken opposition party leader Omurbek Tekebaev for eight years in prison on criminal charges of corruption. A judge, however, reduced the sentence to four and one-half years, citing amnesty. During the year the Adilet Legal Clinic filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Tekebaev with a detailed explanation of violations during Tekebaev’s arrest and trial. In May four members of parliament called for judicial review of the conviction. In June the Supreme Court upheld the sentencing of former parliamentarian Sadyr Japarov to 11.5 years on kidnapping charges. Due to outstanding questions surrounding the fairness of the trials and appeals, some observers considered the above-mentioned individuals political prisoners.

Human rights organizations called the June arrests on corruption charges of several former officials, including former prime ministers Sapar Isakov and Jantoro Satybaldiev, politically motivated. At year’s end Isakov and Satybaldiev were awaiting trial in pretrial detention facilities.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. As with criminal matters, observers believed the civil judicial system was subject to influence from the outside, including by the government. Local courts address civil, criminal, economic, administrative, and other cases. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. Among the articles amended by the December 2016 constitutional referendum was Article 41 of the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to apply to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms in accordance with international treaties. The amendment to Article 41 mandates that the decisions of international bodies are nonbinding and therefore not subject to enforcement by the government.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Law on Defense and Armed Forces authorizes the military to confiscate private property for the purpose of state security. The state must provide compensation for the value of the confiscated property.

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

According to the law, wiretaps, home searches, mail interception, and similar acts, including in cases relating to national security, are permitted only with the approval of the prosecutor and on the basis of a court decision. Such actions are permitted exclusively to combat crime. Seven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for this right, and the government generally respected it. Organizers and participants are responsible for notifying authorities of planned assemblies, but the constitution prohibits authorities from banning or restricting peaceful assemblies, even in the absence of prior notification. Local authorities, however, have the right to demand an end to a public action and, in the event of noncompliance, are empowered to take measures to end assemblies.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. NGOs, labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations must register with the Ministry of Justice. NGOs are required to have at least three members and all other organizations at least 10 members. The Ministry of Justice did not refuse to register any domestic NGOs. The law prohibits foreign-funded political parties and NGOs, including their representative offices and branches, from pursuing political goals.

The government continued to maintain bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish People’s Congress, the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Yakyn Incar. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A. A. Tihomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky.

As in recent years, numerous human rights activists reported continued arrests and prosecution of persons accused of possessing and distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see section 1.d.). Most arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members occurred in the southern part of the country and involved ethnic Uzbeks. The government charged the majority of those arrested with possession of illegal religious material. In some cases NGOs alleged police planted Hizb ut-Tahrir literature as evidence against those arrested.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law on internal migration provides for freedom of movement. The government generally respected this right, and citizens usually were able to move within the country with ease. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations to provide some protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

A 2016 amendment to the law on combating terrorism and extremism revokes citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist and extremist activities. The law was not used during the year.

Foreign Travel: The law on migration prohibits travel abroad by citizens who have or had access to information classified as state secrets until the information is declassified.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law on refugees includes nondiscrimination provisions covering persons who were not refugees when they left their country of origin and extends the validity of documents until a final decision on status is determined by a court.

Employment: UN-mandated refugees who lacked official status in the country do not have legal permission to work, access to medical services, or the right to receive identity documents. They were therefore susceptible to exploitation by employers paying substandard wages, not providing benefits, and not complying with labor regulations. They could not file grievances with authorities. Refugees with official status in the country have legal permission to work.

Access to Basic Services: UN-mandated refugees and asylum seekers who lacked official status were ineligible to receive state-sponsored social benefits. Refugees with official status in the country have access to basic services.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR officials stated the country’s stateless persons fell into several categories. As of July, 1,189 individuals were listed as stateless, a significant decrease from the approximately 13,431 stateless individuals identified in the country since 2014. Of this number, 11,636 stateless individuals either confirmed or acquired citizenship or obtained status of a stateless person due in large part to a countrywide registration and documentation campaign conducted jointly by UNHCR, the government, and nongovernmental partners. As of July there were an estimated 1,600 Uzbek women who married Kyrgyz citizens but never received Kyrgyz citizenship (many such women allowed their Uzbek passports to expire, and regulations obstructed their efforts to gain Kyrgyz citizenship). Other categories included Roma, individuals with expired Soviet documents, children born to one or both parents who were stateless, and children of migrant workers who renounced their Kyrgyz citizenship in the hope of becoming Russian citizens. The government denied access to social benefits and official work documents to stateless persons, who lacked sufficient legal standing to challenge exploitative labor conditions in court. The State Registration Service maintained its database of stateless persons based only on those who contacted it.

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. In practice there were some procedural irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2017 voters elected former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov as president, with approximately 55 percent of the total vote. The OSCE deemed the elections competitive with 11 candidates who were generally able to campaign freely; however, cases of misuse of administrative resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remained a concern.

In March security services filed criminal charges against the runner-up in the 2017 election, Omurbek Babanov, for plotting “seizure of power and the organization of mass riots.” Previously, in November 2017 the PGO had charged Babanov with “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order” and “incitement of religious or ethnic strife” (criminal code Article 299) in connection with Babanov’s comments at a campaign rally. According to media reports, Babanov was residing outside of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Members of parliament are selected through a national “party list” system. After voting occurred, party leaders regularly reordered the lists, often to the disadvantage of women. In 2017 an amendment to the law on elections requires that members of parliament who resign their mandate be replaced by persons of the same gender.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The election code requires the names of male and female parliamentary candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender. As of November fewer than 10 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women.

By law women must be represented in all branches of government and constitute no less than 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for public officials convicted of corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. According to Transparency International, official corruption cases appeared to be selectively investigated and prosecuted. The payment of bribes to avoid investigation or prosecution was a major problem at all levels of law enforcement. Law enforcement officers, particularly in the southern part of the country, frequently employed arbitrary arrest, torture, and the threat of criminal prosecution as a means of extorting cash payments from citizens (see section 1.d.).

Corruption: The only government body formally empowered to investigate corruption was the anticorruption branch of the GKNB. It is not an independent government entity, and its budget remained within the operating budget of the GKNB. The agency’s cooperation with civil society was limited. The State Service to Combat Economic Crimes, also known as the Financial Police, investigates economic crimes, which sometimes includes corruption-related crimes.

In January parliament and the GKNB launched separate investigations into the renovation of the Bishkek Combined Heating and Power Plant. As a result of the GKNB investigation, authorities arrested several high-profile political figures who were awaiting trial, including two former prime ministers, the mayor of Bishkek, and the chief of the State Customs Service. The case continued at the end of the year. In May the State Service to Combat Economic Crimes halted the criminal case against independent journalist Elnura Alkanova, who was initially charged in February with “illegally obtaining information” and “disclosing bank secrets,” after publishing investigative reports in 2017 on the allegedly corrupt sale of government property near Bishkek.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to publish their income and assets. The State Personnel Service is responsible for making this information public. Officials who do not disclose required information may be dismissed from office, although this punishment was not regularly enforced.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country, although government officials at times were uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.

Government actions at times appeared to impede the ability of NGOs to operate freely.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, ICRC, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Organization for Migration. The government restricted visits to Azimjon Askarov but otherwise provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acted as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and had the authority to recommend cases for court review. Observers noted the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Although the Ombudsman’s Office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency and political independence. In June Ombudsman Kubat Otorbaev resigned. While Otorbaev said his resignation was not due to outside pressure, parliamentarians at times criticized his work and raised the possibility of his early dismissal. On September 26, Tokon Mamytov, a former GKNB officer, was appointed to the post of ombudsman, a decision that human rights organizations criticized.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, but as in previous years, the government failed to enforce the law effectively, and rape cases were underreported. Penalties for conviction of sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative, rather than a criminal, offense.

While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women and girls remained a significant yet underreported problem. Penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. In 2015 HRW catalogued a range of violent forms of domestic violence and found that the government did not sufficiently investigate and prosecute cases, provide services and support for survivors, pursue protection, or penalize perpetrators. In the small number of reported cases reviewed by courts over recent years, many charges were considered administrative offenses rather than crimes, thus carrying a lesser punishment.

A 2017 domestic violence law streamlined procedures for the issuance of protective orders and increased protections for the victims of domestic violence. The law requires police to file cases of domestic violence and recognizes economic violence as a form of abuse in addition to physical and psychological abuse. The law also entitles witnesses to report on abuses and requires police to act on reports filed by witnesses.

Many crimes against women went unreported due to psychological pressure, economic dependence, cultural traditions, fear of stigma, and apathy among law enforcement officers. There were also reports of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse. The government provided offices to the Sezim Shelter for victims of domestic abuse and paid its expenses.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. In 2017 the OSCE estimated that each year 12,000 young women were kidnapped into forced marriages and 20 percent were raped in the process. Kidnapped brides were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and were limited in their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. This also affected data availability on such marriages.

Some victims of bride kidnapping went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. In May, following an attempt by Mars Bodosev to kidnap 20-year-old Burulai Turdaaly kyzy, police held both Bodosev and Turdaaly kyzy in the same holding cell in a police station. While awaiting further processing, Bodosev stabbed Turdaaly kyzy to death. Following the killing, the Ministry of Internal Affairs punished 23 police officers for neglect. On December 10, a Bishkek court found Bodoshev guilty of killing Turdaaly kyzy and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Akmet Seiitov, who assisted Bodoshev in the kidnapping, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Although in 2013 the government strengthened the penalty for conviction of bride kidnapping to a maximum of 10 years in prison, NGOs continued to report no increase in the reporting and rare prosecution of the crime.

Sexual Harassment: Media reported on widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and on public transportation. The law prohibits physical sexual assault but not verbal sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, but due to poor enforcement of the law, discrimination against women persisted.

As in previous years, data from NGOs working on women’s issues indicated women were less healthy, more abused, less able to work outside the home, and less able than men to determine independently the disposition of their earnings.

Children

Birth Registration: Although the law provides that every child born in the country has the right to receive a birth certificate, local registration, and citizenship, some children were stateless (see section 2.d.). Children of migrant parents who moved to and acquired citizenship of another country had to prove both of their parents were Kyrgyz citizens to acquire Kyrgyz citizenship.

Education: The law provides for compulsory and free education for the first nine years of schooling or until age 14 or 15. Secondary education is free and universal until age 17. The government did not provide free basic education to all students, and the system of residence registration restricted access to social services, including education for children who were refugees, migrants, or noncitizens. Families of children in public school often paid burdensome and illegal administrative fees.

Child Abuse: According to NGO and UN reports, child abuse, including beatings, child labor, and commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls continued to occur.

Early and Forced Marriage: Children ages 16 and 17 may legally marry with the consent of local authorities, but the law prohibits civil marriages before age 16 under all circumstances. Although illegal, the practice of bride kidnapping continued (see section 6, Women). The kidnapping of underage brides remained underreported.

In 2018 UNICEF estimated that 12.7 percent of married women between the ages of 20 and 49 married before age 18. A 2015 HRW report on domestic abuse found inadequate government attention focused on addressing bride kidnapping or other forms of early and forced marriage. A 2016 law criminalizes religious marriages involving minors. No prosecutions were filed.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sale of children, child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as other sexual crimes against children. The law criminalizes the sale of persons, forced prostitution, and provides penalties for conviction of up to 15 years in prison if the victim is a child. The law also makes it a crime to involve someone in prostitution by violence or the threat of violence, blackmail, destroying or damaging property, or fraud.

The criminal code prohibits the distribution of child pornography and the possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The law does not specifically define child pornography, and the criminal code does not fully criminalize computer-related use, access to child pornography online, or simple possession of child pornography.

According to local observers, children under age 18 were involved in prostitution. According to UNICEF, children under age 18 in Bishkek were involved in prostitution. Although precise figures were not known, police stated that typical cases of child prostitution involved young girls from rural areas who relocated to Bishkek for educational opportunities or to flee from an abusive family environment. Once in the capital, they entered the sex trade due to financial pressures. There were allegations of law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking; police officers allegedly threatened, extorted, and raped child sex-trafficking victims. The government reportedly did not investigate allegations of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Under the criminal code, it is illegal for persons ages 18 and older to have sexual relations with someone under the age of 16.

Displaced Children: As in previous years, there were numerous reports of child abandonment due to parents’ lack of resources, and large numbers of children lived in institutions, foster care, or on the streets. Approximately 80 percent of street children were internal migrants. Street children had difficulty accessing educational and medical services. Police detained street children and sent them home if an address was known or to a rehabilitation center or orphanage.

Institutionalized Children: State orphanages and foster homes lacked resources and often were unable to provide proper care. This sometimes resulted in the transfer of older children to mental health-care facilities even when they did not exhibit mental health problems. In August the Office of the Ombudsman called for the closure of the country’s sole children’s detention center. As of October, the detention center had not been closed. The ombudsman stated that the center did not respect the right of juvenile detainees to education and medical services.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population in the country was approximately 460. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, requires access to public transportation and parking, authorizes subsidies to make mass media available to persons with hearing or vision disabilities, and provides free plots of land for the construction of a home. The government generally did not ensure proper implementation of the law, and discrimination persisted. In addition, persons with disabilities often had difficulty finding employment due to negative societal attitudes and high unemployment among the general population.

A lack of government resources made it difficult for persons with disabilities to receive adequate education. Although children with disabilities have the right to an education, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities stated schools often denied them entry. The government funded programs to provide school supplies and textbooks to children with mental or physical disabilities, and the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities reported efforts by the Ministry of Education and Science to improve the situation by promoting inclusive education for persons with disabilities.

According to UNICEF, one-third of children with disabilities were institutionalized. As in previous years, conditions at psychiatric hospitals were substandard, stemming largely from inadequate funding. The government did not adequately provide for basic needs, such as food, water, clothing, heating, and health care, and facilities were often overcrowded.

Authorities usually placed children with mental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals rather than integrating them with other children. Other residents were also committed involuntarily, including children without mental disabilities who were too old to remain in orphanages.

The PGO is responsible for protecting the rights of psychiatric patients and persons with disabilities. According to local NGO lawyers, members of the PGO had no training and little knowledge of the protection of these rights and were ineffective in assisting citizens with disabilities. Most judges lacked the experience and training to make determinations as to whether it was appropriate to mandate committing persons to psychiatric hospitals, and authorities institutionalized individuals against their will.

Observers noted authorities had not implemented a 2008 law requiring employers to fulfill special hiring quotas for persons with disabilities (approximately 5 percent of work positions).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tensions between ethnic Uzbeks–who comprised nearly 15 percent of the population–and ethnic Kyrgyz remained problematic, particularly in Southern Osh Oblast where Uzbeks make up almost one-half the population. Discrimination against ethnic Uzbeks in business and government, as well as harassment and reported arbitrary arrests, illustrated these tensions. Ethnic Uzbeks reported that large public works and road construction projects in predominantly Uzbek areas, often undertaken without public consultation, interfered with neighborhoods and destroyed homes. Additionally, according to HRW, a 2016 Supreme Court study found that a majority of suspects prosecuted for terrorism and extremism, including under Article 299, were ethnic Uzbeks from the south.

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

LGBTI persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known risked physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of employment, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Inmates and officials often openly victimized incarcerated gay men. Forced marriages of lesbians and bisexual women to men also occurred. The Labrys Public Foundation noted the continued practice of “corrective rape” of lesbians to “cure” their homosexuality.

Members of the LGBTI community continued to report attempts to forcibly “out” gays, lesbians and transgender persons on social media. Specifically, secretly recorded videos of LGBTI wedding ceremony participants and their guests were posted on social media pages, drawing unwanted attention and harassment.

In 2014 HRW released a report based on interviews with 40 LGBTI persons chronicling instances of official extortion, beatings, and sexual assault. The report described in detail how police patrolling parks and bars frequented by gay men would threaten them with violence and arrest or threaten to reveal their homosexuality to their families if they did not pay bribes. These practices, according to representatives of the LGBTI community, continued during the year. NGO leaders in the southern part of the country reported an even greater threat. During the year members of the LGBTI community have reported that authorities regularly monitored chatrooms and dating sites in an effort to punish and extort those who were seeking out homosexual sex through online venues.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the law protects against discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, persons with HIV continued to encounter high levels of stigma and discrimination. According to 2015 Stigma Index data, HIV-positive persons felt fear or experienced verbal abuse, harassment, and threats, with some reporting incidents of physical abuse and assault. Loss of employment and lack of access to housing were reported due to social stigma of HIV/AIDS status. A recent study conducted by Kyrgyz Indigo, an LGBTI advocacy organization, found that more than 70 percent of gay and bisexual men were unaware of their HIV status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join trade unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides them the right to organize and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval made striking difficult and complicated. The law on government service prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers.

Many unions reportedly operated as quasi-official institutions that took state interests into consideration rather than representing workers’ interests exclusively. The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) remained the only umbrella trade union in the country. Unions were not required to belong to the FTU, and there were several smaller unaffiliated unions.

The government effectively enforced these rights. Workers exercised their right to join and form unions, and unions exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union leaders, however, generally cooperated with the government, and international observers judged that unions represented the interests of their members poorly. In past years some unions alleged unfair dismissals of union leaders and the formation of single-company unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law specifically prohibits the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation and prescribes penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Forced labor is also prohibited by the labor code and the code on children. The government did not fully implement legal prohibitions, and victim identification remained a concern.

There were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving children in the agricultural sector (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16, except for work performed without a signed employment contract or work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers, in which children as young as 14 may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons under age 18 at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to five hours a day, not to exceed 24 hours a week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours a day, not exceeding 36 hours a week. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. Violation of the law incurs penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment of up to 10 years, depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Weak enforcement and a lack of prosecution of violations continued to pose challenges to deterrence. Almost all child labor was in agriculture based on the 2014-2015 National Child Labor Survey.

Despite some advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it remained a problem. According to recent reports, children continued to be engaged in agricultural work in cotton cultivation as well as in selling and transporting goods at bazaars.

The PGO and the State Labor Inspectorate (Inspectorate) are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. According to the Inspectorate, inspectors conducted infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections to ensure appropriate enforcement of the labor laws. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, it was difficult for the government to determine whether work complied with the labor code.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, language, origin, property, official status, age, place of residence, religion, and political convictions, membership in public organizations, or other circumstances irrelevant to professional capacities. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the nature of penalties was insufficient to deter violations. Uzbeks in the south also complained it was hard to start a small business due to discriminatory practices in licensing and registering a business with the local authorities.

Average wages for women were substantially less than for men. Women made up the majority of pensioners, a group particularly vulnerable to deteriorating economic conditions. In rural areas, traditional attitudes toward women limited them to the roles of wife and mother and curtailed educational opportunities. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in the work place when they were open about their sexual orientation. Persons with HIV-positive status faced discrimination regarding hiring and security of employment. Persons with disabilities were subjected to discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage. The minimum wage was less than the official government’s 2015 poverty line of 32,093 som ($471) per year. The official national minimum monthly wage established for 2018 was 1,300 som ($19). The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living.

The standard workweek is 40 hours, usually with a five-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in a seven-day workweek. According to the labor code, overtime work cannot exceed four hours per day or 20 hours per week, and workers must receive compensatory leave or premium pay of between 150 and 200 percent of the hourly wage. These provisions were mainly enforced at large companies and organizations with strong trade unions. Employees of small and informal firms fall under the law but generally had no union representation.

The National Statistics Committee defined informal economic activity as household units that produce goods and services primarily to provide jobs and income to their members. In 2017 the government estimated that only 28.8 percent of the population worked in the formal sector of the economy, while the rest worked in the informal economy.

Safety and health conditions in factories were poor. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to main industries, but the government generally did not enforce them. Penalties for violation of the law range from community service to fines and were insufficient to deter violations. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections for all types of labor problems. Labor inspectors’ activities were limited and insufficient to enforce compliance. The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy.

Government licensing rules placed strict requirements on companies recruiting citizens to work abroad, and the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth licensed such companies. The government regularly published a list of licensed and vetted firms. Recruiters were required to monitor employer compliance with employment terms and the working conditions of labor migrants while under contract abroad. Recruiters were also required to provide workers with their employment contract prior to their departure.

Maldives

Executive Summary

The Republic of Maldives is a multiparty constitutional democracy. On September 23, voters elected Ibrahim Mohamed Solih president. Observers considered the election itself as mostly free and fair despite a flawed pre-election process. Parliamentary elections held in 2014 were well administered and transparent according to local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transparency Maldives (TM), although there were credible reports of vote buying.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

On February 1, the Supreme Court ordered the release of and new trials for former president Mohamed Nasheed and eight other political prisoners who had been arrested under a variety of terrorism- and corruption-related charges and ordered the reinstatement to parliament of 12 opposition MPs. The ruling effectively gave the opposition the majority in parliament. In response, Maldives Parliament Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed (Maseeh) postponed the opening of parliament, the government arrested Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, and President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency (SoE). On February 6, the remaining three Supreme Court justices rescinded part of the order to release the political prisoners and in April rescinded the reinstatement of the 12 MPs. Following the 45-day SoE, the government continued to jail opposition leaders and supporters, consolidated its power in the Supreme Court and Elections Commission (EC), and disqualified opposition candidates in the lead-up to the September elections. Despite what the TM described as systematic rigging during the pre-election phase, voting on September 23 was generally free and fair, and resulted in the election of opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Following the elections, the Criminal Court and High Court freed most jailed opposition leaders, and reinstated the 12 previously removed opposition MPs. In October, President Yameen formally contested the presidential election results on the grounds of fraud and vote rigging, but the Supreme Court ruled there was no constitutional basis to question the legality or results of the election. On November 17, President Solih was sworn in. On November 26, the Supreme Court annulled former president Nasheed’s conviction under terrorism charges.

Human rights issues included arbitrary detention by government authorities; unexplained deaths in prison; political prisoners; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; the repeal of the antidefamation law; undue restrictions on free expression and the press; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on political participation; corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; the lack of a legal framework recognizing independent trade unions; and child labor.

The government did not take steps to prosecute and punish police and military officers who committed abuses, and impunity for such abuses remained prevalent.

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

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

There were no official 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. The government took steps to investigate disappearances reported in previous years.

On November 17, President Solih created a Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances to investigate cases such as the 2014 disappearance of independent news outlet Maldives Independent reporter Ahmed Rilwan. In August the Criminal Court acquitted two of three suspects charged under the 1990 antiterrorism act that prohibits abduction, citing lack of evidence. The court argued Maldives Police Service (MPS) had failed to conduct an adequate investigation and the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) had submitted inadequate evidence. Rilwan’s family announced its intent to sue the MPS and the PG for negligence, alleging the court’s decision proved “at a minimum state complicity and, at worst, active involvement.” The third suspect to be charged was not tried after his family informed the court he had died abroad. Media reported he had travelled to Syria to join militant groups involved in the civil war. The National Integrity Commission (NIC) continued to investigate a 2016 complaint filed by Rilwan’s family claiming police negligence. In a public speech in August, President Yameen announced Rilwan was dead, but the former president later retracted the statement.

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

The constitution and the Anti-Torture Act prohibit such practices, but there were reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law permits flogging and other forms of corporal punishment, and security officials employed such practices.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’s (HRCM) fifth annual antitorture report, released during the year, the MPS was accused in 37 of the 54 cases of torture submitted to the commission between July 2017 and June. The Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) was accused in 13 cases. The HRCM closed investigations in 50 of the cases, finding no evidence of torture. One alleged case of torture the HRCM submitted for prosecution in November 2016 remained on trial as of September. NIC reported investigating another case in which police officers had pepper sprayed two detainees in the groin. There were also several allegations of police brutality from journalists and opposition protesters arrested during antigovernment protests. In February independent media outlet Raajje TV said police arrested and kicked one of its reporters unconscious while he was covering an antigovernment rally.

Government regulation permits flogging as a form of punishment. The Department of Judicial Administration reported flogging nine men and six women as of June, with two flogged for consuming alcohol. According to a 2014 Supreme Court guideline, the court must delay the execution of a flogging sentence of minors until they reach the age of 18.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded in some cases and lacking adequate sanitary conditions and medical care, but they generally met most international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to the Prisons and Parole Act, pretrial detainees should be held separately from convicted prisoners, but this was not always done. MCS oversaw the operation of four prison facilities: Asseyri Prison, Hulhumale Prison, Maafushi Prison, and Male Prison. The MCS also operated the MCS Ahuluveri Marukazu and the Male Ahuluveri Marukazu rehabilitation centers for inmates scheduled for parole, while the MPS operated Dhoonidhoo pretrial Detention Center and Male Custodial Center. Detainees reported overcrowding and inadequate hygiene and sanitation standards in prisons and pretrial detention facilities. Authorities held undocumented migrant workers awaiting deportation or legalization in a facility that also housed convicts. Although the law requires the Ministry of Home Affairs to designate a separate facility to hold remanded detainees on trial, the MCS continued to hold them in Maafushi Prison, which also holds convicted prisoners.

There were 13 cases of unexplained deaths in custody from August 2016 to August 2018. NIC was investigating six of these deaths but had not concluded investigations as of September. The HRCM independently investigated 11 cases of custodial deaths and concluded four of the cases were natural deaths. The HRCM had not concluded investigations in the seven remaining cases as of August. Civil society sources reported that although the MCS had declared a number of the deaths resulted from heart attack or stroke, most of the detainees did not have a history of heart disease, and the MCS failed to determine the cause of the strokes. All of the inmates who died in custody had reportedly requested medical attention in the days or weeks leading up to their deaths. The law requires the HRCM be informed immediately in the case of any deaths in state custody and be allowed to inspect the body prior to burial. Authorities implemented this provision; however, in most cases they moved the body to a second location, such as a hospital, before the HRCM was able to inspect the bodies.

The HRCM reported conditions varied across detention facilities. In most of the facilities overseen by the MCS and MPS, detainees were not allowed to leave their cells except for visitation. In Male Prison and the maximum-security unit of Maafushi Prison, detainees had reportedly not been allowed outside to exercise for more than a year. The HRCM reported poor ventilation and lack of electricity in cells at Dhoonidhoo Custodial Center. Local NGO Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) reported authorities denied detainees held in Dhoonidhoo access to medical care and potable drinking water, especially those arrested during the SoE imposed in February. Authorities held some prisoners in solitary confinement at Maafushi Prison in specialized cells without ventilation or electricity. Although inmates were generally not held in solitary for extended periods of time, prisoners regardless of length of time in solitary were not provided mattresses, pillows, or mosquito repellent. Most prisoners were held in cells open to the elements, allowing mosquitoes to enter their cells. Sources reported Hussain Humam Ahmed, a 24-year-old man convicted in the 2012 murder of a parliamentarian, has been in solitary confinement since 2012.

