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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch; however, armed insurgents control portions of the country. The country held presidential elections in September 2019 after technical issues and security requirements compelled the Independent Election Commission to reschedule the election multiple times. The commission announced preliminary election results on December 22, 2019, indicating that President Ashraf Ghani had won, although runner-up and then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah disputed the results, including after final results were announced February 18. Both President Ghani and Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing-in ceremonies on March 9. Political leaders mediated the resulting impasse, ultimately resulting in a compromise, announced on May 17, in which President Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each of them would select one-half of the cabinet members.

Three governmental entities share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security. The Afghan National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force with no legal ability to arrest or independently investigate crimes. In June, President Ghani announced plans to subsume the Afghan Local Police into other branches of the security forces provided individuals can present a record free of allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. As of year’s end, the implementation of these plans was underway. The Major Crimes Task Force, also under the Ministry of Interior, investigates major crimes including government corruption, human trafficking, and criminal organizations. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The National Directorate of Security functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. Some areas of the country were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, instituted their own justice and security systems. Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Although armed conflict continued in the country, on September 12, representatives of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban commenced Afghan peace negotiations. Before and during negotiations, armed insurgent groups conducted major attacks on government forces, public places, and civilians, killing and injuring thousands. There were also targeted attacks on women leading up to the start of the negotiations, including an assassination attempt on Fawzia Koofi, one of four women on the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s negotiating team, and two incidents during the Loya Jirga (grand council) in August in which parliamentarian Belqis Roshan was assaulted and violent threats were made against delegate Asila Wardak. Since November 7, unknown actors killed eight journalists and activists in targeted killings, three of whom were killed between December 21 and 24. Many of the attacks were unclaimed; the Taliban denied involvement.

Significant human rights issues included: killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by antigovernment personnel; reports of torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment by security forces and antigovernment entities; arbitrary detention by government security forces and insurgents; serious abuse in internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances and abductions, torture and physical abuses, and other conflict-related abuses; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; trafficking in persons; violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence by security forces and other actors against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious, continuing problems. The government did not investigate or prosecute consistently or effectively abuses by officials, including security forces.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack religious leaders who spoke out against the Taliban. During the year many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and Islamic State in Khorasan Province, accounted for most child recruitment and used children younger than age 12 during the year. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, increasingly used children as suicide bombers. Antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported 5,939 civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year, with approximately 59 percent of these casualties attributed to antigovernment actors. The Taliban did not claim responsibility for civilian casualties. The Taliban referred to their attacks as “martyrdom operations.”

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. The Attorney General’s Office maintains a military investigation and prosecution office for cases involving entities of the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense maintains its own investigation authority as well as prosecution at the primary and appellate level; at the final level, cases are forwarded to the Supreme Court.

In January security forces in Kandahar Province reportedly killed a young girl and later her father, who approached the local army base apparently to condemn the killing. Security forces did not offer an explanation for the killings. Security forces fired upon and wounded at least one of the community members who protested the killings. Authorities committed to investigate the killings, but there was no update available as of October. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported in March that Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) members killed several locals either after they had surrendered or while they were in SAS detention in 2012. Witnesses alleged that in one such incident, SAS members shot and killed an imam and his son following evening prayers. In July the ABC additionally reported SAS members killed unarmed civilians in Kandahar Province in 2012.

During the year unknown actors carried out a number of targeted killings of civilians, including religious leaders, journalists, and civil society advocates (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances committed by security forces.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted an increase in abductions of civilians carried out by the Taliban in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in the previous year, and a fivefold increase over the same period of the previous year of casualties resulting from abduction. UNAMA reported seven adult men were abducted from their village in Herat Province on March 6 and subsequently killed by the Taliban.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. Despite legislation prohibiting these acts, independent monitors continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers. According to local media, lawyers representing detainees in detention centers alleged in July that torture remained commonplace and that detainees were regularly questioned using torture methods.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. UNAMA reported that punishments carried out by the Taliban included beatings, amputations, and executions. The Taliban held detainees in poor conditions and subjected them to forced labor, according to UNAMA.

On January 30, a video was posted showing a woman being stoned to death. The president’s spokesman attributed the attack to the Taliban; the Taliban denied involvement.

Impunity was a significant problem in all branches of the security forces. Despite the testimony of numerous witnesses and advocates that service members were among the most prevalent perpetrators of bacha bazi (the sexual and commercial exploitation of boys, especially by men in positions of power), the government had never prosecuted a security officer for these acts, although eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents.