As of July the MCS received 299 complaints from detainees regarding inadequate access to medical care. In its fifth annual antitorture report, the HRCM reiterated reports from previous years that specialist doctors were not permitted to examine some inmates who claimed to have been tortured. Nurses were stationed for 24 hours at two of the five detention facilities overseen by the MCS, while no facilities had a doctor on call 24 hours a day. Local hospitals did not set aside quotas for detainees seeking medical attention, leading to difficulties in getting appointments for detainees to seek specialist care in a timely manner. Some high-profile convicts reported being denied permission to travel abroad for necessary medical treatment. The government denied former vice president Ahmed Adeeb’s request to travel abroad to undergo cancer screenings and treatment for conditions that included internal cysts, kidney stones, and glaucoma, deciding instead to treat his conditions locally and releasing him to house arrest. During the year President Yameen repeatedly said Adeeb would be granted medical leave once he repaid money he allegedly embezzled from the state.

Some political prisoners in Maafushi Prison faced significantly different conditions from those of the general prison population. High-profile prisoners were usually placed in a dedicated unit with larger cells and better ventilation, and some were also allowed out of their cells during the day. Reportedly at the request of the Home Ministry, some political prisoners were held in the same unit with the same poor conditions as the maximum-security prisoners.

Administration: According to the HRCM’s fifth antitorture report, detention facilities overseen by the MCS and MPS did not have enough CCTV cameras or maintain CCTV coverage for an adequate length of time, posing challenges in the investigation of allegations of mistreatment or torture. The HRCM also noted the MPS did not maintain records of detainees they held for less than 24 hours, leading to difficulties in verifying torture complaints or the identities of responsible police officers. During the February SoE, authorities denied detainees regular access to lawyers or family members. A police procedure introduced in 2016 prohibiting meetings between detainees and legal counsel on Fridays and Saturdays remained in place.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted regular and unannounced prison visits by the HRCM, so long as a presidentially appointed commissioner was present during the visit. The HRCM provided recommendations to the government addressing deficiencies. The HRCM conducted only three visits (to two police stations and one prison) as of July. The HRCM reported that, although it has the legal mandate to enter detention facilities without prior approval, the MCS and MPS required a letter signed by an HRCM commissioner before allowing access. Facilities required a commission member, appointed by the president, to accompany the visits. NIC had a legal mandate to visit detention facilities as part of investigations in progress, and it reported the MCS and MPS did not impose the same conditions on NIC investigative officers. The government generally permitted visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) and other international assessment teams with prior approval. The ICRC reportedly conducted visits to all detention facilities overseen by the MCS during the year but had not produced any report on its findings as of September.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government failed to enforce the law consistently, especially in cases against members of the political opposition and those who were arrested during the SoE.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The MPS is responsible for internal security, public safety, and law and order, and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) is responsible for external security and disaster relief, but the MPS at times requested MNDF assistance in matters of internal security and law and order. The chief of the MNDF reports to the minister of defense and national security. The president is commander in chief of the MNDF.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the MPS and MNDF, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. NIC is the primary mechanism to investigate abuses by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to the police for further investigation. Evidence indicated these authorities did not function independently. NIC reported it received 134 complaints of MPS human rights violations as of July 31, but it had completed investigations in only two of the cases. As of August, NIC had also only completed nine out of 61 complaints of MPS human rights violations received in 2017.

Human rights organizations reported the courts did not fairly adjudicate allegations of police brutality and, as a result, police enjoyed impunity.

There is no independent review mechanism to investigate abuses by military forces. Parliament and the judiciary, however, are able to initiate investigations on an ad hoc basis. The HRCM reported investigating two complaints of torture by military officers during the year. In some instances military forces interfered in civilian political activities. On several occasions in February, military officers repeatedly blocked parliamentarians’ access to parliament and physically removed them from the building.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution states an arrest may not be made unless the arresting officer observes the offense, has reasonable evidence, or has a court-issued arrest warrant. The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to arrest a person if a police officer has reason to believe a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense or may attempt to destroy evidence of a major crime. The MPS generally complied with arrest procedures when making arrests. Authorities reported newer officers sometimes did not comply with arrest procedures, such as timely informing of the reasons for an arrest. The law provides for an arrestee to be verbally informed immediately of the reason for arrest and to have the reason confirmed in writing within 12 hours of arrest.

Prisoners have the right to a ruling on bail within 36 hours, but the courts did not implement bail procedures consistently, and several lawyers and activists reported judges were ignorant of bail procedures. The law also requires an arrestee be informed of the right to remain silent and that what the arrestee says may be used in a court of law. The law further provides that arrestees are to have access to a lawyer at the time of arrest. A lawyer may be court appointed in serious criminal cases if the accused cannot afford one. The law allows police to question a detainee in the absence of counsel if the detainee’s lawyer does not appear within 12 hours without adequate reasons for the delay. Police normally informed the arrestee’s family of the arrest within 24 hours. The law does not require that police inform the family of the grounds for the arrest unless the arrestee is younger than 18 years of age, in which case a parent or guardian must be informed within four hours.

The law provides for investigative detention. A person detained for investigation is allowed one telephone call prior to police questioning. Once a person is detained, the arresting officer must present evidence to a court within 24 hours to justify continued detention. Based on the evidence presented, the prosecutor general has the authority to determine whether charges may be filed. If law enforcement authorities are unable to present sufficient evidence within 24 hours, the prisoner is eligible for release. During the February SoE, the government suspended the Criminal Procedure Act, and police failed to present dozens of arrested opposition activists before a judge within 24 hours to justify continued detention. They were held in detention for days or weeks before being released and many had not been charged as of September. Judges have the authority to extend detention upon receiving an arresting officer’s petition but must cite factors such as the detainee’s previous criminal record, status of the investigation, type of offense in question, and whether the detainee poses a threat if released.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to detain individuals for questioning for four hours, without the detention being classified as a formal arrest. Human rights organizations and defense lawyers reported police routinely abused this provision to detain protesters as an intimidation tactic. Dozens of opposition activists were arrested during the February SoE and held for four hours without questioning. Police reportedly held the suspects under investigative or administrative detention without formal arrest as a way to remove opposition supporters and journalists from the streets.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities held dozens of opposition activists arrested during the February SoE for weeks before releasing them without charges. Ibrahim Siyad Gasim, the son of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, was arrested on suspicion of bribery in February and held in custody until July. The Criminal Court nullified the case against him on November 5, stating the prosecution had not submitted evidence proving Gasim paid bribes during preliminary hearings. The trial for opposition MP Faris Maumoon, who was arrested on suspicion of bribery in July 2017, began in January. Social media activist Ahmed Ashraf, who was arrested in Sri Lanka and returned to Maldives in 2015, has remained under house arrest since March 2017. He had been kept in a police custodial center from November 2015 until March 2017. Although Ashraf was first arrested on suspicion of “terrorism,” the police charged him for a separate offense of “threatening” a ruling party council member. His trial has been stalled without explanation since the last hearing held in March 2016. If convicted, Ashraf faces a maximum sentence of one-year’s imprisonment.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act stipulate conditions under which a person can be arrested or detained and provides everyone the right to appeal and the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention. The High Court routinely hears appeals of arrest warrants or pretrial detention orders, but defense lawyers claimed High Court judges tended to seek justification for upholding such orders rather than questioning the grounds and merits of detention and delayed verdicts until the authorized pretrial detention orders expire. The appeal courts did not accept appeals of detentions authorized for the duration of a trial already in progress, based on a 2012 High Court decision that ruled trial judges have discretionary authority to authorize detention of suspects for the duration of pending trials as well as on a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that decisions made by judges using discretionary authority cannot be appealed.

Victims of unlawful or arbitrary arrest or detention can submit cases to the Civil Court to seek compensation, but they did not commonly exercise this right.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not completely independent or impartial, and was subject to influence. There were numerous allegations of judicial impropriety and abuse of power, with large numbers of judicial officials, prosecutors, and attorneys reportedly intimidated or bribed. Government officials, opposition members, and members of domestic and international civil society accused the judiciary of bias and accused the executive branch of manipulating judicial outcomes.

The five-member Supreme Court is supposed to be constitutionally independent from the executive. It hears appeals from the High Court and considers constitutional matters brought directly before it. Many judges, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. Most magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills. An estimated one-quarter of the country’s judges had criminal records. Media, human rights organizations, and NGOs criticized the Judicial Service Commission for appointing unqualified judges. According to a 2016 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report, the composition of the commission, tasked with vetting and appointing judges, was flawed, leading to a politicized judiciary. Judges exhibiting judicial independence were often transferred to a lower court or another island as retribution.

After the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of nine political prisoners on February 1 and ordered their release pending retrials, President Yameen declared a SoE and the MPS arrested then chief justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court justice Ali Hameed, and charged them with terrorism, bribery, influencing official conduct, and obstruction of justice. The remaining three Supreme Court justices subsequently overturned sections of the February 1 order “in light of concerns raised by the President.” The SoE was lifted after 45 days. In March the ruling coalition in parliament passed an amendment to the Judges’ Act to state any judge convicted of a criminal offense would be immediately removed from office if the Supreme Court upholds the conviction, with parliamentarians specifically stating the amendment was intended to disbar Saeed and Hameed. In June the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Saeed and Hameed on charges of influencing official conduct, following which they were removed from the bench. On December 5, the High Court overturned Hameed’s conviction.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always enforce this right. The law provides that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Most trials were public and conducted by judges and magistrates, some of whom were trained in Islamic, civil, or criminal law. The courts, however, have increasingly been arbitrarily closed to the public. The constitution states defendants have a right to be informed of the charge without delay in a language understood by the defendant. The law states a defendant must be provided with a copy of the case documents within five days of charges being submitted to court. The law provides that an accused person has a right to be tried in person and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Some high-profile politicians, including opposition MPs Faris Maumoon and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, reported authorities obstructed regular meetings with lawyers during detention, and lawyers discovered their meetings were being recorded or monitored. The constitution states the accused has the right not to be compelled to testify. The law provides the right to free assistance of an interpreter and governs trial procedures. Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case. Accused persons have the right to defend themselves and during a trial may call witnesses and retain the right to legal representation. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to full access to all evidence relating to their case, may cross-examine any witnesses presented by the state, and may present their own witnesses and evidence. The judiciary failed to enforce these rights in cases of high-profile politicians. In June former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was sentenced to four-months’ imprisonment on charges of obstructing justice following a trial where the judge refused to admit defense witnesses and hearings were held without legal representation after Gayoom’s lawyers recused themselves, citing procedural irregularities.

Islamic law as interpreted by the country is applied in situations not covered by civil law. The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and those convicted have the right to appeal. The testimony of women is equal to that of men in court, except on rape and other issues specifically stipulated by the country’s legal code.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Yameen government asserted there were no political prisoners; however, the opposition, international and domestic NGOs, and members of the international community estimated that at one time there were at least six to nine political prisoners and likely many more. The political prisoners identified by these groups were convicted of terrorism, weapons smuggling, obstructing justice, or bribery charges. Support staff of these political prisoners were also arrested on charges of terrorism and bribery. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN officials were allowed access to these prisoners on scheduled visits and upon request. Several high-profile prisoners have been released since President Solih’s election, and on November 17, President Solih created a Presidential Committee on Releasing Prisoners.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ran against President Yameen during the 2013 presidential election, was subjected to a rushed trial in 2015 on terrorism charges and many of his due process rights were ignored, according to international observers. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2015 determined Nasheed’s detention was politically motivated and assessed that serious due-process violations indicated Nasheed had not received a free and fair trial. The government announced its rejection of the working group’s findings in a 2015 press release. In January 2016 the government granted approval for Nasheed to travel to London on a medical furlough. He stated he was unable to return due to concerns he would again be arbitrarily detained. In July 2016 former vice president Adeeb claimed Nasheed’s 13-year terrorism sentence was masterminded under direct government scheming and influence and offered to testify in the Supreme Court to provide evidence of his claims. The Supreme Court ordered a stay on Nasheed’s conviction October 30, opening the way for his return to the country, and cleared his conviction November 26, ruling that Nasheed was wrongfully charged.

The courts sentenced opposition Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to 11-years’ imprisonment in 2016 on terrorism charges on the grounds his speech at an opposition rally incited protesters to become violent. The human rights NGO TM, however, asserted during the speech Sheikh Imran repeatedly denied any intent of violence against the government. In February the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined Imran’s detention was politically motivated and assessed that serious due-process violations indicated Imran had not received a free and fair trial. The Supreme Court overturned Imran’s sentence on November 22, ruling the lower courts failed to review properly the evidence against him.

The courts also sentenced opposition Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim to three-years’ imprisonment in absentia in August 2017 on bribery charges. The grounds for his charge was a speech Gasim gave at an opposition rally in which he said opposition parties would grant party tickets for 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who voted for a no-confidence motion submitted against Speaker Maseeh, which the court said amounted to offering a bribe to an elected official. The Criminal Court initially dismissed the charges, but the government appealed. Two of the judges on the trial bench were transferred to lower courts within hours of the dismissal, and new judge Adam Arif restarted the trial within days of the government’s appeal. Judge Arif held closed hearings in Gasim’s case and sentenced him in absentia in a ruling issued after midnight, while Gasim was hospitalized after collapsing in the courtroom hours earlier. In September 2017 the government authorized Gasim to travel to Singapore on a medical furlough. The government identified Gasim as a fugitive of the state when Gasim did not return within the time allotted for medical furlough. Gasim remained in Singapore under medical advisement until November 2017 when he traveled to Germany for further medical treatment, in contravention of a travel ban the government placed on him. On October 4, Gasim returned to the country after the High Court ordered his release on bail, and on October 22, the High Court acquitted Gasim, citing procedural irregularities during his criminal court hearings.

In 2016 the government rejected the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that former defense minister Mohamed Nazim’s arrest and detention was arbitrary based on two of the five categories used by the group to establish an opinion. The working group recommended Nazim’s immediate release and that he be accorded an enforceable right to reparations. Nazim remained in detention and reportedly had chronic medical problems that remained unaddressed. In 2016 former vice president Adeeb claimed Nazim had been framed and offered to testify in the Supreme Court to provide evidence of his claims. The Supreme Court suspended Nazim’s sentence on November 4.

In June former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was sentenced to one-year-and-seven-months’ imprisonment on charges of obstructing justice. The state argued he had refused to hand over his mobile phone to police following his arrest in February. The Criminal Court had refused to admit defense witnesses and several hearings were held without affording Gayoom legal representation after his lawyers recused themselves citing “grave procedural defects.” In September, Gayoom was released on appeal to the High Court. In October the High Court acquitted Gayoom, citing procedural irregularities during his criminal court hearings. As of October 23, Gayoom remained on trial on separate charges of terrorism.

In June opposition MP Faris Maumoon was sentenced to four-months’ imprisonment on charges of identity fraud. The state argued he had used the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)’s flag and logo after he had been expelled from the party. In July, Amnesty International declared Faris Maumoon a prisoner of conscience who was convicted on fabricated charges. He was released on bail in September, and on October 25, the High Court overturned his identify fraud sentence; however, he remained on trial on separate charges of bribery and terrorism on allegations he attempted to bribe parliamentarians to overthrow the government and faced 17-20-years’ imprisonment.

Former vice president Ahmed Adeeb was serving a 33-year prison sentence on multiple counts of corruption and terrorism, including for an alleged plot to kill the president, and was kept in solitary confinement until his November 27 transfer to house release. Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin served two years of a 17-year sentence for an alleged coup plot before the High Court overturned his sentence November 22.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. The Civil Court addressed noncriminal cases.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In September the Ministry of Tourism ordered approximately 80 individuals living in 18 houses on H. Dh. Kulhudhuffushi to vacate their residences within five days to make way for the construction of an airport. In August the island’s magistrate court had dismissed cases filed by two of the households alleging the government had not provided the amount of compensation it promised when ordering the households to move in 2017. In October the High Court overturned the magistrate court’s rulings, citing lack of due process and ordered the magistrate court to review the decisions.

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

The law prohibits security officials from opening or reading radio messages, letters, or telegrams, or monitoring telephone conversations, except as expressly provided by law. Security forces may open the mail of private citizens and monitor telephone conversations if authorized to do so by a court during a criminal investigation.

On several occasions, the MPS entered private homes without search warrants, to obstruct opposition political activity. In February, after failing to locate MP Ilham Ahmed for arrest under a warrant, the MPS took his wife, Aminath Maasha, into custody on two separate occasions and only released her after Ahmed turned himself in to police.

In February the MPS issued new rules specifying detainees must speak in either Dhivehi or English with their lawyers after former president Gayoom engaged in private consultations with his lawyer in Arabic.

In March, days after Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Thayyib Shaheem claimed his mobile phone number was disconnected and reassigned to a third party who had changed the passwords to his social media accounts using the number, telecommunications company Dhiraagu confirmed it had allowed the MPS to access Shaheem’s mobile phone SIM card based on a criminal court order.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State,” but the government did not respect this right. A 2013 law on peaceful assembly restricts protests outside designated areas, and a 2016 amendment to the law further restricts the designated areas for lawful protests in the capital city. Protesters must obtain prior written permission from the MPS to hold protests outside of designated areas and from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold protests within the designated area, which local civil society organizations condemned as unconstitutional. Opposition political parties expressed concern the amendment effectively banned protests in the city. Police reported they had dispersed 72 gatherings for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as of July 31. In a March 12 statement, the HRCM said MPS had used disproportionate force in dispersing multiple opposition protests since February 1, causing injuries to protesters and journalists, and violating regulations on use of less-than-lethal weapons in their use of pepper spray. Opposition parties also reported that the police and Ministry of Housing routinely ignored requests to grant permission to hold opposition protests, while allowing and facilitating progovernment gatherings to proceed.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed limits on this freedom. The government allowed only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.

NGOs reported that a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above MVR 25,000 ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant. The registrar dissolved the Maldives NGO Federation, a registered network of 62 NGOs, after it released a statement calling for the enforcement of the February 1 Supreme Court order to release nine detained opposition figures.

The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility of state funds to those parties with 10,000 or more members. A 2016 amendment to the act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application, legalizing a 2011 Elections Commission requirement. Forms without fingerprints would be considered invalid, and those persons would not be counted as members of a political party. The TM and the MDN raised concerns the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the year, however, the government confiscated the passports of several members of the political opposition, restricting their foreign travel.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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.

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 presidential elections held in September were generally free and fair, despite a flawed pre-election process, according to the TM. The international community and the TM identified several issues of concern during the pre-election phase, including the disqualification of opposition candidates, restrictions on monitoring and candidacy, widespread disenfranchisement of voters, appointment of loyalists in key positions at the EC, and misuse of government resources for Yameen’s campaign. Immediately after the election, the TM reported minor administrative issues on voting day, but no issues that could have affected the results of the election as announced by the EC. On October 10, President Yameen formally contested the presidential election results on the grounds of fraud and vote rigging. On October 21, the Supreme Court ruled there was no constitutional basis to question the legality or results of the election, citing a lack of evidence in Yameen’s petition.

The parliamentary elections held in March 2014 were well administered and transparent, according to the TM, “but wider issues of money politics threaten[ed] to hijack [the] democratic process.” The TM reported vote buying was widespread due to gaps in the electoral legal framework, lack of coordination, and a failure to take action by the relevant institutions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In July 2017 the PPM used a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on floor crossing to oust 12 PPM-turned-opposition parliamentarians from their seats. These members argued they had either left or been ejected from the party prior to the ruling and should be allowed to retain their seats. In a July ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged all 12 had appealed their dismissals at the Supreme Court and declared the Supreme Court needed to issue separate rulings in these cases to reach a final decision on their standing. As of October 30, the Supreme Court had issued rulings on all 12 of the MPs, reinstating them to parliament.

In May the MPS attempted to stop opposition MDP’s presidential primary based on a civil court order initiated by the attorney general. The MDP proceeded with voting despite MPS confiscation of ballot boxes and brief shut down of several voting stations. Although former president Mohamed Nasheed won the MDP primary, he gave up the ticket after the EC informed the party it would not allow Nasheed to contest in presidential elections, given his past terrorism conviction that disqualified him as a candidate.

Several NGOs expressed concerns prior to the September 23 presidential election regarding President Yameen’s misuse of state resources for his campaign, police action to remove the opposition’s campaign posters and banners, and the shutdown of opposition campaign halls ahead of President Yameen’s visits to islands. NGOs also raised questions about the voter reregistration process leading to concerns of voter disenfranchisement, and the EC’s decision not to include the TM in the National Election Advisory Board as practiced in all previous elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. The TM and the United Nations noted, however, a disproportionately low number of female candidates who contested in the local council elections in 2017. Thirty-nine women were elected as councilors for a total of 653 seats, and five women were elected to the 85-member parliament. Women’s rights activists highlighted lack of government and political party effort to encourage political participation of women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The independent Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has responsibility for investigating corruption charges involving senior government officials. According to NGOs, executive interference, a narrow definition of corruption in the law, and the lack of a provision to investigate and prosecute illicit enrichment limited the commission’s work.

NGOs noted an increase in corruption throughout society during the year. Per media and NGO reporting, judges regularly took bribes, and the president and ruling-party members of parliament illicitly enriched themselves with public money. In February the ACC began investigating the purchase of two luxury apartments worth approximately $586,600 by PPM MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem; the investigation was ongoing as of September.

In March the Ministry of Islamic Affairs confirmed media reports it had failed to hand over to the Bangladesh Red Crescent $1.1 million raised in 2017 to support Rohingya Muslim refugees. After two weeks of public outrage, the ministry announced the handover had been completed. NGOs reported the government did not disclose information related to major development projects or leasing of islands for tourism activity. NGOs and journalists also reported government authorities did not comply with right-to-information (RTI) requests. One NGO reported some authorities began requiring a copy of the national identity card and fingerprints of individuals submitting RTI requests.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires parliamentarians to submit annually to the secretary general of parliament a statement of all property owned, monetary assets, business interests, and liabilities. The constitution also requires the president and each cabinet minister to submit a similar statement to the auditor general and for each judge to submit a similar statement to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). It was unclear whether officials submitted these statements, which do not require public disclosure. The law does not stipulate criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance and does not require the vice president to disclose income and assets.

In July then opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof accused President Yameen of failing to submit his financial statements to the auditor general since 2014. Yameen’s spokesperson denied the allegations but refused to comment on when the statement was last submitted. The TM reported the auditor general, the parliament, and JSC had not complied since 2015 with RTI requests submitted seeking details of financial statements.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials, however, were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views. Some domestic NGOs reported central government authorities instructed project partners in local islands not to engage with them on projects related to the promotion of democracy and human rights. Some project participants asked not to be shown in social media coverage of NGO activities for fear of reprisals from government employers.

Domestic NGOs reported authorities sometimes delayed or imposed strict requirements in issuing visas for foreign experts and consultants intending to travel to the country to collaborate with domestic NGOs. During the February SoE, immigration authorities refused entry to a four-member delegation from LAWASIA, a regional association of judges, lawyers, jurists and legal organizations intending to assess judicial independence, administration of law, rule of law and rights-related issues, and the independence of the legal profession. In a statement, LAWASIA said the delegation was held in a closed detention facility under guard and surveillance before they were deported. LAWASIA had informed several authorities of their visit including HRCM, members of the judiciary and government representatives including the attorney general and had reportedly confirmed meetings with some of them prior to their arrival.

In May, a day after the TM released a pre-election assessment reporting public concerns over challenges posed to the conduct of free and fair presidential elections, the EC informed the TM of its decision not to include the TM on the National Election advisory Committee. The TM had sat on this committee for all elections since 2008.

NGOs reported a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above $1,630 or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant. The registrar dissolved the Maldives NGO Federation, a registered network of 62 NGOs, after they released a statement calling for the enforcement of the February 1 Supreme Court order to release nine detained opposition figures.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRCM is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to promote and protect human rights under the constitution, Maldivian Islamic law, and regional and international human rights conventions ratified by the country. NIC is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to investigate allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to the police for further investigation. Both opposition political parties and NGOs questioned the independence of the HRCM and NIC. In September, five NGOs expressed disbelief over a September 1 HRCM statement declaring an environment conducive to free and fair elections was in place. The NGOs noted the HRCM had not consulted any NGOs involved in election monitoring before reaching this conclusion and raised 15 points that show a “significant inconsistency between HRCM’s findings and the openly and publicly available information and evidence to the contrary.”

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against both men and women, as well as spousal rape and domestic violence including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. The law also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands against medical orders and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The law allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower. Penalties range from four-months’ to 10-years’ imprisonment, depending on factors such as the age of the victim.

NGOs reported MPS officers were reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, believing such violence was justified. Reportedly, this made victims reluctant to file criminal cases against abusers. While the MPS received 71 cases of domestic violence as of July, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, which provides psychosocial support for victims of domestic violence, received 204 cases during the same period.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services received reports of rape, sexual offenses, and domestic violence and conducted social inquiry assessments of cases they submitted to the MPS. They also provided psychological support to victims during MPS investigations.

To streamline the process of reporting abuses against women and children, the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services established family and children’s service centers on every atoll in 2016. Residential facilities were established in only four of the centers to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no data on the frequency of FGM/C, although religious leaders in 2014 called for the practice to be revived. Local NGOs reported the practice persisted, but societal stigma restricted public discussion of the issue.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: A 2015 amendment to the penal code states only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery. No hadd penalties were enforced. Prior to the amendment, the penal code allowed for the implementation of milder penalties only in limited cases, including flogging for fornication and optional flogging for consuming alcohol and pork, not fasting during Ramadan, and for perjury.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, detention facilities, and any centers that provide public services, but the government did not enforce the law.

The MPS reported 16 cases of sexual harassment filed from January to July under the Sexual Harassment Act, none of which was forwarded for prosecution.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination including in workplaces, educational institutions, and service providers, such as hospitals, but discrimination against women remained a problem. NGOs reported authorities more readily accused women than men of adultery, in part because visible pregnancies made the allegedly adulterous act more obvious, while men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law. Women’s rights activists reported that women who initiated divorce proceedings faced undue delays in court as compared to men who initiated divorce proceedings. According to women’s rights activists, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law.

During the year the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services finalized a Gender Equality Action Plan covering five main areas: leadership and governance, economic development, institutional gender mainstreaming, gender-based violence, and access to justice. The ministry also set up a national steering committee to oversee implementation and provided orientation training for committee members in August.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents. Under the law a child born of a citizen father or mother, regardless of the child’s place of birth, may derive citizenship. Lawyers reported several cases during the year in which the Family Court refused to register children in instances where one of the parents was a foreigner.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through secondary school. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services handled 49 cases of children being deprived of education as of August. The ministry said this included indefinite suspensions of students, schools’ refusal to enroll children, and parental refusal to send the children to school. NGOs and activists noted the effect of religious extremism on child rights was an emerging issue but lacked a baseline study determining its prevalence.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted of sexual offenses against children. If a person is legally married to a minor under Islamic law, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation is considered criminal. The courts have the power to detain perpetrators, although most were released pending sentencing and allowed to return to the communities of their victims. The MPS investigates and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services is in charge of following up on reports of child abuse, including cases of sexual abuse. Half of the total cases received by the Ministry of Gender and Family as of July were cases of child abuse, the majority of them involving sexual abuse. Of the child abuse cases received by the MPS, 45 percent were also sexual abuse cases, with the MPS forwarding only 16 of these cases for prosecution as of July. Human rights activists reported the lack of effective coordination between authorities handling child abuse cases remained a problem. In 2015 the Ministry of Gender and Family first published the online child sex offenders’ registry that, as of September, listed 74 individuals and their photographs, full names, identification card numbers, addresses, dates of conviction, dates of imprisonment, dates of scheduled release, and whereabouts.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to a September 2016 amendment to the Family Regulation, the Family Court must petition the Supreme Court for approval for girls and boys under age 18 to marry. The Ministry of Gender and Family must also submit an assessment of the proposed marriage to the Supreme Court, and the marriage can proceed only after the Supreme Court grants the Family Court approval for the union. The Ministry of Gender had received requests to assess three proposals for 16-year-olds and three proposals for 17-year-olds to get married as of August. The ministry had not concluded their assessments as of September.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act prohibits child prostitution and the use, procurement, or provision of a child (below age 18) for the production of pornography or for pornographic performance. The crime is punishable by imprisonment between 15 and 25 years. The act stipulates that a child between ages 13 and 18 involved in a sexual act is deemed not to have given consent, “unless otherwise proven.” The law also treats the prostitution of children by a third party as a form of human trafficking with exploitation under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act with a 15-year maximum sentence. The law generally requires the acts of exploitation be predicated on movement and does not criminalize it in the absence of coercion. The penal code allows the Prosecutor General’s Office to lodge multiple charges against a perpetrator for a single offense. For sex trafficking, this means the office can file charges for human trafficking under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act and for prostitution under the Child Sexual Abuse Act and aggregate the penalties so perpetrators serve longer sentences for a single offense. The MPS investigated five cases of child pornography, none of which was forwarded for prosecution as of July. The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services reported one case of child prostitution as of August.

Institutionalized Children: Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) released a report in 2016 detailing abuses in government-run “safe homes.” ARC reported children routinely spent many months at these homes, although they were intended to be temporary stopovers for children being taken into state care. According to ARC, the safe homes were inadequately furnished and equipped, lacked basic essentials, and were often understaffed, resulting in inadequate care, protection, and education for institutionalized children.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no Jewish residents in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law provide for the rights and freedom from most types of discrimination for persons with disabilities. Although the constitution provides for freedom from discrimination in access to employment for persons with disabilities, the Disabilities Act does not do so. The Disabilities Act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities as well as financial assistance. Since the establishment of the National Registry of People with Disabilities in 2011, 6,330 persons had been registered, as of September. The act mandates the state to provide a monthly financial benefit of not less than MVR 2,000 ($130) to each registered individual. NGOs reported the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA), which handles the National Registry, has strict conditions and a cumbersome screening process that prevent the majority of persons with disabilities from being registered. The NSPA requires an assessment from a medical center in Male City, which can cost up to $2,600 for some families living in the islands who have to travel and stay in Male City for lengthy periods while the assessment is completed. The NSPA has also published the requirements for inclusion in the National Registry and has rejected several applications. NGOs noted inclusion on the registry is a precondition to access several other benefits provided for persons with disabilities, including priority in accessing social housing schemes and special accommodations during voting.

Although no official studies have been concluded, NGOs which operate throughout the country estimated as much as 10 percent of the total population of persons with disabilities have been subjected to various forms of abuse and 40 to 60 percent of girls or women with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, are subject to sexual abuse. The families of these victims often do not report these cases to authorities, because the police investigation and judicial process is inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

Government services for persons with disabilities included special educational programs for those with sensory disabilities. Inadequate facilities and logistical challenges related to transporting persons with disabilities between islands and atolls made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce or consistently attend school. In 2017 a special, one-time government initiative provided jobs for 200 persons with disabilities. NGOs reported most of these employees had since been dismissed due to the offices being unable to provide for their special needs. They also reported two cases in which such employees were subject to sexual abuse from their superiors. The vast majority of public streets and buildings are not accessible for wheelchair users.

The government integrated students with disabilities into mainstream educational programs at primary and secondary level. Most large government schools also held special units catering to persons with disabilities who cannot be accommodated in the mainstream classes. Each school also has a disability ambassador, and all teachers receive special training. Nonetheless, children with disabilities had virtually no access to transition support to higher secondary education.

In July the EC announced the chief electoral official at voting stations would have to approve any individuals entering the voting booth for the purposes of assisting persons with disabilities who require assistance to vote in presidential elections.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Maldives Immigration reported 145,000 legal foreign workers as of August, with an additional estimated 15,000-20,000 undocumented foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. NGOs reported government agencies implemented discriminatory policies towards expatriate laborers. One island council reportedly restricted foreign migrant workers from accessing certain neighborhoods on the island at night. In June former minister of home affairs Umar Naseer, who had considered contesting in the September presidential elections, pledged to deport all undocumented migrant workers, labelling them threats to national security and to those citizens seeking employment. Human rights activists said Naseer’s statements reflected the views of a large number of citizens and alleged some local citizens had prevented migrant workers from attending mosque during Ramadan.

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

The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct. Under the penal code, the punishment includes imprisonment of up to eight years, as well as a provision for a supplementary punishment of 100 lashes imposed under Maldives Islamic law. None of the legal provisions prohibiting discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. No organizations focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) problems in the country. There were no reports of officials complicit in abuses against LGBTI persons, although societal stigma likely discouraged individuals from reporting such problems. Local citizens who expressed support for LGBTI rights on social media reportedly were targeted for online harassment as “apostates” or irreligious. NGOs reported several members of the LGBTI community sought refuge in Sri Lanka after societal shaming related to their sexual orientation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The trial of six men arrested in 2017 and charged in connection with the murder of Yameen Rasheed, a prominent blogger and social media activist who disappeared in April 2017, continued during the year. Police initially stated a group of young men, unaffiliated with any organization, had killed Rasheed because they believed he mocked Islam and that they were investigating unspecified persons of interest who may have encouraged the suspects in committing the crime. Rasheed had received multiple death threats before his disappearance, which were reported to police, but according to Rasheed’s social media accounts, his friends, and family, police had not responded or investigated. In a public speech on April 2017, President Yameen condemned Rasheed’s actions as “mocking” Islam, which activists viewed as Yameen’s justifying Rasheed’s killing. Police had not arrested additional suspects as of October 23.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association; however, there is no law protecting the right to freedom of association, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination. Worker organizations are treated as civil society organizations without the right to engage in collective bargaining. Police and armed forces do not have the right to form unions. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner. Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers. The Home Ministry enforces the act by arresting workers who go on strike. There were widespread reports from civil society organizations that civil service employees were also discouraged from going on strikes or participating in political protests. In August and September, there were reports that the government terminated or transferred several government workers to other islands for participating in the opposition’s presidential campaign activities.

The government did not always enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) is mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations. The Employment Tribunal examines and adjudicates legal matters arising between employers and employees and other employment problems, but its processes are cumbersome and complicated. Violators who refused to correct violations or pay fines were referred to the courts, whose decisions often were ignored. The cases are heard in the Dhivehi language, which few foreign workers understood. Foreign workers may not file a case with the tribunal unless they appoint a representative to communicate for them in the local language. If an employer fails to comply with a decision of the tribunal, the case must be submitted to the Civil Court, which often delays decisions. The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) reported the judicial system had delayed final decisions on numerous such cases, some older than five years of age. The Employment Tribunal only hears cases submitted within six months of the alleged offense. In September the Employment Tribunal amended its regulations so that dismissed or withdrawn appeals can only be resubmitted once. Previously, there was no restriction on the number of times such cases could be resubmitted. The Employment Tribunal received 148 claims as of July, 97 of which dealt with unfair dismissal.

Under the law, some workers’ organizations were established as civil society organizations, specifically in the tourism, education, health, and shipping (seafarers’) sectors, although these functioned more as cooperative associations and had very limited roles in labor advocacy. The Teachers Association of the Maldives and TEAM were among the more active workers’ organizations, along with the Maldives Fisherman’s Association and Maldivian Ports Workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

All forms of forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and there were reports forced labor occurred. Nevertheless, the LRA reported officers were adequately trained to identify cases of forced labor and stated that the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act provided an effective solution.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The foreign worker population was particularly vulnerable to forced labor. Maldives Immigration detained undocumented workers at Hulhumale Detention Center, an immigration-processing center near Male, until deportation or repatriation. There were reports of bureaucratic delays in processing undocumented immigrants and substandard facilities at the immigration processing center. Maldives Immigration reported it screened the workers for victims of trafficking, but there were reports some of the detained and deported undocumented workers should have been identified as trafficking victims.

Under the penal code, forced labor carries a penalty of up to eight-years’ imprisonment. Under section 29 of the Maldives Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, confiscation, alteration, or withholding of identity and travel documents is a crime, and perpetrators are subject to up to five-years’ imprisonment. In 2015 parliament approved the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2015-19. The penalty for human trafficking is a maximum sentence of 10 years. The police confirmed they did not investigate any labor recruiters or agencies allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices during the year.

The LRA, under the Ministry of Economic Development, recommended blacklisting of companies that violated the law, precluding the companies from bringing in new workers until violations were rectified. Maldives Immigration enforced the measure and blacklisted additional companies, although some companies resurfaced under different names. The law allows a fine of not more than MVR 50,000 ($3,250) for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies. The government took steps to improve the conditions of migrant workers through the periodic distribution of pamphlets explaining their rights that were translated into languages commonly used by these workers.

As of August, Maldives Immigration reported the number of documented foreign workers at approximately 145,000. They estimated there were an additional 15,000-20,000 undocumented foreign workers in the country, mostly from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the 160,000-165,000 foreign workers in the country were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors. Most victims of forced labor suffered the following practices: debt bondage, holding of passports by employers, fraudulent offers of employment, not being paid the promised salary, or not being paid at all. Domestic workers, especially migrant female domestic workers, were sometimes trapped in forced servitude, in which employers used threats, intimidation, and in some cases sexual violence to prevent them from leaving.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with an exception for children who voluntarily participate in family businesses. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18 in “any work that may have a detrimental effect on health, education, safety, or conduct,” but there was no list of such activities. The law prescribes a fine of no less than MVR 1,000 ($65) and no more than MVR 5,000 ($325) for infractions. The Civil Service Commission reported there were 18 civil servants between the ages of 16 and 18 working for the government as of July 31.

The Ministry of Gender and Family, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Family and Child Protection Unit of the MPS are tasked with receiving, investigating, and taking action on complaints of child labor. According to the LRA, MPS and the Ministry of Gender and Family, none of the complaints received related to child labor or employment of minors. Additionally, the LRA found no cases of child labor during its regular labor inspections during the year. The MPS had investigated five cases of child pornography none of which was forwarded for prosecution as of July. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, because no additional resources were dedicated specifically to uncover additional child labor cases.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, political opinion, religion, social origin, marital status, or family obligations. The government generally enforced those laws and regulations, with some exceptions that included unequal pay for women and retribution for political association.

According to NGOs, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The law and constitution prohibit discrimination against women for employment or for equal pay or equal income, but women tended to earn less than men for the same work and also because they tended to work in lower-paying industries. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women with children to remain employed after they had children.

In March the Education Ministry dismissed a schoolteacher for participating in a political opposition protest. Parents of students at the school complained and noted other teachers who participated in political rallies in support of the government had not been dismissed. The teacher was not reinstated as of October.

The Employment Act establishes an Employment Tribunal to examine and protect the rights of employers and employees in legal matters and other employment problems. In 2016 President Yameen overhauled the seven-person tribunal by dismissing its president and vice president and appointing two new members. According to the Employment Act, tribunal members can be removed only in cases of bankruptcy, incapacity, conviction, negligence, or contravening the oath of office. Civil society organizations asserted the former president and vice president did not violate any of these stipulations, and the surprise dismissal of the tribunal members led to allegations of executive branch control over tribunal decisions. TEAM claimed President Yameen misused his authority to influence the tribunal’s decisions, especially in cases in which persons were fired for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of assembly.

Discrimination against migrant workers was pervasive (see section 7.b.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country does not have a national policy on minimum wage. Wages in the private sector were commonly set by contract between employers and employees and were based on rates for similar work in the public sector. The salary of the lowest-paid employee in the government sector was MVR 3,100 ($202) per month. According to TEAM, the average monthly salary for a worker employed at a tourism resort was MVR 3,835 ($250). According to 2016 Asian Development Bank statistics, 15 percent of citizens lived below the poverty level of MVR 29 ($1.90) per day.

The law establishes maximum hours of work, overtime, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and guidelines for workplace safety. The law provides for a 48-hour per week limit on work with a compulsory 24-hour break if employees work six days consecutively. Certain provisions in the law, such as overtime and public-holiday pay, do not apply to emergency workers, air and sea crews, executive staff of any company, or workers who are on call. The law mandates implementation of a safe workplace, procurement of secure tools and machinery, verification of equipment safety, use of protective equipment to mitigate health hazards, employee training in the use of protective gear, and appropriate medical care. All employers are required to provide health insurance for foreign workers.

There were no national standards for safety measures, and as a result such measures were at the discretion of employers. The LRA also reported difficulties in assessing safety standards during inspections due to the lack of national standards. In 2013 parliament approved the country’s accession to eight core International Labor Organization conventions, but the government had not finalized the bills required for the conventions to be legislated into domestic law as of September 18.

The LRA and Employment Tribunal are charged with implementing employment law, and the LRA conducted workplace investigations and provided dispute resolution mechanisms to address complaints from workers. Authorities completed 241 inspections as of July 31. The most common findings related to employment contracts and job descriptions, overtime and other pay, and problems related to leave. The LRA preferred to issue notices to employers to correct problems, because cases were deemed closed once fines were paid. The LRA typically gave employers one to three months to correct problems but lacked the resources to monitor compliance systematically. The LRA recommended five companies for blacklisting through Maldives Immigration but did not fine any companies for noncompliance as of July 31. According to Maldives Immigration, there were 2,275 companies blacklisted over multiple years as of August.

The LRA reported 175 labor-related complaints as of September 18, 74 of which came from foreign workers. The majority of the complaints related to nonpayment of salary and benefits and failure to grant annual leave.

Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, worked in unacceptable conditions, and were frequently forced to accept low wages to repay their debts with employment agencies, especially within the construction sector. Employers often housed foreign workers at their worksites. Some migrant workers were exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially in the construction industry, and worked in hazardous environments without proper ventilation.

The Employment Act protects workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution establishes the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In November and December 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some observers noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and arbitrary detention; site blocking and criminal defamation; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; corruption; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriage; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; lack of official accountability related to discrimination and violence, including rape, against women; and use of forced, compulsory, and child labor.

The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing ongoing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability, nor did most conflict-era human rights violators; there were significant delays in implementing, providing adequate resources for, and granting full independence to the country’s two transitional justice mechanisms.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On August 5, two Nepal Police officers shot and killed two men who had allegedly kidnapped and killed an 11-year-old boy in Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu. The police involved asserted that they encountered the suspects in a forested area, the suspects fired upon police officers first, and the officers responded with deadly force. Human rights activists and local media said the suspects were already in custody and that police staged the encounter. The families of the alleged abductors filed a complaint with the quasi-governmental National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). On August 24, the Armed Police Force (APF) opened fire on a crowd in Kanchanpur that had gathered to demand justice after 13-year-old girl Nirmala Panta was raped and killed. A 14-year-old boy was killed and 24 individuals were injured at the hands of police during the protest. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced it would investigate police handling of the incident. As of October, eight police officers were suspended based on the Home Ministry’s probe committee recommendation, and police had no suspect in custody for the rape and murder. On September 1, Ram Manohar Yadav of the Free Madhesh movement died while undergoing medical treatment after remaining in police custody following his arrest August 23. Rights activists claimed police tortured Yadav and failed to provide adequate medical attention after he fell ill while in custody. The Ministry of Home Affairs denied the claims but admitted Yadav was taken to four different hospitals in search of an intensive care unit. The NHRC instructed its regional office to investigate Yadav’s death.

In August the federal government released its report on the March 2017 Saptari incident in which APF officers killed five protesters. As of October no charges had been filed, and the provincial government formed another investigative committee.

The High Level Enquiry Commission (HLEC) formed to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and APF completed its investigation of more than 3,000 complaints received in 2017 related to protests over the promulgation of the constitution in 2015. The 2015 protests left 45 individuals dead, including nine police officers. The HLEC disbanded after it completed its report, but by year’s end the government had not made the report public.

In May, President Bhandari pardoned Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist politician convicted of killing Ujjan Kumar Shrestha in 1998.

b. Disappearance

The new criminal code, which came into effect in August, formally criminalized disappearance. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. There was no update on police investigation into the 2016 disappearance, allegedly with government involvement, of Kumar Tamang.

The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the NHRC, 846 cases of disappearances remain unresolved, 612 of which may have involved state actors. As of September the government did not prosecute any government officials, current or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the NHRC identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 149 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of September the government had not prosecuted any Maoists or state actors for involvement in disappearances.

In June 2017 the Commission for the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission had before it 3,197 registered cases and ultimately pursued 2,512 cases. Of these, 1,686 investigations were near completion.

Human rights organizations continued to express concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffered from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to ensure confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses. Victims also have expressed concern that investigators in many districts have asked about their interest in reconciliation.

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

The constitution prohibits torture and the newly enacted criminal code criminalizes torture and enumerates punishment for torture. The Torture Compensation Act provides for compensation for victims of torture.

According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. Local human rights NGO Advocacy Forum (AF) reported no evidence of major changes in police abuse trends across the country, but AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees.

The Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), another local NGO, stated that torture victims often were hesitant to file complaints due to police or other official intimidation and fear of retribution. In some cases victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. According to THRDA the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented, according to THRDA and other NGOs.

THRDA reported that 34 percent of detainees in police detention centers in the country’s southern Terai belt had been subjected to some form of physical and/or mental abuse. According to the Nepal Police Human Rights Section, many alleged incidents were not formally reported or investigated by any police authorities.

There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system of torture committed during the civil conflict.

The United Nations reported that during the year, it had received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Nepal deployed in United Nations Mission in South Sudan. The case alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, involving minors). Investigations both by the United Nations and by Nepal were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards, according to human rights groups.

Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reported that in its survey of 31 prisons, facilities designed to hold 4,308 inmates held 7,909 convicted prisoners. THRDA stated that overcrowding also remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and air, with a few exceptions.

Some facilities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial detainee children with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.

The OAG reported that prisoners and detainees in the 31 detention centers it monitored had been deprived of regular medical check-up and treatment. According to THRDA most prisons lacked separate facilities for women, children, and persons with disabilities.

According to AF, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory and reported medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. According to the OAG, the government increased each prisoner’s daily allowance from 45 Nepalese Rupees (NRs) ($.45) to NRs 60 ($.60). AF reported that some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.

Administration: There were no alternatives to imprisonment or fines, or both, for nonviolent offenders.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, the National Women’s Commission, and the National Dalit Commission as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that they and some other NGOs often were prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, although some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. The law gives chief district officers wide latitude to make arrests, and human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Nepal Police is responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The APF is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and APF report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army (NA) is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The NA reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained authority over the Nepal Police, APF, and Army.

The Nepal Police and APF each have a human rights section (HRS) and the NA has a human rights directorate (HRD). The NA HRD and Nepal Police HRS have independent investigative powers. The NA’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs.

In the local fiscal year 2017 to 2018, the Nepal Police HRS received 144 human rights violation complaints, for which 67 police personnel were punished. The Nepal Army HRD stated it received no complaints of human rights violations during the year. All security forces received human rights training prior to deployments on UN peacekeeping operations. The NA incorporated human rights training into professional military education, and conducted ongoing training in all units. Each brigade has a designated human rights officer, and divisions have larger human rights staff. At the Army headquarters, a brigadier general, who reports directly to the chief of staff, heads the HRD. Similarly, the Nepal Police and APF incorporated training on human rights into their overall training curricula for security forces. The APF and Nepal Police HRSs issued booklets outlining human rights best practices to most police officers, and mobile training teams reached remote areas of the country to instruct officers on human rights and democratic policing principles. The head of the Nepal Police Human Rights Cell credited this training with eliminating many of the minor human rights violations committed by untrained police personnel, including physical and verbal abuses, allowing her office to focus on serious cases when they arise. Nepal Police incorporated human rights into all levels of training, covering nearly 15,000 personnel during the year.

Lack of punishment or accountability for police abuses remained problems.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time).

If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation. In special cases (such as for suspected acts of corruption), a suspect can be held for up to six months. The constitution provides for access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system does not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants.

Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison. Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. While a system of bail exists, bonds are too expensive for most citizens. The accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organization Informal Sector Service Center documented 84 incidents of arbitrary arrest as of June.

Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence, but pretrial detention occasionally exceeded the length of the ultimate sentence following trial and conviction.

Under the Public Security Act, security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The court does not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.

Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit detention without charge for as long as 25 days with extensions. This act covers crimes such as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the act vests too much discretionary power in local authorities.

According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in a 2015 report–the most recent available–that 41 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial, but these rights were not always applied. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who are unaware of their rights, in particular lower-caste individuals and members of some ethnic groups, are thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali, and interpreters were made available to interpret a variety of languages. Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.

Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The Army Act requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the NA has told the government it is willing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and CIEDP and will not “hide” behind the Army Act. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights violations in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Maoists and their affiliate organizations have returned some previously seized property as required by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the civil conflict, but they kept other illegally seized lands and properties. According to the Asia Foundation, a significant number of conflict-era land disputes remained outstanding.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these provisions.

The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there are relatively few checks against police discretion.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. The government continued its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events, such as Tibetan New Year (Losar), World Peace Day (the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize), and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.

In early July the government restricted demonstrations at the Maitighar Mandala, a historical public space. Opposition leaders, media, and civil society members said the government’s decision violated citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. The Supreme Court issued an interim order to the government not to implement the decision.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) is restrictive and cumbersome, the government has wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements vary among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis. Additionally, the Association Registration Act empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council (SWC), the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The SWC requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs, which places undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy issues.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly. 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 and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without recourse to present required documents at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being trafficked or abused, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border rendering them more vulnerable to being trafficked.

On August 24, immigration officers at Tribhuvan International Airport detained and prevented from traveling Lenin Bista, a former Maoist child combatant who had been invited to a conference in Thailand on youth in conflict. Immigration authorities told Bista he could not travel because he had not received government permission, although they reportedly were unable to explain why such permission would be necessary.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks displaced millions of individuals. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2017 led to 384,000 displacements.

Many earthquake-affected IDPs remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.

Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary return in safety and dignity of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement has not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property issues, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.

The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized large numbers of Tibetans as refugees and supported resettlement to foreign countries of certain refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the roughly 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since. More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,500 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 53 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, and 31 from January through September. The government issued UNHCR-facilitated exit permits for recent arrivals from Tibet who were transiting while traveling to India. While Nepal-based Tibetans with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque and travel documents were typically valid for one year and one single trip. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied NRs 563 (approximately $5) fines per day out of status–and a discretionary penalty of up to NRs 50,000 (approximately $500) to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.

Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The Nepal-born children of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions and were denied the right to work officially. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property, or consistently document births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.

The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to these refugees, but the refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work.

Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. The government officially does not allow the approximately 6,500 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it allows UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. Since 2007 the government permitted third-country resettlement for more than 109,000 refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

An estimated 5.4 million individuals (24 percent of the population age 16 and over) lacked citizenship documentation. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.

Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the registering parent, which contributed to statelessness. The constitution states that citizenship derives from one Nepali parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a Nepali mother and a non-Nepali father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of Nepali parents, even when the mother possessed Nepali citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child Nepali citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.

The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent and be eligible for naturalization. In practice many single women face difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in May 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of Nepali mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.

Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lack specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.

For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.

Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage, birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.

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 government held parliamentary, provincial, and local assembly elections over five phases throughout 2017. International observers indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally well conducted, despite some violent incidents, and logistical and operational challenges, including a notable lack of transparency and adequate voter education by the ECN, which affected the electoral process. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small explosive devices and hoax bombs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies and allocates one third of all federal and provincial legislative seats to women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In one of several high-profile corruption cases, on October 5, the Commission for the Investigations of Abuse of Authority filed corruption charges against 12 individuals including parliamentarian Hari Narayan Prasad Sah Rauniyar and the former proprietor of Pappu Construction. The CIAA accused the lawmaker and his son of misappropriating more than NRs 193 million ($1.6 million) for awarding construction projects reportedly worth billions of rupees for infrastructure projects, including bridges that collapsed before their inauguration.

The CIAA expanded its investigative scope during the year to include a civil engineering lab to determine the quality of materials used in public infrastructure, a common target for systemic corrupt cost cutting. During a nine-month sting operation, the CIAA facilitated the arrest of 88 civil servants, including two joint secretaries, and the filing of 56 cases.

As in previous years, student and labor groups associated with political parties demanded contributions from schools and businesses. Corruption remained problematic within the Nepal Police and APF.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws and the vast majority of civil servants complied with the requirement. Despite the required financial disclosures, the National Vigilance Center, the body mandated to monitor financial disclosures and make them publically available, generally does not systematically review its findings or publish these details.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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. While government officials were generally cooperative with NGO investigations, the government placed administrative burdens on some international NGOs by complicating procedures for obtaining visas and compelling them to sign asset control documents. Some NGOs, particularly those with a religious element, reported increasing bureaucratic constraints after the devolution of power to local level officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC investigated allegations of abuses, but resource constraints, insufficient staff (95 out of 309 positions were vacant as of August, a decrease from 232 vacant positions in August 2016), and limitations on its mandate led some activists to view the body as ineffective and insufficiently independent. The NHRC claimed the government helped promote impunity by failing to implement its recommendations fully. The NHRC stated that from its establishment in 2000 through the current year, it had made recommendations for prosecution and reparations in 818 cases (as of July). More than three-quarters of these involved conflict-era incidents.

The government and judiciary have not significantly addressed conflict-era human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the NA, Nepal Police, APF, and Maoist parties.

The TRC and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) began their initial two-year terms in February 2015. As of October human rights experts reported that neither the TRC nor the CIEDP had made significant progress on investigations or reporting.

Local human rights advocates cite a number of legal shortcomings that pose obstacles to a comprehensive and credible transitional justice process in the country. For example, the law does not retroactively criminalize torture or enforced disappearance, and the statute of limitations for rape is only 180 days.

Additionally, the law does not specifically recognize war crimes or crimes against humanity, although the constitution recognizes as law treaties to which the country is a party. Critics also cite a number of instances in which parliament has failed to implement Supreme Court decisions. For example, in a 2015 ruling, the court nullified provisions of the TRC and CIEDP Act that would have granted the commissions discretionary power to recommend amnesty for serious crimes because amnesty would violate the then interim constitution and international obligations. As of November parliament had not amended the act to bring it in line with the Supreme Court decision, although the commissions have stated they intend to abide by the Court’s rulings.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is illegal, with minimum prison sentences that vary between five and 15 years, depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of a woman with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse.

Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although several high-profile cases highlighted the government’s failure to secure justice for victims of rape. On July 26, 13-year-old Nirmala Panta was raped and killed in Bhimdutta Municipality, Kanchanpur district. A government panel that reviewed the police response found that investigators acted with grave negligence and destroyed key evidence in the case. Human rights activists outside of Kathmandu expressed concern that police frequently refuse to register cases of gender-based violence, including occasionally rape cases. These groups report that police often prefer to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts.

Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. NGOs reported that violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was one of the major factors responsible for women’s relative poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization and contributed to intergenerational poverty. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage, which remained prevalent, limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse, including sex trafficking. The 2009 Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.

The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 77 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to the Women and Children Service Directorate, many women’s cells were not fully operational, but the Nepal Police, with assistance from foreign governments and NGOs, endeavored to build and improve their infrastructure and capacity. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, this guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.

The government maintained service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of gender-based violence. Gender experts said the service centers have improved coordination among police, NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution criminalizes violence against or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The criminal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes penalties of up to NRs 30,000 ($300), prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The legislation also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing fines of up to NRs 50,000 ($500), prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the 2015 Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence stipulates that any psychological abuse of women, including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry, is punishable. Nevertheless, according to NGOs dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.

Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. There were no reported prosecutions under the law. Media and NGOs reported numerous cases of violence against alleged witches, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem. For example, on August 2, family members of two persons accused of witchcraft filed a complaint against their accuser. According to the family members, both of the accused were socially neglected after the allegations of witchcraft.

Acid attacks were specifically criminalized; the NGO Burns Violence Survivors Nepal documented five acid attacks from January to September. For example, in September Bimal Shripali of Chitwan district attacked his neighbor Basanti Pariyar with acid. Police arrested Shripali, after, according to his police statement, he attacked Pariyar after she refused his marriage proposal.

The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in cattle sheds) continued to be a serious problem despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision and 2008 guidelines from the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare outlawing the practice. The practice was particularly common in rural western districts, where women periodically died from exposure to the elements. For example, local media reported that in January a 21-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation while trying to warm herself in her menstruation hut, and in July a 19-year-old woman died of a venomous snakebite she suffered while sleeping in her hut. The criminal code formally criminalized the practice by stipulating a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 3,000 ($30), or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 50,000 ($500), or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are insufficiently severe and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common.

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

Discrimination: Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.) and especially in rural areas. Dalit women in particular faced discrimination by virtue of their gender and caste status. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access and authority to the estate of their deceased husbands; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce it.

The Gender Equality Act adopted in 2006–along with more than 60 other laws–contain discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.

The constitution does not allow women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father (see section 2.d.) and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to Nepali wives.

Children

Birth Registration: Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the parent, which contributed to statelessness (see section 2.d. Statelessness). There was no difference in birth registration policies and procedures based on the gender of the child.

Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The 2016 Education Act divides the education system into Basic Education (Early Childhood Development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and Secondary Education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2017-18 school year 97.2 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity. A gender gap in secondary education persisted, with two-thirds of adolescent girls in rural areas reportedly not attending school.

Medical Care: The government provided basic health care free to children and adults although parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to increased awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), which has chapters in 75 districts.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20, but the country has a high rate of child marriage. According to UNICEF, more than a third of young women aged 20-24 report they were married by the age of 18, and somewhat more than 10 percent by age 15.

Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The civil code provides that the government must take action whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and exploited in prostitution and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (sometimes fronts for brothels). Enforcement was generally weak due to limited police investigation and capacity. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years. The penalties for rape vary according to the age of the victim and the relationship.

There is no specific law against child pornography, but the Children Act stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed.

Displaced Children: A large number of children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.d.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.

Institutionalized Children: Abuse and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately one-third of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation, and there is no reliable data on the many unregistered homes. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years. A 2013 study by Children and Women in Social Service and Human Rights showed that few such homes in the Kathmandu Valley met CCWB standards, although they provided some basic services.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contains additional rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all physically disabled citizens who are “financially poor” and the provision of special instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities.

The government provides services for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including a monthly stipend, building shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each of 753 local governments. In 2017 parliament passed the Disability Rights Act, which provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. The act also prohibits discrimination based on disability. Although government efforts to enforce laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities have gradually improved, they still are not fully effective. For example, books printed in Braille are not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education is not uniformly available to all interested persons with disability. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, the government did “no additional work” in this area during the year.

The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of NRs 2,000 ($20) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled, and NRs 600 ($6) for the “severely” disabled. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Additionally, the government provided financial support to sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist persons with hearing disabilities in obtaining government services. The government allocated NRs 80 million ($800,000) from the national budget to fund programs for persons with disabilities, including grants to several disability-related organizations and a minimum budget to pay for community-based rehabilitation in all 75 districts. NGOs reported that, although the government attempted to implement the 2012 Supreme Court order by making budget allocations to empowerment and development programs, little progress had been made.

The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development mandates that each district allocate 15 percent of its budget for minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens increased its budget for accessibility and distributed funds equally among 753 municipalities under the new federal system. Most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.

There are no restrictions in law on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, however, there were obstacles to exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.

Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of Dalits and made an effort to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also established the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.

The government recognized 59 ethnic/caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination. Some NGOs stated that indigenous people, whose settlements were disproportionately damaged by the 2015 earthquakes, were discriminated against in the quality and quantity of reconstruction materials they received. Other NGOs, however, stated that discriminatory practices were not widespread, and local and international NGOs engaged in reconstruction made efforts to prevent discrimination in the distribution of reconstruction materials.

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

No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.

In August the cabinet registered an amendment to the 2006 Citizenship Act that officially recognizes nonbinary gender identity for citizenship documents. This step is intended to reduce discrimination experienced by transgender persons. The current civil code, however, defines marriage only between opposite-sex persons, which LGBTI activists have interpreted as a sign of bias against LGBTI persons.

According to local LGBTI advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunities for LGBTI persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). Additionally, advocacy groups stated that some LGBTI persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.

Although several LGBTI candidates ran for office in local elections in 2017, LGBTI activists noted that election authorities prevented one person who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position. Separately, LGBTI activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting out of fear of harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.

According to LGBTI rights NGOs, harassment and abuse of LGBTI persons by private citizens and government officials declined during the year, especially in urban areas, although such incidents still occurred. Several NGOs praised the government, specifically the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, for taking the initiative in organizing LGBTI-related trainings and sensitivity programs to reduce violence and discrimination targeting LGBTI persons.

LGBTI rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. The Nepal Police HRS confirmed that some low-level harassment occurred because many citizens held negative views of LGBTI persons. The HRS added that the Nepal Police were not immune to such social prejudices. According to LGBTI advocacy group Blue Diamond Society, in February police officers assaulted two transgender women without cause. After registering the case with police and the NHRC, the victims received a formal apology and the police paid medical expenses.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination against persons who provided HIV-prevention services or against high-risk groups that could spread HIV/AIDS.

Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV remained common, according to NGOs.

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, except those organizations deemed by the government to be subversive or seditious. Freedom of association extends to workers in both the formal and informal sectors. Noncitizens cannot be elected as trade union officials. Local workers have the right to strike and bargain collectively, except for employees in essential services, including public transportation, banking, security, and health care. The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act approved in August 2016 prohibits workers from striking in any SEZ. There was only one SEZ under development. Members of the armed forces, police, and government officials at the undersecretary level or higher also are prohibited from taking part in union activities. In the private sector, employees in managerial positions are not permitted to join unions.

The law stipulates that unions must represent at least 25 percent of workers in a given workplace to be considered representative. The minimum requirement does not prohibit the formation of unofficial union groups, which may call strikes and enter into direct negotiation with the government. Workers in the informal sector may also form unions, but many workers were not aware of these rights.

The law also protects union representatives from adverse legal action arising from their official union duties, including collective bargaining, and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Workers dismissed for engaging in union activities can seek reinstatement by filing a complaint in labor court or with the Department of Labor, which has semijudicial and mediation authority. Most cases are settled through mediation. By law employers can fire workers only under limited conditions and only after three instances of misconduct. The law stipulates that participation in a strike that does not meet legal requirements constitutes misconduct, for which the consequences are suspension or termination of employment.

To conduct a legal strike, 51 percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor in a secret ballot, and unions are required to give 30 days’ notice before striking. If the union is unregistered, does not have majority support, or calls a strike prior to issuing 30 days’ notice, the strike is considered illegal.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Although the government restricted strikes in essential services, workers in hospitals, education services, and the transportation sector occasionally called strikes during the year and did not face any legal penalties. Many unions had links to political parties and did not operate independently from them, but worked effectively to advance the rights of workers. The government did not interfere in the functioning of workers’ organizations or threaten union leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides penalties ranging from one to 20 years in prison and fines of up to NRs 200,000 ($2,000). The law does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government made significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking despite limited resources, but the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor.

Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for work and 16 as the minimum age for hazardous work, and it mandates acceptable working conditions for children. Employers must maintain separate records of laborers between the ages of 14 and 17. The law prohibits employment of children in factories, mines, and 60 other categories of hazardous work and limits children between the ages of 16 and 17 to a 36-hour workweek (six hours a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., six days a week). The law also establishes penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine up to NRs 100,000 ($1,000) for those who unlawfully employ children.

The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and practices, had a weak enforcement record. The Department of Labor conducted most of its labor inspections in the formal sector while nearly all child labor occurred in the informal sector. The Department had 10 factory inspector positions in district labor offices and two senior factory inspector positions in Kathmandu. Chronic vacancies in these positions, however, limited the department’s effectiveness. Some of these positions were vacant due to regular rotation of civil servants, and resources devoted to enforcement were limited. In 2015 the Department of Labor created five senior labor officer positions in industry-heavy districts, but as of September the positions were all vacant. A broad range of laws and policies are designed to combat and eventually eliminate child labor. Penalties range from a NRs 10,000 ($100) fine and one year in prison to a NRs 200,000 ($2,000) fine and 20 years’ imprisonment.

Child labor occurred in agriculture, domestic service, portering, recycling, and transportation; the worst abuses were reported in brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, the carpet sector, embroidery factories, and the entertainment sector. In the informal sector, children worked long hours in unhealthy environments, carried heavy loads, were at risk of sexual exploitation, and at times suffered from numerous health problems (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, geographical or social origin, language, marital status, physical or health condition, disability, or ideological conviction. Labor regulations prohibit discrimination in payment or remuneration based on gender.

There are no provisions in the constitution, law, or regulations prohibiting discrimination, including labor discrimination, or discrimination based on color, age, national origin or citizenship, HIV-positive status, or other communicable disease.

Despite constitutional and legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, caste, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Such discrimination was most common in the informal sector, where monitoring by the government and human rights organizations was weak or absent and those in disadvantaged categories had little leverage or recourse. In the formal sector, labor discrimination generally took the form of upper-caste men without disabilities being favored in hiring, promotions, and transfers.

To be eligible for government jobs, Nepali national origin or citizenship is mandatory.

According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens and disability rights advocates, the overall rate of employment of persons with disabilities did not increase significantly. In the private sector, large numbers of persons with disabilities claimed they were denied work opportunities or dismissed due to their conditions. In all sectors employees with disabilities reported other forms of discriminatory treatment.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the government made little progress in implementing antidiscrimination legal provisions to assure employment opportunities for lower-caste individuals in both the public and private sectors. There was no comprehensive data on this abuse.

Reliable data on discrimination against LGBTI persons in various sectors was not available, but activists reported it was common for gender and sexual minorities to be denied promotions and competitive opportunities within the security services and athletics.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government increased the minimum wage for unskilled laborers in July to NRs 13,350 ($120) per month. For workers in the tea industry, the minimum wage was increased to NRs 10,781 ($100) per month. The minimum wage exceeded the official poverty line of NRs 52 ($.50) per day, but it was minimally sufficient to meet subsistence needs.

Minimum-wage laws apply to both the formal sector (which accounted for approximately 10 percent of the workforce) and the informal sector, but implementation was stronger in the formal sector.

The law stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with one day off per week and one-half hour of rest per five hours worked. The law limits overtime to no more than four hours in a day and 20 hours per week, with a 50 percent overtime premium per hour. Excessive compulsory overtime is prohibited. Employees are also entitled to paid public holiday leave, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, and other special leave. The law provides adequate occupational health and safety standards and establishes other benefits, such as a provident fund, housing facilities, day-care arrangements for establishments with more than 50 female workers, and maternity benefits.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported that most factories in the formal sector complied with laws on minimum wage and hours of work, but implementation varied in the informal sector, including in agriculture and domestic servitude. The ministry employed up to 12 factory inspectors for the country, who also acted as labor and occupational health and safety inspectors.

Implementation and enforcement of occupational health and safety standards were minimal, and the Ministry of Labor and Employment considered it the most neglected area of labor law enforcement. The ministry found violations across sectors, including in construction, mining, transportation, agriculture, and factory work.

The government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce occupational safety and health provisions. The Ministry of Labor and Employment did not have a specific office dedicated to occupational safety and health, nor did it have inspectors specifically trained in this area. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although the law authorizes factory inspectors to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remained minimal, and monitoring was weak. Accurate data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available. Labor law and regulations do not specify that workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The government regulated labor contracting, or “manpower,” agencies recruiting workers for overseas jobs, and penalized fraudulent recruitment practices. The government said it remained committed to the free-visa, free-ticket scheme introduced in 2015, but according to migrant rights NGOs, the government has failed to implement the policy effectively. Some government officials were complicit in falsifying travel documents and overlooking recruiting violations by labor contractors. The myriad unregistered and unregulated labor “brokers” and intermediaries, who were often trusted members of the community, complicated effective monitoring of recruitment practices. Workers were also encouraged to register and pay a fee to the Foreign Employment Promotion Board, which tracked migrant workers and provided some compensation for workers whose rights were violated.

The government required contracts for workers going abroad to be translated into Nepali and instituted provisions whereby workers must attend a predeparture orientation program. During the orientation workers are made aware of their rights and legal recourse, should their rights be violated. The effectiveness of the initiatives remained questionable since workers who went overseas often skipped the mandatory training, and many companies issued predeparture orientation certificates for a small fee and failed to deliver the training. Nepali migrant workers abroad often continued to face exploitive conditions.

According to the International Labor Organization, more than 70 percent of the economically active population is involved in the informal economy.

The law provides for protection of workers from work situations that endanger their health and safety, but in small and cottage industries located in small towns and villages, employers sometimes forced workers to work in such situations or risk losing their jobs.

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic. In July the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the most National Assembly seats in the general elections, and in August PTI’s Imran Khan became prime minister. While independent observers noted technical improvements in the Election Commission of Pakistan’s management of the polling process itself, observers, civil society organizations and political parties raised concerns about pre-election interference by military and intelligence agencies that created an uneven electoral playing field. Some political parties also alleged significant polling day irregularities occurred.

The military and intelligence services nominally reported to civilian authorities but essentially operated without effective civilian oversight.

Human rights issues included credible reports of extrajudicial and targeted killings; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site-blocking, and arbitrary restrictions on journalists’ freedom of movement; severe harassment and intimidation of and high-profile attacks against journalists and media organizations; government restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious freedom and discrimination against members of religious minority groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption within the government; recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate militant groups; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, sexual harassment, so-called honor crimes, female genital mutilation/cutting, and violence based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation; legal prohibitions of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; forced and bonded labor and transnational trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

There was a lack of government accountability, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among the perpetrators, whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights abuses.

Terrorist violence and human rights abuses by nonstate actors contributed to human rights problems. Military, police, and law enforcement agencies continued to carry out significant campaigns against militant and terrorist groups. Nevertheless, violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other nonstate actors, both local and foreign, contributed to a culture of lawlessness. As of December 23, terrorism fatalities stood at 686, in comparison with 1,260 total fatalities in 2017, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a database compiled by the public-interest advocacy organization Institute for Conflict Management, which collects statistics on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings in connection with conflicts throughout the country (see section 1.g.).

On January 13, police in Karachi (Sindh) shot and killed a Pashtun man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, in what Karachi police authorities initially claimed was a counterterror operation. According to Mehsud’s family, he had been detained 10 days earlier. Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights–an independent government body charged with investigating alleged human rights abuses–concluded police staged a fake raid in order to carry out Mehsud’s extrajudicial killing. Furthermore, the report linked then-Senior Superintendent of Police for Karachi’s Malir District, Rao Anwar, to the deaths of at least 444 individuals in similar staged police encounters. The Supreme Court ordered Sindh’s Police Inspector General to conduct an immediate inquiry into the killing and Anwar’s role. Authorities removed Anwar from his position. He fled and was eventually arrested. He was subsequently released on bail, and his trial was ongoing as of December 3.

Physical abuse while in official custody allegedly caused the death of some criminal suspects. Lengthy trial delays and failure to discipline and prosecute those responsible for killings contributed to a culture of impunity. In February police officers in Rawalpindi reportedly entered a home without a warrant, detained a resident, and beat him to death while in custody at a police station. The four officers who entered the young man’s home without a warrant were suspended from duty pending an investigation of the incident, but it was unclear as of November whether any further action was taken in the case.

On January 10, police in Kasur (Punjab) reportedly fired live rounds into a crowd that stormed a police station in protest against a series of unsolved rapes and killings of children in the district. Two civilians died and one was wounded in the incident. Police officials claimed protesters shot first at police.

There were numerous reports of fatal attacks against police. On January 9, a vehicle rammed a police checkpoint outside the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, killing five police officers in the resulting explosion. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility, saying the police–not the Assembly–were the intended targets. In March, three police officers were killed when an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a police convoy in Punjab province. On April 24, 10 police officers died in three separate suicide attacks in Balochistan. Hizbul Ahrar, a TTP splinter group, claimed responsibility for all three attacks. In August, two terrorists attacked a police checkpoint in the Gilgit Baltistan region, killing three police officers.

Militants and terrorist groups killed hundreds and injured thousands with bombs, suicide attacks, and other violence (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were kidnappings and forced disappearances of persons in nearly all areas of the country. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received an increased number of complaints compared with 2017. The commission had received 899 cases as of October 31, while there were a total 868 complaints in 2017. Some officials from intelligence agencies, police, and other security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and refused to disclose their location.

On February 15, in Badin, Sindh, plainclothes security reportedly abducted Rafaqat Ali Jarwar, a senior journalist with Daily Koshish. According to media reports, Jarwar was formerly associated with a Sindhi nationalist group.

On June 6, prominent journalist and opinion writer Gul Bukhari was abducted in Lahore by unidentified assailants. Bukhari was released hours later, after news reports highlighted her disappearance and the case received significant attention on social media. She is known as a prominent critic of the military and security services, and was listed by the military as a social media threat to the state two days before her brief abduction. Bukhari did not identify her captors.

Media reported that in December 2017 civil society activist Raza Khan disappeared after cohosting a small public event in Lahore to discuss the government’s capitulation to the demands of a hardline religious group, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), in the wake of TLP’s weeks-long, highly disruptive protest in Islamabad. Khan reportedly returned home in July.

Human rights organizations reported many Pashtun rights activists, and Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, disappeared or were arrested without cause or warrant. For example, in April the Progressive Youth Alliance alleged that 11 of its members were abducted following a series of Pashtun rights rallies in Karachi. Nationalist parties in Sindh also alleged that law enforcement agencies and security agencies kidnapped and killed Sindhi political activists.

Throughout the first half of the year, Pashtun rights activists used social media to highlight the arrests, enforced disappearances, and other forms of harassment by security agencies against members of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM. Most of those detained were rank-and-file supporters of the group. Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the military released up to 300 individuals who had been detained without charge–in some cases for several years–in response to PTM’s protest campaign against enforced disappearances. Observers believed authorities released detainees in response to activist demands, but it gave rise to further allegations that authorities had mistreated those in custody, and fueled calls for an end to enforced disappearances and for a more transparent legal process to formally charge or release those still in detention.

The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, headed by Supreme Court justice Javed Iqbal and retired law enforcement official Muhammad Sharif Virk, received 5,507 missing persons cases between 2011 and October 31. The commission had closed 3,633 of those inquiries, while 1,874 remained open.

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

Although the constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the criminal code has no specific section against torture. There were reports that security forces, including the intelligence services, tortured and abused individuals in custody.

According to the Committee against Torture of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2017 there were reports that state officials and forces practiced torture on a widespread scale. Human rights organizations noted the government’s lack of serious efforts to curb the use of torture and claimed that perpetrators–mostly police, military, and intelligence agency members–operated with impunity. In August, however, authorities did dismiss two constables after a video surfaced showing the officers torturing girls accused of partaking in obscene activity.

There were reports police personnel employed cruel and degrading treatment and punishment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that police committed “excesses” in at least 52 cases as of May 6, compared with 127 total cases in 2017. Multiple sources reported that police excesses sometimes resulted in death or serious injury and was often underreported. On October 16, police reportedly arrested a man in Sargodha (Punjab) on robbery charges. He died later that day, and his grandmother stated in a police report that his death was the result of police brutality while in custody.

Some police agencies took steps to curb abuses. For example, in 2017 the Inspector General of the Islamabad Capital Territory Police appointed human rights officers in all 22 Islamabad police stations in an effort to prevent violations. Multiple police agencies include human rights in training curricula. More than 50,000 police countrywide have received human rights related training since 2011.

While the passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) and ended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901, the FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) that replaced it preserves the most draconian criminal justice elements of the FCR. For example, authorities may still apply collective punishment without regard to individual rights. Collective punishment is imposed incrementally, starting with the first immediate male family members, followed by the subtribe, and continuing outward. Human rights NGOs expressed concern about the concept of collective responsibility, as authorities used it to detain members of fugitives’ tribes, demolish their homes, confiscate or destroy their property, or lay siege to their villages pending surrender or punishment of the fugitives by their own tribes in accordance with local tradition.

As of November 30, the country had 5,339 troops and police performing peacekeeping duties around the world. During the year, the United Nations reported one possible new case of sexual exploitation and abuse implicating a Pakistani peacekeeper. The case involved allegations of transactional sex that occurred in 2017. An investigation into an alleged exploitative sexual relationship that began in June 2011 and continued until an unspecified date in 2012 was pending additional information as of December 28. Investigations into three reports were closed due to lack of evidence: one involved a 2016 report that a Pakistani deployed in Cote d’Ivoire raped a minor in 2014; one was related to a 2017 report of attempted sexual assault that allegedly occurred in September 2016; and the third involved allegations that Pakistani peacekeepers engaged in transactional sex from August 2015 to March 2016.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in some civilian prisons and military detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care, and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions often were extremely poor. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, largely due to structural issues in the criminal justice system that led to a high rate of pretrial detention. According to a May, Cursor of Development and Education Pakistan study, conducted in cooperation with Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the total nationwide prison population stood at 84,287 in 112 prisons across the country as of October 1, 2017. The official capacity of these prisons is approximately 54,000, putting the occupancy rate of the civilian prison system at approximately 150 percent.

Provincial governments were the primary managers of civilian prisons and detention centers.

Although quality and quantity of prison food improved, inadequate food and medical care in prisons continued to cause chronic health problems. Malnutrition remained a problem, especially among inmates unable to supplement their diets with help from family or friends. In many facilities sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate. Most prison facilities were antiquated and had no means to control indoor temperatures. A system existed for basic and emergency medical care, but bureaucratic procedures slowed access. Prisoners with disabilities usually lacked adequate care. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported 20 deaths due to violence in prisons as of May 20. According to an April report on Dunya News TV, in 2017 at least 145 prisoners died in Punjab province prisons of natural causes, including diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. One former prisoner who spent 15 years in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province jail petitioned the Peshawar High Court to direct medical testing of the province’s inmate population, claiming 12 inmates at the jail in which he was incarcerated were HIV positive, and approximately 50 had hepatitis. The former prisoner also petitioned for disclosure of the province’s prison capacity and actual population, claiming the institution in which he was incarcerated had a capacity of 125 and a population of 640.

Representatives of Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities claimed their members were often subjected to abuse in prison and violence at the hands of fellow inmates. Civil society organizations reported prisoners accused of blasphemy violations were frequently subjected to poor prison conditions. NGOs reported that many individuals accused of blasphemy remained in solitary confinement for extended periods, sometimes for more than a year. The government asserted this treatment was for the individual’s safety, given the likelihood that prisoners accused of blasphemy would face threats from the general prison population.

Authorities held female prisoners separately from men. Nevertheless, NGOs reported transgender women were held with men and faced harassment. Balochistan had no women’s prison, but authorities housed detained women in separate barracks.

Due to lack of infrastructure, police often did not segregate detainees from convicted criminals, although Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were in the process of constructing new prisons focused on modern segregation mechanisms to address this issue, as well as overcrowding.

Prison officials kept juvenile offenders in barracks separate from adults. Juveniles and adults were in close proximity when waiting for transport but were kept under careful supervision at this time. According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, prisoners and prison staff subjected children to abuse, rape, and other forms of violence.

Administration: There was an ombudsman for detainees, with a central office in Islamabad and offices in each province. Inspectors General of prisons irregularly visited prisons and detention facilities to monitor conditions and handle complaints.

By law, prison authorities must permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. There were reports, however, that prisoners refrained from submitting complaints to avoid retaliation from jail authorities. The law also provides for visitation privileges, but overcrowding and lack of adequate visitor facilities in some prisons restricted detainees’ ability to receive visits. In most cases, authorities allowed prisoners to observe their religious traditions.

Independent Monitoring: International organizations responsible for monitoring prisons reported difficulty accessing some detention sites, in particular those holding security-related detainees. Authorities did not allow international organizations access to detention centers most affected by violence in KP, FATA, and Balochistan. Authorities at the local, provincial, and national levels permitted some human rights groups and journalists to monitor prison conditions of juveniles and female inmates.

Improvements: Infrastructure improvements and new policies in existing prisons, along with the construction of new facilities, increased the frequency with which pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were separated. In July the government broke ground on a project to construct a new training facility for the Sindh Prisons Department, to enable a larger training program in prison management. Digitized prison management information systems were installed in 48 Punjab and Sindh province prisons, up from 20 Punjab prisons in 2017. The government, in collaboration with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, worked to expand its use of computerized databases to more securely and accurately track prisoners.

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, but authorities did not always observe these requirements. Corruption and impunity compounded this problem.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police have primary domestic security responsibility for most of the country. Local police are under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. Police resources and effectiveness varied by district, ranging from well-funded and effective to poorly resourced and ineffective. Paramilitary organizations–including the Frontier Corps, which operates in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA; and the Rangers, which operates in Sindh and Punjab–provide security services under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The Frontier Corps reports to the Ministry of Interior in peacetime and the army in times of conflict. The military is responsible for external security but continues to play a role in domestic security.

The mid-year passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) into KP province, bringing the tribal areas into the country’s political and constitutional mainstream. The FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in mid-year as the framework for law and order in the former FATA. Similar to the FCR, the FIGR is implemented through appointed deputy commissioners (formerly known as “political agents”) who report to the KP governor. The 25th Amendment gives the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court jurisdiction in the former FATA, but this new system had not been fully implemented by year’s end. Under the FIGR, trial by a Council of Elders (known as a “jirga,” or assembly of community leaders that makes decisions by consensus) does not allow tribal residents legal representation. If the accused is an adult man, he appears before the Council of Elders in person to defend his case. Parents normally represent their minor children, and men normally represent their female relatives. Observers criticized both the FCR and the FIGR for their harsh provisions.

Following its merger in KP province, police began to operate alongside paramilitary forces in the former FATA. Paramilitary forces present in the former FATA included the Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary, “Khasadars” (hereditary tribal police), and the FATA Levies Force, which reported to deputy commissioners (the appointed administrative heads of each tribal agency). Tribal leaders convened “lashkars” (tribal militias) to deal with temporary law and order disturbances, but these operated as private militias and not as formal law enforcement entities. The KP provincial police force was in the process of recruiting and training additional personnel in order to extend its remit fully into the former FATA.

Civilian authorities’ failure to punish abuses contributed to a climate of impunity throughout the country. According to civil society sources, police and prison officials frequently used the threat of abuse to extort money from prisoners and their families. The inspectors general, district police, district nazims (chief elected officials of local governments), provincial interior or chief ministers, federal interior minister, prime minister, or courts can order internal investigations into abuses and order administrative sanctions. Executive branch and police officials have authority to recommend, and the courts may order, criminal prosecution.

The court system remained the only means available to investigate abuses by security forces. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), established in 2015, may not inquire into any complaints against intelligence agencies and must refer such complaints to the concerned competent authority. The NCHR may seek a report from the national government on any complaint made against the armed forces, and after receipt of a report, can either end the process or forward recommendations for further action to the national government.

During the year the federal government continued to use military and paramilitary organizations to augment domestic security. Paramilitary forces, including Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, provided security to some areas of Islamabad and continued active operations in Karachi. The military-led Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad employed civilian and paramilitary cooperation against militants throughout the country.

In January 2015, in response to the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment allowing military courts to try civilians on terrorism, militancy, sectarian violence, and other charges. The military courts’ mandate to try civilians was set to expire in January 2017, but Parliament extended it until January 2019. Civil society members expressed concerns about the use of military courts for trying civilian suspects, citing lack of transparency and redundancy with the civilian judicial system.

Police often failed to protect members of religious minorities–including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Hindus–from attacks. Activists from Christian, Sikh, Parsi, and Hindu communities reported widespread distrust of law enforcement within their communities. They explained that community members frequently refrained from reporting crimes, because they believed the police would not act. They also accused law enforcement of treating minorities particularly harshly when they are accused of crimes, and described how police meted out collective punishment on the Christian residents of a Karachi neighborhood in May, after a Christian committed a crime against an intelligence officer. Police carried out unauthorized searches of people and property, arrested Christians at random, and threatened physical and legal retributions against the community at large unless community members brought forward the perpetrator.

Police agencies continued to professionalize and modernize through training, including on human rights. Some local authorities demonstrated the ability and willingness to protect minorities from discrimination and mob lynching, at great risk to their personal safety.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A first information report (FIR) is the legal basis for any arrest, initiated when police receive information about the commission of a “cognizable” offense. A third party usually initiates a FIR, but police can file FIRs on their own initiative. A FIR allows police to detain a suspect for 24 hours, after which a magistrate may order detention for an additional 14 days if police show detention is necessary to obtain evidence material to the investigation. Some authorities did not observe these limits on detention. Authorities reportedly filed FIRs without supporting evidence in order to harass or intimidate detainees or did not file them when adequate evidence was provided unless the complainant paid a bribe. There were reports of persons arrested without judicial authorization and of individuals paying bribes to visit prisoners.

The Ministry of Interior did not routinely provide notification of the arrest of foreigners to embassies or consulates. In 2015 the government began requiring that foreign missions request access to their arrested citizens 20 days in advance. Many foreign missions reported that requests for access to arrested citizens were unanswered for weeks or months. Foreign prisoners often remained in prison long after completion of their sentences because they were unable to pay for deportation to their home countries.

There was a functioning bail system. Human rights groups noted, however, that judges sometimes denied bail until payment of bribes. NGOs reported authorities sometimes denied bail in blasphemy cases on the grounds that defendants who faced the death penalty were likely to flee or were at risk from public vigilantism. Defendants facing lower-order blasphemy charges were often simultaneously charged with terrorism offenses, which are nonbailable. NGOs also reported that lawyers representing individuals accused of blasphemy often asked that their clients remain in custody to protect them from vigilante violence. Bail is not available in antiterrorism courts or in the military courts established under the 2015 amendment to the constitution.

The government provided state-funded legal counsel to prisoners facing the death penalty, but it did not regularly provide legal representation in other cases. The constitution recognizes the right of habeas corpus and allows the high courts to demand that a person accused of a crime be present in court. The law allows citizens to submit habeas corpus petitions to the courts. In many cases involving forced disappearances, authorities failed to present detainees according to judges’ orders.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police arbitrarily detained individuals to extort bribes for their release or detained relatives of wanted individuals to compel suspects to surrender. Ethnic Rohingya in Karachi who lacked official identification documents reported arbitrary arrests and harassment by police authorities. They reported police, including officers from the Federal Investigation Agency, made the arrests to extract bribes.

Pretrial Detention: According to Cursor for Development and Education (CODE) Pakistan reports published in May, 66 percent of prisoners were either awaiting or undergoing trial as of October 1, 2017. CODE notes that Pakistani prison authorities did not differentiate between pretrial detainees and under-trial prisoners when collecting prison data. Police sometimes held persons in investigative detention without seeking a magistrate’s approval and often held detainees without charge until a court challenged the detention. Magistrates generally approved investigative detention at the request of police without requiring justification. When police did not develop sufficient evidence to try a suspect within the 14-day period, they generally requested that magistrates issue new FIRs, thereby further extending the suspect’s detention.

By law detainees must be brought to trial within 30 days of arrest. There were exceptions: a district coordination officer has authority to recommend preventive detention on the grounds of “maintenance of public order” for up to 90 days and may–with approval of the Home Department–extend it for an additional 90 days.

In some cases trials did not start until six months after a FIR, and at times individuals remained in pretrial detention for periods longer than the maximum sentence for the crime with which they were charged. Authorities seldom informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

Special rules apply to cases brought to court by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which investigates and prosecutes corruption cases. The NAB may detain suspects for 15 days without charge (renewable with judicial concurrence) and deny access to counsel prior to charging. Offenses under the NAB are not bailable, and only the NAB chairperson has the power to decide whether to release detainees.

Under the FIGR in the former FATA, the deputy commissioner has legal authority to preventively detain individuals on a variety of grounds and may require bonds to prevent undesired activities. Indefinite detention is not allowed, and detained persons may appeal to a tribunal. Prisoners have the right to compensation for wrongful punishment. Cases must be decided within a specified period, and authorities may release arrested persons on bail. Regulations require prisoners to be brought before FIGR authorities within 24 hours of detention, which curtails the ability of deputy commissioners to arbitrarily arrest and hold persons for up to three years. The accused have the right of appeal under a two-tiered system: the first appeal is to a commissioner or additional commissioner, and the second is referred to the Peshawar High Court, which is the highest appellate forum under the FIGR.

In KP (including the former FATA), security forces may restrict the activities of terrorism suspects, seize their assets for up to 48 hours, and detain them for as long as one year without charges. Human rights and international organizations reported that security forces held an unknown number of individuals allegedly affiliated with terrorist organizations indefinitely in preventive detention, where they were often tortured and abused. In many cases authorities held prisoners incommunicado, denying them prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Family members often were not allowed prompt access to detainees.

The 2011 Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation (retroactive to 2008) provides the military legal authority to detain suspected terrorists in the former FATA and PATA when called upon by the civilian government. Critics stated the regulation violates the constitution because of its broad provisions expanding military authority and circumventing legal due process. Under the regulation, detainee transfers to internment centers continued on a regular basis.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports of persons arrested or detained who were not allowed to challenge in court the legal basis or nature of their detention, obtain relief, or receive compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but according to NGOs and legal experts, the judiciary often was subject to external influences, such as fear of reprisal from extremist elements in terrorism or blasphemy cases and public politicization of high-profile cases. Civil society organizations reported judges were reluctant to exonerate individuals accused of blasphemy, fearing vigilante violence. The media and the public generally considered the high courts and the Supreme Court credible.

Extensive case backlogs in the lower and superior courts undermined the right to effective remedy and to a fair and public hearing. Antiquated procedural rules, unfilled judgeships, poor case management, and weak legal education caused delays in civil and criminal cases. The Lahore High Court took steps to improve judicial efficiency. In 2017 the court’s chief justice introduced legal reforms intended to reduce strikes and formalized an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) system. ADR centers received 16,010 cases as of October 12, and had resolved 4,885.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts does not extend to several areas that operated under separate judicial systems. For example, Azad Kashmir area (AK) has its own elected president, prime minister, legislature, and court system. Gilgit-Baltistan also has a separate judicial system.

Many lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from wealthy persons and influential religious or political figures.

There were incidents of unknown persons threatening or killing witnesses, prosecutors, or investigating police officers in high-level cases. On April 14, three Balochistan police officials were arrested for pressuring a rape victim to withdraw her allegations, after a medical examination corroborated the victim’s allegations.

The use of informal justice systems that lacked institutionalized legal protections continued, especially in rural areas, and often resulted in human rights abuses. Large landholders and other community leaders in Sindh and Punjab and tribal leaders in Pashtun and Baloch areas sometimes held local council meetings (panchayats or jirgas) outside the established legal system. Such councils settled feuds and imposed tribal penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the death penalty. These councils often sentenced women to violent punishment or death for so-called honor-related crimes. In the former FATA, such councils were held under FIGR or FCR guidelines. Assistant commissioners (previously known as assistant political agents), supported by tribal elders of their choosing, are legally responsible for justice in the former FATA and conducted hearings according to their interpretation of Islamic law and tribal custom.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The civil, criminal, and family court systems provide for a fair trial and due process, presumption of innocence, cross-examination, and appeal. There are no trials by jury. Although defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, courts must appoint attorneys for indigents only in capital cases. Defendants generally bear the cost of legal representation in lower courts, but a lawyer may be provided at public expense in appellate courts. Defendants may confront or question prosecution witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Due to the limited number of judges, a heavy backlog of cases, lengthy court procedures, frequent adjournment, and political pressure, cases routinely lasted for years, and defendants made frequent court appearances.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child noted that police lacked training to properly handle child delinquency, and cited reports of police brutality against juveniles. Many juveniles spent long periods behind bars because they could not afford bail.

In May, Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice System Act, replacing the 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. The new law mandates the creation of juvenile courts and “juvenile justice committees,” intended to expedite the administration of justice for minors by resolving cases that involve minor offenses without resorting to formal judicial proceedings. Despite a directive that these courts and committees be established within three months of the law’s passage, as of November 28, the government had not done so.

Both the new law and the previous 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance ban the use of the death penalty for minors, yet children were sentenced to death under the Antiterrorism Act. Furthermore, lack of documentation made determining the ages of possible minors problematic.

There were instances of lack of transparency in court cases, particularly if the case involved high-profile or sensitive issues such as blasphemy. NGOs reported the government often located such trials in jails due to concerns for the safety of defendants, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. Although these safety concerns were well-founded, NGOs expressed concerns about both transparency issues and the lack of privacy for defendants to consult with their lawyers during jail trials.

The Antiterrorism Act allows the government to use special, streamlined antiterrorism courts (ATCs) to try persons charged with terrorist activities and sectarian violence. In other courts, suspects must appear within seven working days of their arrest, but ATCs are free to extend that period. Human rights activists criticized this parallel system, charging it was more vulnerable to political manipulation. According to a February report by the Research Society of International Law, when authorities were under political and media pressure to expedite cases they often referred them ATCs, even if they had no terrorism nexus. The frequent use of ATCs for nonterrorism cases led to significant backlogs, and despite being comparatively faster than the regular court system, ATCs often failed to meet speedy trial standards.

The government continued to utilize military courts to try civilians on terrorism and related charges. Trials in military courts are not public (see section 1.d.).

The Federal Shariat Court typically reviewed cases prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinance, a law enacted in 1979 by military leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law by punishing extramarital sex, false accusations of extramarital sex, theft, and alcohol consumption. Should a provincial high court decide to hear an appeal in a Hudood case, the Shariat Court lacks authority to review the provincial high court’s decision. The Supreme Court may bypass the Shariat Appellate Bench and assume jurisdiction in such appellate cases. The Federal Shariat Court may overturn legislation judged inconsistent with Islamic tenets, but such decisions may be appealed to the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court and ultimately may be heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court.

Courts routinely failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Courts discriminatorily used laws prohibiting blasphemy against Shia, Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious minority groups. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, and some convicted persons spent years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered their release.

In a landmark case, On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In the wake of widespread protests by antiblasphemy groups following the decision, the government agreed not to oppose a petition seeking additional review of her case, further postponing final resolution of the case. Bibi was released from prison, but as of December 3 was widely believed to remain in government custody for her own protection, and the judicial review was pending.

In some cases, police arrested individuals after acts of vigilantism related to blasphemy or religious discrimination. In February an ATC convicted 31 individuals for their role in the 2017 mob lynching of university student Mashal Khan for allegedly committing blasphemy. The ATC sentenced the primary shooter to death, sentenced five others to life in prison, and 25 individuals to four years’ imprisonment, although the Peshawar High Court later suspended the sentences and released on bail the 25 individuals.

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups claimed that authorities detained their members based on political affiliation or beliefs. Under the 2009 Aghaz-e-Haqooq (“beginning of the rights”) Balochistan legislative package of reforms (intended to address the province’s political, social, and economic problems), the government announced a general amnesty for all Baloch political prisoners, leaders, and activists in exile as well as those allegedly involved in “antistate” activities. In 2015 the federal and Balochistan provincial governments jointly announced a new peace package called “Pur Aman Balochistan” (“peaceful Balochistan”), intended to offer cash and other incentives for “militants” who wished to rejoin mainstream society. Despite the amnesty offers, illegal detention of Baloch leaders and the disappearance of private Baloch citizens continued. During an August 15 National Assembly session Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, raised the issue of disappearances in Balochistan, claiming there were five thousand missing citizens in his province.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may petition the courts to seek redress for various human rights violations, and courts often took such actions. Individuals may seek redress in civil courts against government officials, including on grounds of denial of human rights. Observers reported that civil courts seldom issued official judgments in such cases, and most cases were settled out of court. Although there were no official procedures for administrative redress, informal reparations were common. Individuals and organizations could not appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, although some NGOs submitted human rights “shadow reports” to the United Nations and other international actors.

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

The law requires court-issued warrants for property searches. Police sometimes ignored this requirement and on occasion reportedly stole items during searches. Authorities seldom punished police for illegal entry. Police at times detained family members to induce a suspect to surrender. In cases pursued under the Antiterrorism Act, law enforcement agencies have additional powers, including that of search and seizure without a warrant of property related to a case.

Several domestic intelligence services monitored politicians, political activists, suspected terrorists, NGOs, employees of foreign entities, and media professionals. These services included the Inter-Services Intelligence, Police Special Branch, the Intelligence Bureau, and Military Intelligence. There were credible reports authorities routinely used wiretaps, monitored cell phone calls, intercepted electronic correspondence, and opened mail without court approval.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

By law district authorities may prevent gatherings of more than four persons without police authorization. The law permits the government to ban all rallies and processions, except funeral processions, for security reasons.

Authorities generally prohibited Ahmadis, a religious minority, from holding conferences or gatherings. Ahmadis cited the closure by Sialkot authorities of an Ahmadiyya mosque on May 14 and mob attacks on two other mosques in Sialkot and Faisalabad as evidence of the ongoing severe conditions for the community.

During the year the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM, mobilized its predominantly ethnic Pashtun supporters to participate in sit-ins and demonstrations to demand justice and to protest abuses by government security forces. Thousands of individuals participated in peaceful protests across the country’s main population centers, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad. Observers noted that authorities attempted to discourage protestors through arrests, intimidation, and harassment, but did not engage in any systematic acts of violence against PTM supporters.

Protests, strikes, and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, took place throughout the country. The government generally prevented political and civil society groups of any affiliation from holding demonstrations in Islamabad’s red zone–a restricted area that includes a diplomatic enclave and federal government buildings–citing security restrictions that limit all public rallies and gatherings in the area.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government maintained a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) to carry out their work and access the communities they serve. INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions must request government permission in the form of no-objection certificates before they can conduct most in-country travel, carry out certain project activities, or initiate new projects.

The government adopted a new online registration regime for INGOs in 2015, and in September introduced a more restrictive operating agreement that INGOs must follow. The registration process entails extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and constant investigations by security and other government offices. The government denied registration applications of dozens of INGOs in 2017 and 2018. After a lengthy appeals process, in October the Ministry of Interior issued final rejection notices to 18 INGOs, denying their registrations and ordering them to close operations within 60 days. The rejection notices did not specify the reasons for rejection.

The years of uncertainty about registration status negatively impacted even those INGOs that have not received final rejection notices. They faced additional barriers to fundraising, opening bank accounts, and obtaining tax-exempt status from the Federal Board of Revenue. No-objection certificates were hard to obtain in certain provinces without an approved registration, thus hindering implementation and monitoring of activities, even for INGOs that had initiated the new registration process. INGOs also faced an uptick in visa denials for international staff. The government asked country directors and international staff, during visa applications and separate surveys, whether they were Indian or Israeli nationals. The lack of transparency and unpredictability of the registration process caused some INGOs to withdraw their registration applications and terminate operations in the country.

The government at both the federal and provincial levels similarly restricted the access of foreign-funded local NGOs through a separate registration regime, no-objection certificates, and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain no-objection certificates before accepting foreign funding, booking facilities or using university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even when local NGOs receiving foreign funding were appropriately registered, the government often denied their requests for no-objection certificates. Furthermore, domestic NGOs with all required certificates faced government monitoring and harassment.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government provided temporary legal status to approximately 1.4 million Afghans formally registered and holding proof of registration cards. The PML-N and interim governments gave repeated, short-term proof of registration card extensions through September 30, which created an environment of uncertainty for proof of registration cardholders. In October the PTI-led government broke the trend of short-term extensions, approving a longer-term extension through June 30, 2019. Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged on September 16 to offer citizenship to Afghan refugees and Bengalis born in the country. The government formed a parliamentary committee to address this issue, which remained controversial.

There were reports that provincial authorities, police, and host communities harassed Afghan refugees. UNHCR reported that, from January to October, there were 828 arrests and detentions of refugees. All those arrested were released, 74 percent without charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in July, largely due to stringent security measures initiated by the government in preparation for the July 25 general elections.

In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of the former FATA and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement. The government required an approved no-objection certificate for travel to areas of the country it designated as “sensitive.”

Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel.” Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation and, if Muslim, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported authorities wrote the word “Ahmadi” in their passports if they refused to sign the declaration.

According to policy, government employees and students must obtain no-objection certificates from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students, however.

The government prohibited persons on an exit control list from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list was to prevent departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.

Exile: The government refused the return of some Pakistanis deported from other countries. The government refused these deportees entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens, despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Large population displacements have occurred since 2008 as a result of militant activity and military operations in KP and the former FATA. Returns continued amid improved security conditions. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 29,000 of the total 5.3 million affected residents remained displaced as of May. The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN World Food Program collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict, who generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several IDP populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities, such as Lahore and Karachi.

The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request no-objection certificates to access all districts in the former FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the certificate application process was cumbersome and projects faced significant delays. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near former FATA districts where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian agency workers providing assistance in the camps were exposed to danger when travelling to and within the former FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.

There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements through extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with the United Nations and other international organizations. The World Food Program distributed a monthly food ration to IDPs in KP displaced by conflict and continued to provide a six-month food ration to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin in the former FATA.

Despite large-scale recurring displacements of individuals due to natural disasters and disruptions caused by terrorist activities and counterterrorist operations, the government had not adopted specific legislation to tackle internal displacement problems. In addition, the National Disaster Management Act of 2010 does not provide any definition of IDPs or their rights.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers who were still undergoing the procedure, as well as recognized refugees, to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.

Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.

Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghans lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and the courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to health facilities because of their nationality.

The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16, regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. Access to schools, however, was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghans attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly girls in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghans who grew up in Pakistan needed student visas to attend universities, but they qualified for student visas based on their proof of registration cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not currently accord the children of Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship, but it did establish a parliamentary committee to evaluate the possibility of extending citizenship to Pakistani-born children of Afghan and Bengali refugees, as reported earlier.

The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and Ministry of the Interior’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2017 to document unregistered Afghans in the country. The memorandum established 21 documentation centers in areas with high concentrations of unregistered Afghans. Under it, NADRA agreed to issue new identity cards, called Afghan citizen cards, over a period of six months. The Afghan citizen cards provided undocumented Afghans legal protection from arbitrary arrests, detention, or deportation under the Foreigners Act and allowed cardholders to stay in Pakistan for the duration of the cards’ validity. If cardholders leave the country, they relinquish their status. The period for Afghans to apply for Afghan citizen cards concluded at the end of January, after which only new births to existing holders of Afghan citizen cards were recorded. Any undocumented Afghans encountered in the country after the registration period were vulnerable to detention and deportation under the Foreigners Act.

STATELESS PERSONS

Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons as a result of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, and the 1971 partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In addition, UNHCR estimated there were 300,000 Rohingya living in the country, a large percentage of whom were believed to be stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides the majority of citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Gilgit-Baltistan, AK, and the former FATA have political systems that differ from the rest of the country. Gilgit-Baltistan and AK did not have representation in the national Parliament.

Residents of the former FATA do not have a voice in federal decisions regarding the tribal areas; that authority resides with the KP governor, who is appointed by the president. Tribal residents did not have the right to choose their local government because unelected civilian bureaucrats managed the tribal districts under the FIGR and the FCR that preceded it. By year’s end, no local government elections have been held in the former FATA, although the government allowed political parties to operate freely in FATA under the 2011 Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002. Political observers credited this order with laying the foundation for a more mature political system in the tribal agencies, culminating in the former FATA’s legal merger with KP province under the 25th Amendment.

AK has an interim constitution, an elected unicameral assembly, a prime minister, and a president elected by the assembly. In 2016 the AK held legislative assembly elections that resulted in a PML-N-majority government. Media reported that local observers concluded the elections were largely peaceful and free of allegations of vote rigging; the AK election commission deployed an additional 32,000 law enforcement officers to maintain law and order. Some AK political leaders reported an increased military presence on election day. The federal government, including the military, controlled and influenced the structures of the AK government and its electoral politics. Authorities barred those who did not support the AK’s accession to Pakistan from the political process, government employment, and educational institutions.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 25, the country held direct elections that resulted in a PTI-majority national government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to Article 41 of the constitution, at the end of the sitting president’s five-year term the Electoral College (made up of the members of both houses of Parliament, and of the provincial assemblies) selects the next president by secret ballot. The Electoral College held presidential elections on September 4 and selected Arif Alvi (PTI) to succeed Mamnoon Hussain (PML-N), who completed his five-year term as president on September 9.

The Election Commission of Pakistan reportedly accredited approximately 50,000 domestic observers for the general elections. The Free and Fair Election Network, a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations, fielded 19,000 observers and evaluated the voting process in 85 percent of polling stations nationwide. The EU also fielded an observation mission. The Free and Fair Election Network noted overall improvements in the Electoral Commission of Pakistan’s management of the polling process, but the failure of a new electronic system for transmitting results delayed the announcement of provisional results and raised speculation among the public and the media about the integrity of the vote count. EU observers assessed voting itself was “well-conducted and transparent,” but noted that “counting was sometimes problematic.” Civil society organizations and political parties raised concerns about pre-election interference, including restrictions on freedom of expression, creating an uneven electoral playing field. Some political parties also alleged polling day irregularities occurred.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no reports of restrictions on political parties participating in elections, with the exception of those prohibited due to terrorist affiliations. According to media reports, however, security agencies used pressure tactics–including threats of prosecution for corruption–to convince politicians associated with the former ruling party, PML-N, to switch affiliations prior to general elections. Media and analysts questioned whether the military and judiciary used selective prosecutions of political leaders on corruption charges as a tool to skew the electoral playing field against PML-N. Judges ordered media regulatory agencies to enforce constitutional bans on content critical of the military or judiciary, compelling media to censor politicians’ speeches and elections-related coverage deemed “antijudiciary” or “antimilitary.” Organizations that monitor press freedom reported direct pressure on media outlets to avoid content regarding possible military influence over judicial proceedings against politicians, and to refrain from reporting on PML-N leaders in a positive way. In most areas, there was no interference with the right of political parties and candidates to organize campaigns, run for election, or seek votes. In Balochistan, however, there were reports security agencies and separatist groups harassed local political organizations, such as the Balochistan National Party and the Baloch Students Organization. Attacks on political party campaign offices, politicians, and supporters spiked due to the July general elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: While no laws prevent women from voting, cultural and traditional barriers in tribal and rural areas impeded some women from voting. Authorities used quotas to assure a minimum female presence in elected bodies. There are 60 seats in the National Assembly and 17 seats in the Senate reserved for women. Authorities apportioned these seats on the basis of total votes secured by the candidates of each political party that contested the elections. Authorities reserved 129 of the 758 seats for women in provincial assemblies and one-third of the seats on local councils. Women participated actively as political party members, but they were not always successful in securing leadership positions within parties, with the exception of women’s wings. Women served in the federal cabinet.

The comprehensive Elections Act 2017, which was passed in 2017 and replaced eight older laws, stipulates special measures to enhance electoral participation of women, religious minorities, transgender persons, and persons with disabilities. Under the new law, women must constitute 5 percent of party tickets, and if less than 10 percent of women vote in any constituency, it is presumed that the women’s vote was suppressed and the results for that constituency or polling station may be nullified. The law was enforced for the first time in Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, when the Election Commission canceled the district’s July 25 general elections results after women made up less than 10 percent of the vote. The law provides for mail-in voting for persons with disabilities. It requires expedited issuance of identification cards (which also serve as voter identification cards) for non-Muslims, transgender persons, and persons with disabilities.

The government requires voters to indicate their religion when registering to vote and requires Ahmadis to declare themselves as non-Muslims. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and many were unable to vote because they did not comply.

The constitution reserves four seats in the Senate, one for each of the four provinces, for religious minorities, defined by the government as “non-Muslim.” These seats are filled through indirect elections held in the provincial assemblies. Ten National Assembly seats are reserved for members of religious minority communities. The authorities apportioned these seats to parties based on the percentage of seats each won in the assembly. Minorities held 22 reserved seats in the provincial assemblies: eight in Punjab, nine in Sindh, two in KP, and three in Balochistan. Some members of religious minority communities criticized the system of minority representation, whereby minority representatives at the provincial and federal levels are appointed by their political parties to reserved seats; they stated this system resulted in minority representatives serving the interests of their political parties rather than of minority communities.

Women and minorities may contest directly elected, nonreserved seats.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices. Corruption was pervasive in politics and government, and various politicians and public office holders faced allegations of corruption, including bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement.

Corruption: The National Accountability Bureau serves as the highest-level anticorruption authority, with a mandate to eliminate corruption through awareness, prevention, and enforcement. The National Accountability Bureau and other investigative agencies, including the Federal Board of Revenue, the State Bank of Pakistan, and the Federal Investigation Agency, conduct investigations into corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Corruption within the lower levels of the police force was common. Some police charged fees to register genuine complaints and accepted bribes for registering false complaints. Bribes to avoid charges were commonplace.

Reports of corruption in the judicial system persisted, including reports that court staff requested payments to facilitate administrative procedures. Lower courts reportedly remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from higher-ranking judges as well as prominent, wealthy, religious and political figures.

There is a pervasive perception in society that corruption exists at all levels of government. The Supreme Court and the National Accountability Bureau initiated, reopened, or continued investigations into multiple prominent politicians throughout the year, including former prime minister Sharif and his politically active daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shehbaz Sharif (who replaced Nawaz Sharif as head of the PML-N party), and former PML-N finance minister and Sharif confidante Ishaq Dar. In many of the cases, there appeared to be evidence of corruption. Media and analysts, however, questioned the seemingly selective nature of the prosecutions (which, they assessed, disproportionately targeted a single party), and the timing of arrests that occurred days before elections.

In November 2016 the Supreme Court convened a special bench to investigate allegations of corruption levelled against then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his family. The charges stemmed from allegations related to the 2016 “Panama Papers” leaks, which named Pakistanis holding off-shore bank accounts. In July 2017 the Supreme Court disqualified then prime minister Sharif from his National Assembly seat, prompting his resignation. The court also ordered the National Accountability Bureau to prosecute the prime minister, members of his family, and the sitting finance minister. The trials before a national accountability court began in September 2017 and continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: By law, members of Parliament, civil servants, and ministers must declare their assets. Elected officials must also disclose their spouses’ and dependent children’s assets. Failure to disclose this information may lead to their disqualification from public office for five years. Heads of state, in contrast, are not required to declare their income and assets. The assets of judges, generals, and high-level officials were often concealed from the public.

Political parties and politicians must file annual financial accounting reports declaring their assets and liabilities. The law was not fully implemented, and lawmakers often disregarded it. It is the duty of the Election Commission of Pakistan to verify that political parties and politicians make their financial information publicly available; the commission posts a list of parliamentarians’ assets annually.

Under the efficiency and disciplinary rules, an official must face an inquiry if accused of corruption or financial irregularities. A person convicted of corruption faces a prison term of up to 14 years, a fine, or both, and the government may appropriate any assets obtained by corrupt means.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups operated without significant government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The government increasingly restricted the operating ability of NGOs, however. Some groups that implicated the government, military, or intelligence services in misdeeds or worked on issues related to conflict areas or advocacy reported their operations were at times restricted. These groups faced numerous regulations regarding travel, visas, and registration that hampered their efforts to program and raise funds. International staff members of organizations, including those from the few successfully registered INGOs, continued to face delays or denials in the issuance of visas and no-objection certificates for in-country travel. The domestic NGO registration agreement with the government requires NGOs to “not use controversial terms like Peace and Conflict Resolution, IDPs, etc. in your annual reports or any other documents/correspondence/agreements,” and prevents NGOs from employing individuals of Indian or Israeli nationality or origin. Few NGOs had access to certain parts of KP, the former FATA, and certain areas in Balochistan.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The 2012 National Commission for Human Rights Bill authorized the establishment of an independent committee, the National Commission on Human Rights, and a standalone Ministry of Human Rights was reconstituted in 2015. The Senate and National Assembly standing committees on law, justice, minorities, and human rights held hearings on a range of human rights problems.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, with punishment that ranges from a minimum of 10 to 25 years in prison and a fine, to the death penalty. The penalty for gang rape is death or life imprisonment. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape, and defines rape as a crime committed by a man against a woman. Although rape was frequent, prosecutions were rare. In 2016 Parliament passed an antirape law that provides for collection of DNA evidence and includes nondisclosure of a rape victim’s name, the right to legal representation of rape victims, and enhanced penalties for rape of victims with mental or physical disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the 2006 Women’s Protection Act, which brought the crime of rape under the jurisdiction of criminal rather than Islamic courts. By law police are not allowed to arrest or hold a female victim overnight at a police station without a civil court judge’s consent. The law requires a victim to complain directly to a sessions court, which is considered a trial court for heinous offenses. After recording the victim’s statement, the sessions court judge officially lodges a complaint, after which police may then make arrests. NGOs reported the procedure created barriers for rape victims who could not afford to travel to or access the courts. NGOs reported that rape was a severely underreported crime.

In 2016 the provincial government of Punjab passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act to provide greater legal protections for domestic abuse victims, including judicial protective orders and access to a new network of district-level women’s shelters, the first of which was inaugurated in Multan in March 2017. The center provided women a range of services including assistance with the completion of first information reports regarding the crimes committed against them, first aid, medical examinations, post-trauma rehabilitation, free legal services, and a shelter home.

There were no reliable national, provincial, or local statistics on rape due to underreporting and a lack of any centralized law enforcement data collection system.

Prosecutions of reported rapes were rare, although there were reports that rates increased in response to capacity building programs and campaigns to combat the lack of awareness about rape and gender-based violence among the general public and police. Police and NGOs reported individuals involved in other types of disputes sometimes filed false rape charges, reducing the ability of police to identify legitimate cases and proceed with prosecution. NGOs reported police sometimes accepted bribes from perpetrators, abused or threatened victims, and demanded they drop charges, especially when suspected perpetrators were influential community leaders. Some police demanded bribes from victims before registering rape charges, and investigations were often superficial. Furthermore, accusations of rape were often resolved using extrajudicial measures, with the victim frequently forced to marry her attacker.

The use of post-rape medical testing increased, but medical personnel in many areas did not have sufficient training or equipment, which further complicated prosecutions. Most victims of rape, particularly in rural areas, did not have access to the full range of treatment services. There were a limited number of women’s treatment centers, funded by both the federal government and international donors. These centers had partnerships with local service providers to create networks that delivered a full spectrum of essential services to rape victims.

No specific federal law prohibits domestic violence, which was widespread. Forms of domestic violence reportedly included beating, physical disfigurement, shaving of women’s eyebrows and hair, and–in extreme cases–homicide. In-laws frequently abused and harassed the wives of their sons. Dowry and other family-related disputes sometimes resulted in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.

Women who tried to report abuse often faced serious challenges. Police and judges were sometimes reluctant to take action in domestic violence cases, viewing them as family problems. Instead of filing charges, police typically responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile. Authorities routinely returned abused women to their abusive family members.

To address societal norms that disapprove of victims who report gender-based violence and abuse, the government established women’s police stations, staffed by female officers, to offer women a safe place to report complaints and file charges. These women’s police stations, however, were limited in number and, as with most police stations, faced financial and human resource shortages.

The government continued to operate the Crisis Center for Women in Distress, which referred abused women to NGOs for assistance. Numerous government-funded Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Centers for Women across the country provided legal aid, medical treatment, and psychosocial counseling. These centers served women who were victims of exploitation and violence. Victims later were referred to dar-ul-amans, shelter houses for abused women and children, of which there were several hundred around the country. The dar-ul-amans also provided access to medical treatment. According to NGOs, the shelters did not offer other assistance to women, such as legal aid or counseling, and often served as halfway homes for women awaiting trial for adultery, even though they were the victims of rape and domestic abuse.

Government centers lacked sufficient space, staff, and resources. Many daru-ul-amans were severely overcrowded, with conditions that did not meet international standards. Some shelters did not offer access to basic needs such as showers, laundry supplies, or feminine hygiene products. In some cases, women were reportedly abused at the government-run shelters, their movements were severely restricted, or they were pressured to return to their abusers. There were some reports of women exploited in prostitution and sex trafficking in shelters. Some shelter staff reportedly discriminated against the shelter residents, assuming that if a woman fled her home, it was because she was a woman of ill repute.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, many Dawoodi Bohra Muslims practiced various forms of FGM/C. Some Dawoodi Bohras spoke publicly and signed online petitions against the practice. Some other isolated tribes and communities in rural Sindh and Balochistan also reportedly practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Women were victims of various types of societal violence and abuse, including so-called honor killings, forced marriages and conversions, imposed isolation, and being used as chattel to settle tribal disputes.

A 2004 law on honor killings, the 2011 Prevention of Antiwomen Practices Act, and the 2016 Criminal Law Amendment (Offenses in the Name or Pretext of Honor) Act criminalize acts committed against women in the name of traditional practices. Despite these laws, hundreds of women reportedly were victims of so-called honor killings, and many cases went unreported and unpunished. In many cases, the male involved in the alleged “crime of honor” was allowed to flee. Because these crimes generally occurred within families, many went unreported. Police and NGOs reported that increased media coverage enabled law enforcement officials to take some action against these crimes.

On April 6, in Khairpur, Sindh, a man killed his pregnant sister after she married a man from another caste. The killing occurred the day before the victim was scheduled to appear before a local Jirga on accusations of “impurity.” On March 14, a man in Badin District in southern Sindh killed his wife, claiming she “did not maintain good character.” In July a police constable in KP’s Mustarzai village electrocuted his wife to death in an apparent “honor” killing. Authorities arrested the accused but it was unclear if a legal case was registered against him. In September, an 18-year-old girl and her 21-year-old boyfriend were beheaded by the girl’s father and uncle in what media reports described as an honor killing. Police arrested both suspects and registered a murder case against them.

There were reports that the practice of cutting off a woman’s nose or ears, especially in connection with so-called honor crimes, continued and legal repercussions were rare.

In 2017 Parliament passed the federal Hindu Marriage Act. The national law codified the legal mechanisms to register Hindu marriages and to prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages under the law. Leaders in the Hindu community said they generally viewed the legislation as a positive step toward preventing forced marriages of Hindus to Muslims, but the law contained one worrisome provision allowing for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism. A similar provision was included in Sindh’s 2016 Hindu Marriage Act.

The 2011 Prevention of Antiwomen Practices Amendment Act criminalizes and punishes the giving of a woman in marriage to settle a civil or criminal dispute; depriving a woman of her rights to inherit movable or immovable property by deceitful or illegal means; coercing or in any manner compelling a woman to enter into marriage; and compelling, arranging, or facilitating the marriage of a woman with the Quran, including forcing her to take an oath on the Quran to remain unmarried or not to claim her share of an inheritance. Although prohibited by law, these practices continued in some areas.

The law makes maiming or killing using a corrosive substance a crime and imposes stiff penalties against perpetrators. As with other laws, these measures are not applicable in the former FATA and PATA unless the president issues a notification to that effect. There were numerous acid attacks on women across the country, with few perpetrators brought to justice.

The 2012 National Commission on the Status of Women Bill provides for the commission’s financial and administrative autonomy to investigate violations of women’s rights. According to women’s rights activists, however, the commission lacked resources.

Sexual Harassment: Although several laws criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace and public sphere, the problem was reportedly widespread. The law requires all provinces to have provincial-level ombudsmen. The Sindh, Punjab, and KP provinces, and Gilgit-Baltistan had established ombudsmen.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, but authorities did not enforce it. Women also faced discrimination in employment, family law, property law, and the judicial system. Family law provides protection for women in cases of divorce, including requirements for maintenance, and sets clear guidelines for custody of minor children and their maintenance.

The law entitles female children to one-half the inheritance of male children. Wives inherit one-eighth of their husbands’ estates. Women often received far less than their legal entitlement.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country, although for children born abroad after 2000, citizenship may be derived by descent if either the mother or the father is a citizen and the child is registered with the proper authorities (see section 2.d.).

Education: The constitution mandates compulsory education, provided free of charge by the government, to all children between the ages of five and 16. Despite this provision, government schools often charged parents for books, uniforms, and other materials.

Medical Care: Boys and girls had equal access to government facilities, although families were more likely to seek medical assistance for boys than for girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Employers, who in some cases were relatives, abused young girls and boys working as domestic servants by beating them and forcing them to work long hours. Many such children were human trafficking victims.

Local authorities subjected children to harmful traditional practices, treating girls as chattel to settle disputes and debts.

In 2016 the government updated its definition of statutory rape and expanded the previous definition, which was sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 16, to include boys.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite legal prohibitions, child marriages occurred. Federal law sets the legal age of marriage at 18 for men and 16 for women. The 2014 Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act sets 18 as the legal age of marriage for both girls and boys in Sindh Province. A February 2017 amendment to the penal code substantially increased punishment for violators of the law. Under the amendment, violators may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and no less than five years (up from imprisonment of up to one month), and may also be fined up to one million rupees ($7,200), up from 1,000 rupees (seven dollars).

In 2014 the Council of Islamic Ideology declared child marriage laws to be un-Islamic and noted they were “unfair and there cannot be any legal age of marriage.” The council stated that Islam does not prohibit underage marriage since it allows the consummation of marriage after both partners reach puberty. Decisions of the Council are nonbinding.

According to a 2017 nationally representative Gallup survey, 24.7 percent of women were married before the age of 18. In rural areas, poor parents sometimes sold their daughters into marriage, in some cases to settle debts or disputes. Although forced marriage is a criminal offense and many cases were filed, prosecution remained limited.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In 2016 Parliament amended the criminal code to protect children further from specific crimes of child pornography, sexual abuse, seduction, and cruelty. The 1961 Suppression of Prostitution Ordinance and portions of the penal code are intended to protect children from sexual exploitation though socioeconomic vulnerabilities led to the sexual exploitation of children, including sex trafficking, and authorities did not regularly enforce these laws. Child pornography is illegal under obscenity laws.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: According to NGO reports, more than 350 dead infants were discovered in garbage dumps between January 2017 and April 2018, and about 99 percent of the victims were infant girls. By law anyone found to have abandoned an infant may be imprisoned for seven years, while anyone guilty of secretly burying a deceased child may be imprisoned for two years. Murder is punishable by life imprisonment, but authorities rarely prosecuted the crime of infanticide.

Displaced Children: According to civil society sources, it was difficult for children formerly displaced by military operations to access education or psychological support upon their return to former conflict areas. More than 1,800 schools in the former FATA districts–to which large numbers of IDPs have returned–were reportedly closed due to damage or local communities’ fear of terrorist attacks on schools. The government prioritized rehabilitating schools and enrolling children in these former conflict areas, however, and the overall number of out-of-school children decreased according to international organizations.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish population in the country. Anti-Semitic sentiments were widespread in the vernacular press. Hate speech broadcast by traditional media and through social media derogatorily used terms such as “Jewish agent” to attack individuals and groups. During the year’s election campaign season, some religious political party leaders alleged that then candidate Imran Khan was “an agent of the Jewish lobby,” referencing Khan’s former marriage to Jemima Goldsmith. During protests in August and September against a planned Dutch cartoon contest focused on the Prophet Mohammed, some religious groups justified the country’s blasphemy laws by comparing them to Holocaust denial laws in Europe. During the protests, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, proposed a Holocaust cartoon contest on social media, which resulted in its social media followers sharing images of Nazis and swastikas.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for equal rights for persons with disabilities, but authorities did not always implement its provisions. After the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education was dissolved in 2011, its affiliated departments–including the Directorate General for Special Education, the National Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, and the National Trust for the Disabled–were transferred to the Capital Administration and Development Division. The special education and social welfare offices, which devolved to the provinces, are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Each province has a department or office legally tasked with addressing the educational needs of persons with disabilities. Despite these provisions, however, most children with disabilities did not attend school, according to civil society sources.

Employment quotas at the federal and provincial levels require public and private organizations to reserve at least 2 percent of jobs for qualified persons with disabilities. Authorities only partially implemented this requirement due to lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms. Organizations that did not wish to hire persons with disabilities could instead pay a fine to a disability assistance fund. Authorities rarely enforced this obligation. The National Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled provided job placement and loan facilities as well as subsistence funding. Voting was challenging for persons with disabilities, however, because of severe difficulties in obtaining transportation and access to polling stations. The Elections Act 2017 allows for mail-in voting for persons with disabilities. In order to register for a mail-in ballot, however, persons with disabilities were required to obtain an identification card with a special physical disability symbol. According to disability rights activists, the multistep process for obtaining the special ID symbol was cumbersome and challenging. The Election Commission of Pakistan issued a directive for 2018 general election polling stations to be installed on ground floors when possible and to be equipped with ramps in order to facilitate access for persons with disabilities, but election observers reported that 72 percent of polling stations were not accessible for persons with disabilities.

On May 25, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act. The provincial law recognizes a wider range of disabilities, and guarantees the right to inclusive education at all levels in both public and private educational institutions. It also mandates that public spaces and new buildings conform to accessibility standards.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is a criminal offense. The penalty for same-sex relations is a fine, two years’ to life imprisonment, or both. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, male transgender, and intersex persons rarely revealed their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were communities of openly transgender women, but they were marginalized and were frequently the targets of violence and harassment.

Violence and discrimination continued against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The crimes often go unreported, and the police generally take little action when they do receive reports. Outreach by NGOs in KP, however, improved interactions between police and the transgender community there.

According to a wide range of LGBT NGOs and activists, society generally shunned transgender women, eunuchs, and intersex persons, collectively referred to as “hijras”–a word some transgender individuals view as pejorative, preferring the term “khawaja sira”–who often lived together in slum communities and survived by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings. Some also were prostitutes. Local authorities often denied transgender individuals their share of inherited property, and admission to schools and hospitals. Landlords frequently refused to rent or sell property to transgender persons. On May 9, Parliament passed the landmark Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, which addresses many of these problems. The law accords the right of transgender individuals to be recognized according to their “self-perceived gender identity,” guarantees basic rights, and prohibits harassment of transgender persons, and outlaws discrimination against them in employment, housing, education, healthcare, and other services.

A 2012 Supreme Court ruling allows transgender individuals to obtain national identification cards listing a “third gender.” Because national ID cards also serve as voter registration, the ruling enabled transgender individuals to participate in elections, both as candidates and voters. The Election Commission of Pakistan and the National Database and Registration Authority, with support from international donors, conducted an identification card and voter registration drive prior to the July general elections. Thirteen transgender candidates ran in the elections, although none were elected. Election observers and the transgender community reported incidents of harassment of transgender voters on election day, and the Sindh Home Department reportedly confiscated the Election Commission of Pakistan accreditation cards of 25 transgender observers citing security concerns. A Free and Fair Election Network report, which included observations of 125 transgender election observers, noted that in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi law enforcement officials were largely helpful and gave preferential treatment to transgender voters. In Peshawar and Quetta, by contrast, transgender voters faced harassment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The country continued to have a concentrated HIV epidemic with an estimated prevalence among the general population at less than 0.1 percent. The epidemic was concentrated among key populations, primarily injecting drug users. For all key populations, stigma and discrimination by the general population and by health-care providers in particular remained a significant barrier to treatment access.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Societal violence due to religious intolerance remained a serious problem. There were occasionally reports of mob violence against religious minorities, including Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Hindus, and Shia Muslims.

Members of the Hazara ethnic minority, who are Shia Muslim, continued to face discrimination and threats of violence in Quetta, Balochistan. According to press reports and other sources, Hazara were unable to move freely outside of Quetta’s two Hazara-populated enclaves. Community members complained that increased security measures had turned their neighborhoods into ghettos, resulting in economic exploitation. Consumer goods in those enclaves were available only at inflated prices, and Hazaras reported an inability to find employment or pursue higher education. They also alleged government agencies discriminated against Hazaras in issuing identification cards and passports. To avoid causing violent incidents, authorities confined Shia religious processions to the Hazara enclaves.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The vast majority of the labor force was under the jurisdiction of provincial labor laws. The 2010 18th constitutional amendment, which devolved labor legislation and policies to the four provinces, stipulated that existing national laws would remain in force “until altered, repealed, or amended” by the provincial governments. Provinces implemented their own industrial relations acts in 2011. In 2012 Parliament passed a new industrial relations act that took International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions into account but applied them only to the Islamabad Capital Territory and to trade federations that operated in more than one province.

The role of the federal government remained unclear in the wake of devolution. The only federal government body with any authority over labor issues was the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, whose role in domestic labor oversight was limited to compiling statistics to demonstrate compliance with ILO conventions. At the provincial level, laws providing for collective bargaining rights excluded banking and financial-sector workers, forestry workers, hospital workers, self-employed farmers, and persons employed in an administrative or managerial capacity.

Without any federal-level entity responsible for labor, the continued existence of the National Industrial Relations Commission remained in question. The 2012 Federal Industrial Relations Act stipulates that the commission may adjudicate and determine industrial disputes within the Islamabad Capital Territory to which a trade union or federation of trade unions is a party and any other industrial dispute determined by the government to be of national importance. This provision does not provide a forum specifically for interprovincial disputes but appears to allow for the possibility that the commission could resolve such a dispute. Worker organizations noted the limited capacity and funding for labor relations implementation at the provincial level.

The law prohibits state administrators, workers in state-owned enterprises, and export processing zones, and public-sector workers from collective bargaining and striking. Provincial industrial relations acts also address and limit strikes and lockouts. For example, the KP act specifies that when a “strike or lockout lasts for more than 30 days, the government may, by order in writing, prohibit the strike or lockout” and must then refer the dispute to a labor court.

Federal law defines illegal strikes, picketing, and other types of protests as “civil commotion,” which carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment. The law also states that gatherings of four or more persons may require police authorization, a provision authorities could use against trade union gatherings. Unions were able to organize large-scale strikes, but police often broke up the strikes, and employers used them to justify dismissals. In January, during a protest by teachers seeking back wages, the police used forced and detained 60 protestors. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah described the police action as unacceptable. Marches and protests also occurred regularly, although police sometimes arrested union leaders.

Enforcement of labor laws remained weak, in large part due to lack of resources and political will. Most unions functioned independently of government and political party influence. Labor leaders raised concerns about employers sponsoring management-friendly or only-on-paper worker unions–so-called yellow unions–to prevent effective unionization.

There were no reported cases of the government dissolving a union without due process. Unions could be administratively “deregistered,” however, without judicial review.

Labor NGOs assisted workers by providing technical training and capacity-building workshops to strengthen labor unions and trade organizations. They also worked with established labor unions to organize workers in the informal sector and advocated policies and legislation to improve the rights, working conditions, and well-being of workers, including laborers in the informal sector. NGOs also collaborated with provincial governments to provide agricultural workers, brick kiln workers, and other vulnerable workers with national identification so they could connect to the country’s social safety net and access the benefits of citizenship (such as voting, health care, and education).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, cancels all existing bonded labor debts, forbids lawsuits for the recovery of such debts, and establishes a district “vigilance committee” system to implement the law. Federal and provincial acts, however, prohibit employees from leaving their employment without the consent of the employer, since doing so would subject them to penalties of imprisonment that could involve compulsory labor.

In May Parliament passed comprehensive legislation to counter human trafficking. The law defines trafficking in persons as recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining another person (or attempting to do so) through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of compelled labor or commercial sex. The penalty for trafficking in persons is up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to one million rupees ($7,200). If committed against a child or woman, the penalty must be at least two years or a fine of one million rupees ($7,200). If there are aggravating circumstances, the penalty is up to 14 years and not less than three years a fine up to two million rupees ($14,400). Lack of political will, the reported complicity of officials in labor trafficking, federal and local government structural changes, and a lack of funds contributed to the failure of authorities to enforce federal law relating to forced labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate.

The use of forced and bonded labor was widespread and common in several industries across the country. NGOs estimated that nearly two million persons were in bondage, primarily in Sindh and Punjab, but also in Balochistan and KP. A large proportion of bonded laborers were low-caste Hindus as well as Christians and Muslims with lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Bonded labor was reportedly present in the agricultural sector, including the cotton, sugarcane, and wheat industries, and in the brick, coal, and carpet industries. Bonded laborers often were unable to determine when their debts were fully paid, in part because contracts were rare, and employers could take advantage of bonded laborers’ illiteracy to alter debt amounts or the price laborers paid for goods they acquired from their employers. In some cases, landowners restricted laborers’ movements with armed guards or sold laborers to other employers for the price of the laborers’ debts.

Ties between landowners, industry owners, and influential politicians hampered effective elimination of the problem. For example, some local police did not pursue landowners or brick kiln owners effectively because they believed higher-ranking police, pressured by politicians or the owners themselves, would not support their efforts to carry out legal investigations. Some bonded laborers returned to their former status after they were freed due to a lack of alternative employment options.

Boys and girls were bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped to work in illegal begging rings, as domestic servants, or as bonded laborers in agriculture and brick-making (see section 7.c.). Illegal labor agents charged high fees to parents with false promises of decent work for their children and later exploited them by subjecting the children to forced labor in domestic servitude, unskilled labor, small shops, and other sectors.

The government of Punjab funded the Elimination of Child Labor and Bonded Labor Project, under which the Punjab Department of Labor worked to combat child and bonded labor in brick kilns by helping workers obtain national identity cards and interest-free loans and providing schools at brick kiln sites. Since its 2014 launch, the project has reportedly succeeded in removing nearly 90,000 children from work in brick kilns and enrolling them in school. The KP, Punjab, and Sindh ministries of labor reportedly worked to register brick kilns and their workers in order to regulate the industry more effectively and provide workers access to labor courts and other services. According to ILO officials, the KP and Punjab provincial governments have registered nearly all brick kilns in their provinces and Punjab has completed digital mapping of the kilns.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/ and the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution expressly prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 in any factory, mine, or other hazardous site. The national law for the employment of children sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 15, which does not comply with international standards. Provincial laws in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh set the minimum age for hazardous work at 18 or 19, meeting international standards. Despite these restrictions, there were nationwide reports of children working in areas the law defined as hazardous, such as leather manufacturing, brick making, and deep-sea fishing.

National law establishes 15 as the minimum age for nonhazardous work, but does not extend the minimum age limit to informal employment. For legally working-age children, the law limits the workday to seven hours, including a one-hour break after three hours of labor, and sets permissible times of day for work and time off. The law does not allow children to work overtime or at night, and it specifies they should receive one day off per week. Additionally, the law requires employers to keep a register of child workers for labor inspection purposes. These national prohibitions and regulations do not apply to home-based businesses. The Sindh Assembly, however, passed the Sindh Home-Based Workers Act on May 9, which extends the right to social welfare benefits, worker protections, and the minimum wage to home-based workers; mandates the creation of an employer-financed welfare fund and a council tasked with oversight of home-based employer and worker registration; and outlines a dispute resolution framework.

Federal law prohibits the exploitation of children younger than 18 and defines exploitative entertainment as all activities related to human sports or sexual practices and other abusive practices. Parents who exploit their children are legally liable.

Child labor remained pervasive, with many children working in agriculture and domestic work. There were also reports that small workshops employed a large number of child laborers, complicating efforts to enforce child labor laws, since by law inspectors may not inspect facilities employing fewer than 10 persons. Poor rural families sometimes sold their children into domestic servitude or other types of work, or they paid agents to arrange for such work, often believing their children would work under decent conditions. Some children sent to work for relatives or acquaintances in exchange for education or other opportunities ended in exploitative conditions or forced labor. Children also were kidnapped or sold into organized begging rings, domestic servitude, militant groups and gangs, and child sex trafficking.

Coordination of responses to child labor problems at the national level remained ineffective. Labor inspection was the purview of provincial rather than national government, which contributed to uneven application of labor law. Enforcement efforts were not adequate to meet the scale of the problem. Inspectors had little training and insufficient resources and were susceptible to corruption. Authorities registered hundreds of child labor law violations, but often did not impose penalties on violators; when they did, the penalties were not a significant deterrent. Authorities generally allowed NGOs to perform inspections without interference.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While regulations prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on these factors persisted.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The 2010 passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution dissolved the federal Ministry of Labor and Manpower, resulting in the devolution of labor issues to the provinces. Some labor groups, international organizations, and NGOs remained critical of the devolution, contending that certain labor issues–including minimum wages, worker rights, national labor standards, and observance of international labor conventions–should remain within the purview of the federal government. Observers also raised concerns about the provinces’ varying capacity and commitment to adopt and enforce labor laws. Some international organizations, however, observed that giving authority to provincial authorities led to improvements in labor practices, including inspections, in some provinces.

In 2017 the government raised the minimum wage for unskilled workers from 14,000 rupees ($100) to 15,000 rupees ($108) per month, and all provincial governments’ budgets were required to follow that directive. The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s estimate for poverty level income. Authorities increased the minimum wage in the annual budget, and both federal and provincial governments issued notifications for such increases to go into effect. Minimum wage laws did not cover significant sectors of the labor force, including workers in the informal sector, domestic servants, and agricultural workers; and enforcement of minimum wage laws was uneven. The government did not address minimum wage in its budget for 2018-19, a break from its past practice of increasing the minimum wage each year.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 48 hours (54 hours for seasonal factories) with rest periods during the workday and paid annual holidays. The labor code also requires official government holidays, overtime pay, annual and sick leave, health care, education for workers’ children, social security, old-age benefits, and a workers’ welfare fund. Many workers, however, were employed as contract laborers with no benefits beyond basic wages and no long-term job security, even if they remained with the same employer for years. Furthermore, these national regulations do not apply to agricultural workers, workers in establishments with fewer than 10 employees, or domestic workers. Workers in these types of employment also lack the right to access labor courts to seek redress of grievances and were extremely vulnerable to exploitation. The industry-specific nature of many labor laws and the lack of government enforcement gave employers in many sectors relative impunity with regard to working conditions, treatment of employees, work hours, and pay.

Provincial governments have primary responsibility for enforcing national labor regulations. Enforcement was ineffective due to limited resources, corruption, and inadequate regulatory structures. The number of labor inspectors employed by the provincial governments is insufficient for the approximately 64 million-person workforce. Many workers, especially in the informal sector, remained unaware of their rights. Due to limited resources for labor inspections and corruption, inspections and penalties were insufficient to deter violations of labor laws.

The provincial government of Sindh enacted a comprehensive occupational health and safety law in 2017, similar legislation is absent in other provinces. Nationwide, health and safety standards were poor in multiple sectors. The country’s failure to meet international health and safety standards raised doubts abroad as to its reliability as a source for imports. There was a serious lack of adherence to mine safety and health protocols. Many mines had only one opening for entry, egress, and ventilation. Workers could not remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without risking loss of employment. Informal-sector employees, such as domestic and home-based workers, were particularly vulnerable to health and safety issues. There were no official statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents during the year. Factory managers were often unable to ascertain the identity of fire or other work-related accident victims because these individuals were contract workers and generally did not appear in official records.

In September nine miners were killed and three injured following the collapse of a roof of a coalmine in KP’s Kohat district. On August 12, in Balochistan, 13 miners died in a coalmine explosion, and two rescuers died from exposure to methane gas during the rescue attempt. During a one-month period from May to June, three significant mining accidents occurred in Balochistan, resulting in the deaths of 27 miners. Labor groups estimated 80 miners die every year in Balochistan’s mines. In Sindh, 13 laborers died at a warehouse when a boiler exploded, causing the roof to collapse. Two child laborers died in the incident.

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty democratic republic with a freely elected government. In January 2015 voters elected President Maithripala Sirisena to a five-year term. The parliament shares power with the president. August 2015 parliamentary elections resulted in a coalition government between the two major political parties with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister. Both elections were free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

On October 26, President Sirisena announced the removal of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the appointment of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister and subsequently announced the dissolution of parliament. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and others challenged both actions as unconstitutional. On December 13, the Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, Rajapaksa resigned and Sirisena reinstated Wickremesinghe as prime minister on December 16.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; torture, notably sexual abuse; arbitrary detention by government forces; website blocking; violence against lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; and corruption. Although same-sex sexual conduct was prohibited by law, it was rarely prosecuted.

Police reportedly harassed civilians with impunity, and the government had yet to implement a mechanism to hold accountable government security personnel accused of crimes during the civil war. During the year, however, the government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On January 20, police reportedly shot and killed a motorcyclist who disobeyed orders to stop his motorcycle at the Wedihiti Kanda checkpoint in Kataragama.

The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) continued to investigate an October 2017 case in which two plainclothes members of the Police Special Task Force shot and killed a man on a motorcycle in Ariyalai in the Jaffna District. In November 2017 the CID arrested the two officers, who remained incarcerated pending a hearing scheduled for February 2019.

Police continued to investigate an October 2016 case in which police shot and killed two Jaffna University students after they failed to obey orders to stop their motorbike at a checkpoint. The following day authorities arrested five police officers in connection with the shooting. In March, after 11 months of detention, all five officers were reinstated into police service, pending the outcome of their trial. In October the Jaffna Magistrate Court exonerated three of the accused officers and filed new indictments against two others.

The investigation into the 2009 killing of prominent journalist and politician Lasantha Wickrematunge, chief editor of the newspaper Sunday Leader, continued. In February police arrested five high-ranking former security officers from the Mt. Lavinia police station, including the deputy inspector general and the officer in charge, after charging them with obstruction related to the investigation. The officers were detained until July 17, when they were released on bail pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Attorney General’s Department appealed the acquittal of five suspects accused of killing former Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Nadarjah Raviraj; the Court of Appeal was scheduled to hear the appeal in January 2019.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances during the war and its aftermath remained unresolved. The July 2017 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted the number of outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances at 5,859. On February 28, the government appointed seven commissioners to the Office on Missing Persons. The office met members of the public and family members of missing persons in Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Matara, and Colombo. In August it issued an interim report that provided a series of interim relief proposals and justice-related recommendations for families and victims of disappearances. At year’s end the office was finalizing a list of approximately 20,000 names of missing persons dating from 1983.

In the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist and cartoonist for Lanka eNews who disappeared in 2010, authorities had not charged any suspects as of year’s end.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but authorities reportedly employed them. The law makes torture a punishable offense and mandates a sentence of not less than seven years’ and not more than 10 years’ imprisonment. The government maintained a Committee on the Prevention of Torture to visit sites of allegations, examine evidence, and take preventive measures on allegations of torture. Police reportedly tortured and sexually abused citizens, often to extract confessions for alleged crimes. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) allows courts to admit as evidence any statements made by the accused at any time and provides no exception for confessions extracted by torture. In February 2017 the government announced it suspended making arrests under the PTA due to widespread concerns about several of its provisions; however, the government made at least four arrests under the PTA during the year. An estimated 70 to 130 individuals remained in detention from prior PTA arrests.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) reported that torture committed by police forces was routine and continued throughout the country, and that it received 193 allegations of physical and mental torture by state actors as of June. It stated that many reports of torture referred to police officers allegedly “roughing up” suspects to extract a confession or otherwise elicit evidence to use against the accused.

Interviews by human rights organizations found that torture by police remained endemic throughout the country. As in previous years, suspects arrested under the PTA since the civil war ended in 2009 gave accounts of torture and mistreatment, forced confessions, and denial of basic rights such as access to lawyers or family members. Some released former combatants reported torture or mistreatment, including sexual abuse by state officials while in rehabilitation centers and after their release. Excessive use of force against civilians by police and security officials also remained a concern.

There were also reports of sexual abuse committed by government and security sector officials against wives who came forward seeking information about their missing husbands or against war widows who attempted to claim government benefits based on their deceased husbands’ military service.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were poor due to old infrastructure, overcrowding, and a shortage of sanitary facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. The commissioner of prisons estimated that the prison population exceeded the system’s capacity by nearly 64 percent. Authorities sometimes held juveniles and adults together. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In many prisons inmates reportedly slept on concrete floors, and prisons often lacked natural light or ventilation.

The commissioner of prisons reported 52 total deaths of prisoners in custody as of July. The majority of deaths were due to natural causes. There were also three suicides.

A few of the larger prisons had their own hospitals, but only a medical unit staffed the majority. Authorities transferred prisoners requiring medical care in smaller prisons to the closest local hospital for treatment.

On August 13, approximately 20 prisoners in the Women’s Wing of the Welikada Prison protested prison conditions by climbing onto the roof of the facility to demand faster trials and an end to restrictions on food brought by family members for prisoners. The protest was in response to prison officials’ decision to limit outside food deliveries in an effort to stop drug smuggling into the facility. The protest ended peacefully on August 14 after Ministry of Prison Reform officials promised to discuss the raised issues.

Administration: The HRCSL investigates complaints received and refers them to the relevant authorities when warranted. The HRCSL reported it received some credible allegations of mistreatment reported by prisoners, but the Ministry of Prison Reforms reported it did not receive any complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Board of Prison Visitors is the primary domestic organization conducting visits to prisoners and accepts complaints; it also has the legal mandate to examine overall conditions of detention. The Board of Prison Visitors functions as an internal governmental watchdog and was established under the Prisons Ordinance. The members are representatives of civil society otherwise unaffiliated with the government or other state institutions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the HRCSL also have a mandate to monitor prison conditions. During the year the HRCSL undertook a National Study on Prisons and visited 20 prisons across the country. The report was not available at year’s end.

Improvements: The Prison Department sought to address overcrowding by moving several prisons out of urban areas into more spacious, rural locations. During the year the government implemented the Community Correctional Program, which sends prisoners to rehabilitation camps in lieu of long-term confinement.

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/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that arbitrary arrest and detention occurred, although at a decreased rate compared with 2017, according to civil society and the HRCSL; under the PTA the ability to challenge detentions was particularly limited.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police Service is responsible for maintaining internal security and in November was moved from the Ministry of Law and Order to the Ministry of Defense. The military falls under the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. According to the criminal procedure code, the military may be called upon to handle specifically delineated domestic security responsibilities. President Sirisena served as the minister of defense, but the civilian secretary of defense had daily operational responsibility over the military and, as of November, the police. The nearly 11,000-member paramilitary Special Task Force is a police entity that reports to the Inspector General of Police, which falls under the Ministry of Law and Order. It coordinates internal security operations with the military.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces. Reports indicated that during anti-Muslim violence in March, the police initially were slow to respond or stop perpetrators from damaging Muslim buildings and assaulting Muslim individuals. The Ministry of Law and Order is responsible for determining whether security force killings were justifiable. According to civil society, intelligence operatives conducted domestic surveillance operations and harassed or intimidated members of civil society (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press).

Impunity for conflict-era abuses also persisted, including military, paramilitary, police, and other security-sector officials implicated in cases involving the alleged targeted killing of parliamentarians, abductions, and suspected killings of journalists and private citizens. Civil society organizations asserted the government and the courts were largely reluctant to take action against security forces. Prosecutions for abuses committed by the security forces and police were rare but increasing, as were prosecutions for government corruption and malfeasance.

Security forces had limited internal mechanisms to investigate abuses, but victims may bring cases directly to the Supreme Court. The HRCSL and criminal courts may also investigate such abuses, and the government pursued prosecutions and secured convictions in multiple high-profile cases against members of the security services. On August 9, the Jaffna High Court sentenced two senior military intelligence officers to death for the killing of a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant while in custody in 1998. On July 18, the Supreme Court upheld and reimposed the suspended sentence of imprisonment of former Welikada police chief inspector Kamal Amarasinghe, who was convicted for assault. On July 5, the Supreme Court ruled against the police, ordering payment of compensation to a commercial sex worker and holding that her fundamental rights had been violated when she was harassed in 2014. On June 7, two police officers were sentenced to 20 years and six months of imprisonment with hard labor by the Colombo High Court after they were convicted of rape in Bambalapitiya in 2003. In October the United Nations sent the commander of the Sri Lankan peacekeeping contingent in Mali back to Sri Lanka after reportedly having discovered information that claimed to link him to a unit implicated in atrocities during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

In March widespread anti-Muslim violence erupted in the central Buddhist region of Kandy District, resulting in hundreds of Muslim homes, business, and mosques being destroyed or damaged, in addition to the deaths of four individuals and the injury of 28 others. Observers and victims of the violence reported some members of the police and Special Task Force either took no action to quell the violence or actively participated.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The criminal procedure code allows police to make an arrest without a warrant for offenses such as homicide, theft, robbery, and rape. Alternatively, police may make arrests pursuant to arrest warrants that judges and magistrates issued based on evidence. The law requires authorities to inform an arrested person of the reason for the arrest and arraign that person before a magistrate within 24 hours for minor crimes, 48 hours for some grave crimes, and 72 hours for crimes covered by the PTA. More time reportedly elapsed before some detainees appeared before a magistrate, particularly in PTA cases. For bailable offenses as characterized under the Bail Act, instead of arraignment in court, the police can release suspects within 24 hours of detention on a written undertaking and require them to report to court on a specified date for pretrial hearings. Suspects accused of committing bailable offenses are entitled to bail, administered by the police before seeing a magistrate, but for suspects accused of nonbailable offenses, bail is awarded only at a magistrate’s discretion, i.e., after appearing before a magistrate.

The Bail Act states no person should be held in custody for more than 12 months prior to conviction and sentencing without a special exemption. Under the PTA detainees may be held for up to 18 months without charge, but in practice authorities often held PTA detainees for longer periods. After a July 2017 visit by a UN special rapporteur on the protection of detainees accused of terrorism, the UN report noted that of 81 prisoners in pretrial detention awaiting the police investigation to be completed and the Attorney General’s Department filing of charges for offenses under the PTA, 70 had been in detention without trial for more than five years and 12 had been in detention without trial for more than 10 years. There was no known action on these cases during the year.

Judges require approval from the Attorney General’s Department to authorize bail for persons detained under the PTA, which the office normally did not grant. In homicide cases regulations require the magistrate to remand the suspect, and only the High Court may grant bail. In all cases suspects have the right to legal representation, although no provision specifically provides the right of a suspect to legal representation during interrogations in police stations and detention centers. The government provided counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases before the High Court and courts of appeal but not in other cases; the law requires the provision of counsel only for cases heard at the High Court and courts of appeal.

The minister of justice acknowledged the suspension of the PTA in February 2017; however, the government made at least four arrests under the PTA during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRCSL received 101 complaints of arbitrary arrest and detention through June. Police sometimes held detainees incommunicado, and lawyers had to apply for permission to meet clients, with police frequently present at such meetings. In some cases unlawful detentions reportedly included interrogations involving mistreatment or torture.

In October dozens of Tamil prisoners across the country, including former LTTE fighters, undertook a hunger strike, demanding an immediate resolution to their protracted detention. Many of the prisoners were held under the PTA without charge. They asked the government either to indict them or provide a pathway for their eventual release.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees composed approximately one-half of the detainee population. The average length of time in pretrial detention was 24 hours, but inability to post bail, lengthy legal procedures, judicial inefficiency, and corruption often caused trial delays. Legal advocacy groups asserted that for those cases in which pretrial detention exceeded 24 hours, it was common for the length of pretrial detention to equal or exceed the sentence for the alleged crime.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law a person may challenge an arrest or detention and obtain prompt release through the courts. The legal process takes years, however, and the Center for Human Rights Development (CHRD) indicated the perceived lack of judicial independence and minimal compensation discouraged individuals from seeking legal remedies. Under the PTA the ability to challenge detentions is particularly limited.

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 constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. All criminal trials are public. Authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, and they have the right to counsel and the right to appeal. The government provided counsel for indigent persons tried on criminal charges in the High Court and the courts of appeal but not in cases before lower courts. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence.

The law requires court proceedings and other legislation to be available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil. Most courts outside the northern and eastern parts of the country conducted business in English or Sinhala. Trials and hearings in the north and east were in Tamil and English. A shortage of court-appointed interpreters limited the right of Tamil-speaking defendants to free interpretation as necessary. In several instances courts tried criminal cases originating in the Tamil-speaking north and east in Sinhala-speaking areas, which exacerbated the language difference and increased the difficulty in presenting witnesses who needed to travel. Few legal textbooks were available in Tamil. Defendants have the right to be present in court during trial and have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants also have the right not to testify or admit guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some Tamil politicians and local human rights activists referred to alleged former LTTE combatants accused of terrorism-related violent crimes as “political prisoners,” and the CHRD reported that more than 130 such prisoners remained in detention. The government did not acknowledge any political prisoners and claimed the prisoners in question were detained for violent criminal acts. The government permitted access to prisoners on a regular basis by the HRCSL, magistrates, and the Board of Prison Visits, and it allowed the ICRC access to monitor prison conditions. Authorities granted irregular access to those providing local legal counsel.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts up to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Land ownership disputes continued between private individuals in former war zones, and between citizens and the government.

The military seized significant amounts of land during the war to create security buffer zones around military bases and other high-value targets, known as high security zones (HSZs). According to the 1950 Land Acquisition Act, the government may acquire private property for a “public purpose,” but the law requires posting acquisition notices publicly and providing proper compensation to owners. The former government frequently posted acquisition notices for HSZ land that were inaccessible to property owners, many of whom initiated court cases, including fundamental rights cases before the Supreme Court, to challenge these acquisitions. According to the acquisition notices, most of the land acquired was for use as army camps and bases, but among the purposes listed on certain notices were the establishment of a hotel, a factory, and a farm. Throughout the year lawsuits, including a 2016 Supreme Court fundamental rights case and numerous writ applications filed with High Courts, remained stalled. Although HSZs had no legal framework following the lapse of emergency regulations in 2011, they still existed and remained off limits to civilians. During the year the government returned approximately 2,300 acres of land. Since 2009 the government reported that it had released more than 83,000 acres of land, representing more than 80 percent of all land occupied during the war.

With the amount of remaining land in dispute, many of those affected by the HSZs complained that the pace at which the government demilitarized land was too slow and that the military held lands it viewed as economically valuable. Some Hindu and Muslim groups reported they had difficulty officially claiming land they had long inhabited after Buddhist monks placed a statue of Buddha or a bodhi tree on their property.

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

The PTA permits government authorities to enter homes and monitor communications without judicial or other authorization. Government authorities reportedly monitored private movements without appropriate authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights in a limited number of cases.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution stipulates that the freedom of assembly may be restricted in the interest of religious harmony, national security, public order, or the protection of public health or morality. It also may be restricted in the interest of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or in the interest of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society. Under Police Ordinance Article 77(1), protesters must seek permission from the local police before holding a protest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association but limits the right, for example, by criminalizing association with or membership in banned organizations. Christian groups and churches reported some authorities classified worship activities as “unauthorized gatherings” and pressured them to end these activities. According to the groups, authorities sometimes justified their actions stating the groups were not registered with the government, although no law or regulation specifically requires such registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country’s civil war that ended in 2009 caused widespread, prolonged displacement, including forced displacement by the government and the LTTE, particularly of Tamils. According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Northern Development, and Hindu Religious Affairs, 37,815 citizens remained IDPs as of June 30. The large majority resided in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, and Batticaloa Districts in the north and east. While all IDPs had full freedom of movement, most were unable to return home due to land mines; restrictions designating their home areas as part of HSZs; lack of work opportunities; inability to access basic public services, including acquiring documents verifying land ownership; and lack of government resolution of competing land ownership claims and other war-related reasons. The government did not provide protection and assistance to IDPs in welfare camps.

The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs by returning approximately 840 acres of military-seized land and making state land available for landless IDPs. The military and other government agencies supported the resettlement of IDPs by constructing houses, schools, toilets, and providing other social services on newly released lands.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government relied on UNHCR to provide food, housing, and education for refugees in the country and to pursue third-country resettlement for them. The law does not permit refugees and asylum seekers to work or enroll in the government school system, but many worked informally.

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 Commonwealth Observer Group reported that in the 2015 presidential election, voters exercised their franchise freely and that vote counting was transparent with the results swiftly revealed to the public. Observers reported widespread abuse of state resources used for campaigning, consistent bias in state media toward the former government, and denial of access to venues for the opposition candidate.

Domestic and international observers concurred that local authorities conducted the 2015 parliamentary elections in a fair and free manner with few reports of violence. The EU election observation mission’s preliminary findings stated the elections were “well administered and offered voters a genuine choice from among a broad range of political alternatives, although campaign rules were restrictive.” The mission noted the government respected freedoms of assembly and movement. It added that party activists and candidates campaigned vigorously despite restrictive campaign rules, such as not allowing candidates to engage in door-to-door campaigning, canvass in person, or distribute leaflets.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected 13 women to the 225member parliament in 2015. The local government elections held during the year included for the first time a quota for women’s participation, requiring that 25 percent of all local and municipal council seats be held by women. Parties struggled to reach this new quota, but the final results came close to the required total, reaching 22.8 percent of all local government elected positions.

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: Corruption remained a continuing problem. For example, in December 2017 a presidential commission investigating irregularities in a Central Bank bond sale recommended legal action against a former finance minister and a former central bank governor. Corruption investigations against current or former government officials were often stalled.

After President Sirisena’s announcement on October 26 removing Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointing former president Rajapaksa as prime minister, Sirisena prorogued parliament until November 16, during which time there were numerous reports of attempted vote buying to secure support for the move when parliament reconvened. In one case a member of parliament alleged he was offered 500 million rupees (Rs) ($2.89 million) to switch sides and support Rajapaksa as prime minister.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all candidates for parliamentary, local government, provincial, and presidential elections to declare their assets and liabilities to the speaker of parliament. Some but not all candidates in parliamentary elections submitted their financial reports to the speaker, but authorities did not enforce compliance. By law members of the public may access records relating to the assets and liabilities of elected officials by paying a fee.

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

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

United Nations and Other International Bodies: The UN Human Rights Council continued to have a country-specific resolution related to addressing justice, accountability, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The current resolution, cosponsored by Sri Lanka and passed in 2017, maintains UN monitoring of the commitments Sri Lanka made in 2015 to address these issues until March 2019. Despite Sri Lanka’s cosponsorship of the 2015 and 2017 resolutions, senior government officials continued to make public statements attacking the UN process and asserting they would not take any steps to hold “war heroes” accountable, despite their commitment to initiate a criminal justice process, with international participation, to address war-time abuses.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRCSL has jurisdiction to investigate human rights violations. The HRCSL is composed of five commissioners and has divisions for investigations, education, monitoring and review, and administration and finance. There are 10 regional offices across the country. The HRCSL accepts complaints from the public and may also self-initiate investigations. After an allegation is proven to the satisfaction of the commission, the HRCSL may recommend financial compensation for victims, refer the case for administrative disciplinary action or to the attorney general for prosecution, or both. If the government does not follow an HRCSL request for evidence, the HRCSL may summon witnesses from the government to explain its action. If the HRCSL finds the government has not complied with its request, the HRCSL may refer the case to the High Court for prosecution for contempt by the Attorney General’s Department, an offense punishable by imprisonment or fine. By statute the HRCSL has wide powers and resources and may not be called as a witness in any court of law or be sued for matters relating to its official duties. The HRCSL generally operated independent of and with lack of interference from the government.

The HRCSL was also responsible for vetting Sri Lankan peacekeepers, although the memorandum of understanding between the United Nations, HRCSL, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Law and Order for the vetting of all Sri Lankan military and police participants in peacekeeping operations was not finalized by year’s end.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and domestic violence, but enforcement of the law was inconsistent. Section 363 of the penal code does not explicitly criminalize rape of men. Section 365 B (1), which is gender neutral, criminalizes “grave sexual abuse.” The prescribed penalties for rape are seven to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 200,000 Rs ($1,160). For domestic violence, a victim can obtain a protection order for one year and request a maintenance allowance. The law prohibits spousal rape only if the spouses are legally separated.

In February two men reportedly raped a nurse at a private hospital in Narahenpita. Police in Narahenpita arrested the suspects five days after receiving the report, and their trial was underway at year’s end.

Women’s organizations reported police and judiciary responses to rape and domestic violence incidents and cases were inadequate. The police Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Women and Children conducted awareness programs in schools and at the grassroots level to encourage women to file complaints. Police continued to establish women’s units in police stations. Services to assist survivors of rape and domestic violence, such as crisis centers, legal aid, and counseling, were generally scarce nationwide due to a lack of funding.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The country’s Muslims historically practiced FGM/C, but it was not a part of public discourse until recent years when media articles drew attention to the practice. There were no statistics on the current prevalence of FGM/C in the country, which does not have laws against FGM/C. In May the director general of health services from the Ministry of Health issued a circular prohibiting medical practitioners from carrying out FGM, but FGM/C itself is not criminalized.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sexual harassment was common and was a particularly widespread problem in public transport.

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

Discrimination: Women have equal rights to men under civil and criminal law. Adjudication of questions related to family law, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, varied according to the customary law of each ethnic or religious group, resulting in discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Children obtain citizenship from their parents.

Child Abuse: According to reports and evidence from fundamental rights applications and complaints filed with police during the year, school authorities frequently violate government regulations on banning corporal punishment in schools. There was also growing public concern about the high incidence of violence, including sexual violence, against children in the family and community despite successful efforts to reform the penal code, the basic criminal law, and other laws on child abuse, cruelty to children and their exploitation in trafficking, and child labor. Penalties vary based on the type and degree of child abuse, but trials tended to drag on for years.

Most child abuse complaints received by the National Child Protection Authority related to violence inflicted on children, and the rest of the complaints addressed related issues such as cruelty to children, deprivation of a child’s right to education, sexual abuse, and child labor. Teachers, school principals, and religious instructors reportedly sexually abused children. In a number of child rape cases, government officials were the suspected perpetrators. Civil society organizations working on children’s issues asserted children had insufficient mechanisms to report domestic violence or abuse safely. Although police stations are supposed to have an officer dedicated to handling abuse complaints from women and children, the government did not consistently implement this practice nationwide.

Early and Forced Marriage: Civil law sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, although girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent. According to the penal code, sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 16 years, with or without her consent, amounts to statutory rape. The provision, however, does not apply to married Muslim girls older than 12. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which applies only to Muslims, permits the marriage of girls as young as 12 at the consent of the bride’s father or other male relative. The bride’s consent is not required.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography, but authorities did not always enforce the law. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16.

Child sex tourism remained a problem.

Displaced Children: IDP welfare centers and relocation sites exposed children to the same difficult conditions as adult IDPs and returnees in these areas.

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 Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population remained very small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

Various laws forbid discrimination against any person with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel, other public transportation, and access to health care. In practice, however, discrimination occurred in employment, education, and provision of state services, including public transportation. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than other persons. There were regulations on accessibility, but accommodation for access to buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities was rare.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained they suffered longstanding, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens. Throughout the country, but especially in the north and east, Tamils reported security forces regularly monitored and harassed members of their community, especially activists and former or suspected former LTTE members.

The government had a variety of ministries and presidentially appointed bodies designed to address the social and development needs of the Tamil minority. The government implemented a number of confidence-building measures to address grievances of the Tamil community. It also replaced military governors of the Northern and Eastern Provinces with civilians. The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, established by the president in 2016, continued to coordinate the government’s reconciliation efforts. The office focuses on promoting social integration to build an inclusive society, securing language rights for all citizens, supporting a healing process within war-affected communities via the government’s proposed Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation, and non-recurrence of the violence. The Tamil National Alliance and Defense Ministry continued to meet in accordance with a formal dialogue on returning military-held lands in the Northern and Eastern Provinces inaugurated in 2017. On October 4, President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as minister of defense, publicly ordered the security forces to release all remaining private land in their possession by December 31. Observers noted that implementation by the deadline was logistically improbable.

Extremist Buddhist monks instigated violent attacks on Muslims and their property. In March Sinhalese mobs led by Buddhist monks attacked Muslim civilians, shops, homes, and mosques that resulted in two confirmed deaths, 28 injured, and extensive property damage. Observers blamed local government and law enforcement officials for failing to stop the riots, with some claiming police personnel took part in the anti-Muslim rioting. The central government responded by declaring a 10-day state of emergency, sending in the army to restore order, restricting social media, and arresting more than 150 alleged perpetrators.

Indigenous People

The country’s indigenous people, known as Veddas, reportedly numbered fewer than 1,000. Some preferred to maintain their traditional way of life, and the law generally protected them. They freely participated in political and economic life without legal restrictions, but some did not have legal documents.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Although prosecutions were rare, human rights organizations reported police used the threat of arrest to assault, harass, and sexually and monetarily extort LGBTI individuals. Those convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity in private or in public face 10 years’ imprisonment. Antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Transgender persons continued to face societal discrimination, including arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and discrimination accessing employment, housing, and health care.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons who provided HIV prevention services and groups at high risk of infection reportedly suffered discrimination. In addition hospital officials reportedly publicized the HIV-positive status of their clients and occasionally refused to provide health care to HIV-positive persons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Sources stated some Buddhist monks regularly tried to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship on the grounds they lacked the Ministry of Buddha Sasana’s approval. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka documented 65 cases of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services as of September.

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. Exceptions include members of the armed forces, police officers, judicial officers, and prison officers. Workers in nonessential services industries, except for workers in public-service unions, have the legal right to bargain collectively. The law does not explicitly recognize the right to strike, but courts have recognized an implied right to strike based on the Trade Unions Ordinance and the Industrial Disputes Act. Nonunion worker councils tended to represent labor in export processing zone (EPZ) enterprises, although several unions operated in the zones. According to the Board of Investment, which operates the EPZs, if both a recognized trade union with bargaining power and a nonunion worker council exist in an enterprise, the trade union would have the power to represent the employees in collective bargaining.

Under Emergency Regulations of the Public Security Ordinance, the president has broad discretion to declare sectors “essential” to national security, the life of the community, or the preservation of public order, and to revoke those workers’ rights to conduct legal strikes. In addition to the Public Security Ordinance, the Essential Public Services Act of 1979 allows the president to declare services provided by government agencies as “essential” public services. In 2017 the government began using the essential public-services act to declare the Sri Lankan Railway and petroleum sector as essential sectors, thus deterring the workers from striking.

The law prohibits retribution against striking workers in nonessential sectors. Seven workers may form a union, adopt a charter, elect leaders, and publicize their views, but a union must represent 40 percent of workers at a given enterprise before the law obligates the employer to bargain with the union. The law does not permit public-sector unions to form federations or represent workers from more than one branch or department of government. The Labor Ministry may cancel a union’s registration if it fails to submit an annual report for three years.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Labor laws do not cover domestic workers employed in the homes of others or informal-sector workers.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, but the government enforced the law unevenly. Violations for antiunion discrimination may result in a fine of 100,000 Rs ($578). The law requires an employer found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities, but it may transfer them to different locations. In general these penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Only the Labor Ministry has legal standing to pursue an unfair labor practice case, including for antiunion discrimination.

Since 1999 the Labor Ministry had filed only 10 cases against companies for unfair labor practices under the Industrial Disputes Act. The ministry did not file any new unfair labor practices cases during the year. The courts issued rulings on two cases and continued to try the other eight. Citing routine government inaction on alleged violations of labor rights, some unions pressed for standing to sue, while some smaller unions did not want that ability because of the cost of filing cases. Workers brought some labor violations to court under the Termination of Employment and Workmen Act and the Payment of Gratuity Act. Lengthy delays hindered judicial procedures. The Industrial Dispute Act does not apply to the public sector, and public-sector unions had no formal dispute resolution mechanism.

The government generally respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Public-sector unions staged numerous work stoppages on a number of issues, ranging from government moves to privatize state-owned enterprises to wage issues.

While some unions in the public sector were politically independent, most large unions affiliated with political parties and played a prominent role in the political process.

Unions alleged that employers often indefinitely delayed recognition of unions to avoid collective bargaining, decrease support for unionization, or identify, terminate, and sometimes assault or threaten union activists. The Ministry of Labor requires labor commissioners to hold union certification elections within 30 working days of an application for registration if there was no objection or within 45 working days if there was an objection. The commissioner general of labor held five union certification elections in 2017. No union certification elections were held from January to September.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor, but penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The government generally enforced the laws, but resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not always adequate. Labor Ministry inspections did not extend to domestic workers. The government sporadically prosecuted labor agents who fraudulently recruited migrant workers yet appeared to sustain its monthly meetings to improve interministerial coordination.

Children between the ages of 14 and 18 and women working as live-in domestic workers in some homes were vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 14, although the law permits the employment of younger children by their parents or guardians in limited family agricultural work or technical training. The government increased the compulsory age of education from 14 years to 16 years in 2016. The law prohibits hazardous work for persons younger than 18. The law limits the working hours of children ages 14 and 15 to nine hours per day and of ages 16 and 17 to 10 hours per day. The government estimated less than 1 percent of children–approximately 40,000–were working, although employment was often in hazardous occupations.

The government did not effectively enforce all laws, and existing penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Labor Ministry made some progress in implementing its plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The government appointed district coordinators with responsibility of reducing child labor in all 25 districts and provided new guidelines for district officials. The Department of Labor continued its efforts to monitor workplaces on the list of hazardous work for children.

According to the Child Activity Survey of 2016 published in February, industries and services were the largest sectors employing child labor. Within these sectors children worked in the construction, manufacturing, mining, and fishing industries, and as cleaners and helpers, domestic workers, and street vendors. Children also worked in agriculture during harvest periods. Children displaced by the war were especially vulnerable to employment in hazardous labor.

The list of hazardous work prohibited for children younger than 18 does not include domestic labor. This left children employed as child domestic workers vulnerable to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Family enterprises, such as family farms, crafts, small trade establishments, restaurants, and repair shops, commonly employed children. Criminals reportedly exploited children, especially boys, for prostitution in coastal areas catering to sex tourists (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination, including with respect to employment and occupation, on the basis of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, or place of birth. The law did not prohibit employment or occupational discrimination on the basis of color, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or status with regard to other communicable diseases.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws, and discrimination based on the above categories occurred with respect to employment and occupation. For example, some employers specified particular positions as requiring male or female applicants, and women sometimes earned less than men for equal work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The parliament passed its first-ever national minimum wage law in 2016, mandating a wage of 10,000 Rs ($58) per month and 400 Rs ($2.31) per day. In addition the Department of Labor’s 44 wage boards continued to set minimum wages and working conditions by sector and industry in consultation with unions and employers. The minimum wage in the public sector remained unchanged at 32,040 Rs ($185) between 2016 and 2018. The official estimate of the threshold poverty level was 4,659 Rs ($26.90) per person per month.

The law prohibits most full-time workers from regularly working more than 45 hours per week (a five and one-half-day workweek). In addition the law stipulates a rest period of one hour per day. Regulations limit the maximum overtime hours to 15 per week. Overtime pay is 1.5 times the basic wage and is paid for work beyond 45 hours per week and work on Sundays or holidays. The provision limiting basic work hours is not applicable to managers and executives in public institutions. The law provides for paid annual holidays.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, but many workers had no knowledge of such rights or feared that they would lose their jobs if they did so.

Authorities did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. The Labor Ministry’s resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were sometimes inadequate. Occupational health and safety standards in the rapidly growing construction sector, including on infrastructure development projects, such as port, airport, and road construction, as well as high-rise buildings, were insufficient. Employers, particularly those in the construction industry, increasingly used contract employment for work of a regular nature, and contract workers had fewer safeguards.

Labor Ministry inspectors verified whether employers fully paid employees and contributed to pension funds as required by law. Unions questioned, however, whether the ministry’s inspections were effective. The Labor Department used a computerized Labor Information System Application designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inspections. The financial punishment for nonpayment of wages is negligible, with fines ranging from 100 Rs ($0.58) to 250 Rs ($1.44) for the first offense, 250 Rs ($1.44) to 500 Rs ($2.89) for the second offense, to 1,000 Rs ($5.78) or incarceration for a term not exceeding six months, or both, for the third offense. Under the Shop and Office Act, the penalties for violating hours of work laws are a fine of 500 Rs ($2.89), six months’ imprisonment, or both. The law charges a fine of 50 Rs ($0.29) per day if the offense continues after conviction. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Labor inspectors did not monitor wages or working conditions or provide programs or social protections for informal sector workers.

No reliable sources of data covered the informal sector.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

Tajikistan is an authoritarian state dominated politically by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters. The constitution provides for a multiparty political system, but the government has historically obstructed political pluralism and continued to do so during the year. Constitutional amendments approved in a 2016 national referendum outlawed nonsecular political parties and removed any limitation on President Rahmon’s terms in office as the “Leader of the Nation,” allowing him to further solidify his rule. The most recent national elections were the 2015 parliamentary elections, which lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed. The most recent presidential election, which took place in 2013, also lacked pluralism and genuine choice, and did not meet international standards.

Civilian authorities only partially maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse of detainees by security forces; arbitrary arrest or detention, beatings, and other forms of coercion by the government; harsh prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws and repression, harassment, and incarceration of civil society and political activists; politically motived prosecutions of human rights lawyers and journalists; significant restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption and nepotism; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced labor.

There were very few prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity.

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

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

While the law prohibits extrajudicial killings by government security forces, there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On March 29, Abdurahmon Nazarov, a resident of Southern Kulob suspected of drug trafficking, died in police custody. Nazarov was detained by police officers in Dushanbe’s Sino district on March 28, and a source at a local hospital told the media that Nazarov was already dead when police officers brought him there the following day. Nazarov’s wife, Sadbarg Bobokhonova, believes her husband died due to mistreatment, accusing police of using excessive force after she saw evidence of beatings on her husband’s body. A police spokesperson claimed Nazarov had a heart attack when he was taken to the police station and he died on the way to the hospital. The Dushanbe chief prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the matter, which was ongoing.

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 the use of torture. Although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article to define torture in accordance with international law, there were reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

There were reports that police tortured suspects, and in the first six months of the year the Prosecutor General’s Office received 37 complaints of torture. In the first three months of the year, 16 new cases of mistreatment were documented by the Coalition against Torture–a group of local NGOs–with a number of victims alleging severe physical abuse. Of these complaints, 14 were against the Interior Ministry and two were against the State Committee on National Security. On January 12, police arrested Rasht District residents Saidmurod Abdurahmonov, Madadsho Yatimov, and Ibrokhim Kakhhorov, and the prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against them in connection with the September 1998 unsolved murder of then head of the Rasht district Akbar Makhmadov. The three defendants stated that during their detention, they were tortured to obtain confessions, claiming the district inspector and officers of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Department of Internal Affairs for Rasht beat them on the lower part of the body and on the head. Abdurahmonov claimed he became deaf from the beatings. On May 29, the defendants’ lawyers sent a petition with allegations of torture to the Supreme Court, which approved the petition and sent the case to the general prosecutor’s office.

There were conflicting reports on the mistreatment of imprisoned lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, in prison since 2015 (see section 1.e.). After reports by Amnesty International that Yorov might have been held in solitary confinement four times, media reported that he was transferred to a high-security penal colony in December 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of food provisions for inmates and staff alike. Disease and hunger were serious problems. UN agencies reported that infection rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons were significant. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: A government Office of the Ombudsman exists, and its ombudsman visited prisons but resolved fewer than 2 percent of filed complaints. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture and the human rights ombudsman conducted visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors private interviews with detainees or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to lack access due to the absence of an agreement with the government, a situation existing since 2004.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not explicitly prohibit arbitrary arrests, which were common. The law states that police must prepare a detention report and inform the Prosecutor’s Office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but use of this provision was limited. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals. Although military commissars throughout the country were dismissed in 2016 from their positions on the accusation of using force (so called “oblava”) to recruit young men into the army, human rights activists reported incidents of forced military conscription. In April local officials entered the house of 19-year-old Shahrom Abdulloev of Hissor to take him away for obligatory military service. Despite Abdulloev’s mother’s attempts to request his release from military service due to epilepsy, the officials dragged Abdulloev to their car and drove him to the commissariat for induction into the military. After Abdulloev lost consciousness en route the officials realized he was sick and released him.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Drug Control Agency, Agency on State Financial Control and the Fight against Corruption (Anticorruption Agency), State Committee for National Security (GKNB), State Tax Committee, and Customs Service share civilian law enforcement responsibilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is primarily responsible for public order and manages the police. The Drug Control Agency, Anticorruption Agency, and State Tax Committee have mandates to investigate specific crimes and report to the president. The GKNB is responsible for intelligence gathering, controls the Border Service, and investigates cases linked to alleged extremist political or religious activity, trafficking in persons, and politically sensitive cases. The Customs Service reports directly to the president. The Prosecutor General’s Office oversees the criminal investigations that these agencies conduct.

Agency responsibilities overlap significantly, and law enforcement organizations defer to the GKNB. Law enforcement agencies were not effective in investigating organized criminal gangs, reportedly because the gangs maintained high-level connections with government officials and security agencies. A tacit understanding among law enforcement that certain individuals were untouchable prevented investigations.

Official impunity continued to be a serious problem. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and the culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases, during pretrial detention hearings or trials judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse and torture during detention. Victims of police abuse may submit a formal complaint in writing to the officer’s superior or the Office of the Ombudsman. Most victims reportedly chose to remain silent rather than risk official retaliation. The Office of the Ombudsman made few efforts to respond to complaints regarding human rights violations and rarely intervened, claiming it did not have the power to make statements or recommendations regarding criminal cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police may detain an individual for up to 12 hours before authorities must decide on whether to open a criminal case against the defendant. If authorities do not file charges after 12 hours, the individual must be released, but police often did not inform detainees of the arrest charges. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. The judge is empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.

By law family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but officials often denied access to attorneys and family members. The law states that a lawyer is entitled to be present at interrogations at the request of the detainee or lawyer, but in many cases authorities did not permit lawyers timely access to their clients, and initial interrogations occurred without them. Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests. On July 25, three activists informed the media that they were detained and interrogated by security agencies after signing a petition asking authorities to allow the grandson of Muhiddin Kabiri, the exiled leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), to travel abroad for urgently needed medical treatment. According to the activists, security personnel told them that by signing the petition, they support the activities of the banned party.

Some police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months.

Pretrial Detention: Defense advocates alleged prosecutors often held suspects for lengthy periods and registered the initial arrest only when the suspect was ready to confess. In most cases pretrial detention lasted from one to three months, but it could extend as long as 15 months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of charge, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, the decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limited the use of this entitlement for those arrested on cases suspected to be politically motivated.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants legally are afforded a presumption of innocence, but the presumption did not exist in practice. The courts found nearly all defendants guilty.

Although the law requires that defendants be informed of the criminal charges against them within 10 days, in practice they were not always promptly informed or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during trials but often denied defendants the right to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to level politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and dissuade other lawyers from taking the cases.

The government provided attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society complained the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause allowing experienced lawyers to continue to practice after a 2016 law required all lawyers to retake the bar exam to renew their licenses. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrank significantly. International observers of court cases stated there were criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation. Although criminal defendants enjoy the right to adequate time to prepare a defense, they were often not granted adequate facilities to do so.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. An interpreter is provided for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying and, in principle, all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally give prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony. Tajik legislation allows criminal defendants not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also enjoy the right to appeal.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials are public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret. Three trials involving human rights attorney Buzurgmehr Yorov, the defense attorney for members of the banned IRPT, were closed to the public because they were classified “secret.” Major international human rights organizations raised concerns over Yorov’s court hearings, which they alleged failed to ensure due process protections. He was convicted in 2016 of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest and was initially sentenced to 23 years in prison. In January 2017 the court prolonged the same sentence by three years and sentenced him to two additional years in a subsequent closed-door trial for contempt of court and insulting a government official.

On August 22, the Sughd Regional Court did not allow media and other observers to attend the public appeal hearing for imprisoned journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a whistleblower case that garnered international attention. Mirsaidov’s family members, the media, and civil society and international community representatives gathered in front of the courthouse but were not allowed to enter the courtroom. The court did not provide any explanation for its actions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements.

In December 2017 local prosecutors in Rasht District arrested Farhod Khudoyorov, head of the Social Democratic Party branch office in Rasht Valley. Khudoyorov was charged with insulting and threatening authorities and in January was sentenced to 15 days of imprisonment for allegedly using coarse language with local officials. Khudoyorov did not admit his guilt and said he merely sent several SMS messages to the Rasht District head complaining about local problems.

On August 24, human rights lawyer Shukrat Khudratov was released after more than four years in jail. Khudratov was sentenced in 2015 to nine years in prison following a trial regarded by the human rights community as politically motivated.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provide a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms.

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

The constitution states that the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter the home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states that police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states that courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including personal searches without a warrant.

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states that only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and telephone calls, without judicial authorization.

In August and September, in advance of the September 10 Independence Day celebration, local police again conducted door-to-door sweeps to identify “unregistered citizens”–individuals registered in one jurisdiction but residing in another.

According to the Law on Parental Responsibility, government authorities can punish family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives, such as if an underage child commits an offense. There were ongoing reports of Tajikistan-based relatives of perceived government critics in exile being harassed or targeted by local authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. According to Article 14 of the constitution, restrictions on the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen are allowed only for ensuring the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protecting the foundations of the constitutional order, state security, national defense, public morality, public health, and the territorial integrity of the republic.

The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.

Foreign Travel: Individuals in some cases do not have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. Authorities reportedly confiscated the passports of Ibrohim Tillozoda, the critically ill four-year-old grandson of exiled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and his mother, prohibiting Tillozoda, who has life-threatening stage-3 testicular cancer and whose treatment is beyond the scope of local doctors, to seek medical treatment abroad. The deputy head of the border control office in Dushanbe told media on July 26 that there were no restrictions on the family members’ departure and claimed that none of them applied for passports or permission to leave. Following criticism of this statement, Tillozoda received his passport and flew to Turkey August 2. On August 4, Fatima Davlyatova, the 10-year-old daughter of human rights activist Shabnam Khudoydodova, was forced off a flight headed to Europe with her grandmother and uncle, and informed she was banned from travelling abroad. Khudoydodova, a member of the banned human rights organization Group 24, has been in exile since 2015. On August 11, after facing international criticism, the GKNB contacted Davlyatova, her grandmother and her uncle stating there was a misunderstanding with their documents, gave them new flight tickets and allowed to travel to Almaty to reunite with her Khudoydodova.

The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system local dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. In June IRPT spokesman Bobojon Qayumzod was reportedly detained by Czech police at the Czech-German border because his name was on a list of persons banned from entering the Czech Republic. Police kept him in custody for a day before releasing him. On August 4, Polish authorities detained IRPT member Mahmadi Teshaev based on an Interpol Red Notice. A Polish court released him on August 10 due to the political background of his case. Media reported that Numonjon Sharipov, a senior IRPT representative, was flown from Istanbul by Tajik diplomatic staff and forcibly handed over to the Tajik government by Turkish authorities. According to the IRPT’s official website, Payom, Sharipov was detained on February 4 by Turkish law enforcement officers on suspicion of violating migration laws. His lawyers said that Turkish migration officials told them on February 16 that their client would be allowed to leave for a third country some days later. On February 19, however, the lawyers were informed that Sharipov had already left the country, with an unnamed witness saying that Sharipov was taken to the airport in a car belonging to the Tajik consulate.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. There were 13 refugee families who continued to be at risk of penalty and deportation. The UNHCR office in Dushanbe has not been notified of any new deportation cases since the beginning of the year. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacked transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa without due process.

The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.

The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.

During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees.

The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,647 registered refugees, 99 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 167 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, still have their refugee status determination process pending.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.

Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

In April 2017 the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.

The government, UNHCR, and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). From the project’s inception in November 2017 until June 30, 31,107 persons falling under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate, including former USSR citizens with undetermined nationality, were registered in the three target regions. Solutions were found for 23,524 persons, both adults and children, who had their nationalities confirmed with local authorities. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. As a result, a total of 4,226 individuals residing in remote districts in the three separate pilot areas were assisted in covering their legal fees and the administrative costs associated with nationality confirmation.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government restricted this right. The president and his supporters continued to dominate the government while taking steps to eliminate genuine pluralism in the interest of consolidating power. The president’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), dominated both houses of parliament. PDPT members held most government positions. The president had broad authority, which he exercised throughout the year, to appoint and dismiss officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were the 2015 parliamentary elections, which lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed and noted significant shortcomings such as multiple voting and ballot box stuffing. The most recent presidential election, which took place in 2013, also lacked pluralism and genuine choice, and did not meet international standards.

In 2016 the government held a national referendum on 41 proposed amendments to the constitution. Citizens were required to vote “yes” or “no” on the full package and were unable to cast votes on each of the 41 proposed amendments. While the government reported that voters approved the amendment package with more than 90 percent participation, anecdotal evidence, commentary on social media and media reports indicated that voter turnout was actually quite low. Several prominent news outlets, including Ozodagonand Faraj, did not report on the referendum at all. Despite this, one week prior to the referendum, the State Communications Service ordered internet service providers in the country to block access to the websites of independent news agencies Asia PlusOzodagon, and Ozodi.

Out of the 41 amendments, three were significant changes to the constitution: one institutionalized the title of “Leader of the Nation” upon President Rahmon–a title given to Rahmon by law in 2015 but requiring confirmation through amendment of the constitution. The title removed term limits for President Rahmon and gave him lifelong immunity from judicial and criminal prosecution. A second amendment lowered the eligible age to run for president from 35 to 30 years, and the third amendment banned all nonsecular political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were seven legal major political parties, including the PDPT. Opposition political parties had moderate popular support and faced high levels of scrutiny from the government. All senior members of President Rahmon’s government were PDPT members. Most members of the country’s 97-seat parliament were members of the PDPT, progovernment parties, or PDPT affiliates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women were underrepresented in decision-making processes at all levels of political institutions. Female representation in all branches of government was less than 30 percent. There was one female minister but no ministers from minority groups. Cultural practices discouraged participation by women in politics, although the government and political parties made efforts to promote their involvement, such as the 1999 presidential decree that mandated every ministry or government institution have at least one female deputy. Civil society criticized this decree as a barrier to women holding top government positions.

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. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption, nepotism, and regional hiring bias at all levels of government throughout the year.

Corruption: In May 2017 the government adopted amendments to the Law for the Fight Against Corruption, which gives the state Anticorruption Agency the authority to inspect the financial activities of political parties, international organizations, and local public associations. Previously, the agency had the authority only to check and audit governmental bodies. According to the new requirements, political parties must submit corruption risk assessment reports to the Anticorruption Agency annually. Political parties and in-country political experts raised concerns that empowering the Anticorruption Agency to investigate the activities and budget of political parties would tighten control over their activities.

Corruption in the Education Ministry was systemic. Prospective students reportedly were required to pay thousands of somoni (hundreds of dollars) in bribes to enter the country’s most prestigious universities, and provincial colleges reportedly required several hundred somoni for entrance. Students reportedly often paid additional bribes to receive good examination grades.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anticorruption Agency, and Prosecutor General’s Office are responsible for investigating, arresting, and prosecuting suspected corrupt officials. The government acknowledged a problem with corruption and took some steps to combat it, including putting lower-level officials on trial for taking br