In July, as a part of a political agreement between President Ghani and Abdullah, the government promoted Abdul Rashid Dostum to the rank of marshal, the country’s highest military rank. Dostum had been accused of gross violations of human rights, including the abduction and rape of a political opponent, but the government did not carry out an investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Interior Ministry, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually colocated with its headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintain illegal detention facilities throughout the country.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. On April 21, the general director of prisons stated the country’s prisons suffered from widespread abuses, including corruption, lack of attention to detainees’ sentences, sexual abuse of underage prisoners, and lack of access to medical care. Prisoners in a number of prisons occasionally conducted hunger strikes or sewed their mouths shut to protest their detention conditions.

In October inspectors reportedly identified a contaminated drinking water supply at Pul-e Charki Prison. The water was reportedly contaminated by an overflow of sewage at a nearby water treatment plant that was not adequately addressed due to low standards of safety and maintenance.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

According to NGOs and media reports, authorities held children younger than age 15 in prison with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity of separate children’s support centers. These reports documented insufficient educational and medical facilities for these minors.

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items.

From March 11 to September 16, a total of 7,237 prisoners and detainees were released from 32 facilities across the country in an effort to protect these individuals from COVID-19 and slow the spread of the virus. At year’s end it was unknown how many were returned to custody. The majority were given reduced sentences or qualified for bail and did not have to return to prison.

As part of an exchange establishing conditions for peace talks between the government and the Taliban, the government released nearly 5,000 Taliban prisoners between March and September. The Taliban released 1,000 government prisoners between March and July as part of its commitments in the agreement.

Administration: Authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners. Additionally, most prisons did not allow family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Resolute Support Mission monitored NDS, Afghan National Police (ANP), and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries.

Improvements: The Office of Prisons Administration dedicated human rights departments at each facility to monitor and address problems.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or without regard to substantive procedural legal protections. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges that have no basis in applicable criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly held women in prisons because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.

There were reports throughout the year of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces. According to observers, Afghan Local Police (ALP) and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law, since many were illiterate and lacked training. Accountability of NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, Major Crimes Task Force, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country, including persons being detained without judicial authorization. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

Justice-sector actors and the public lacked widespread understanding and knowledge of the penal code, which took effect in 2018 to modernize and consolidate criminal laws.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. After taking custody of a suspect, the attorney general may issue a detention warrant for up to seven days for a misdemeanor and 15 days for a felony. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 20 days for a misdemeanor and 60 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there may be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. After a case is referred to the court, the court may issue detention orders not to exceed a total of 120 days for all court proceedings (primary, appeal, and Supreme Court stages). Compliance with these time limits was difficult to ascertain in the provincial courts. In addition there were multiple reports that judges often detained prisoners after their sentences were completed because bribes for release were not paid. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.

The criminal procedure code provides for release on bail. Authorities at times remanded “flight risk” defendants pending a prosecutorial appeal despite the defendants’ acquittal by the trial court. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants released pending appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. In addition some victims of bacha bazi were charged with “moral crimes” and treated as equally responsible perpetrators as the adult.

There were reports of children being abused while in custody, to include girls who were raped and became pregnant. Following the capture of ISIS-K fighters and family members in 2019, children of ISIS-K fighters (including girls married to ISIS-K fighters) were sometimes detained in special centers. The government registered some of these children in school, but most were not registered and did not receive adequate care. In addition child soldiers pressed into service with ISIS-K, the Taliban, or other groups were imprisoned without regard to their age. There was no established program for their reintegration into society. According to advocates, following their interception by government forces, all child soldiers from militia groups are initially placed into an NDS detention facility and are sometimes transferred to juvenile rehabilitation centers and later to a shelter run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. An estimated 125 children were held at the detention facility during the year, 30 were held at the shelter, and there was no reliable estimate of how many children were at the juvenile centers. Child soldiers affiliated with ISIS-K remained in the NDS detention facility.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina (sex outside marriage) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from their husband or family, rejecting a spouse chosen by their families, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Sunni Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were primarily women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, judges must release defendants. Judges, however, held many detainees beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. World Justice Project’s annual report, released in July, found that in 2019 59 percent of those surveyed considered judges or magistrates to be corrupt; corruption was considered by those surveyed to be the most severe problem facing criminal courts.

Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common in the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women are unable to use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. During the year only 254 of 2,010 judges were women, a slight decrease from 2019. The formal justice system is stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. In rural areas, police operated unchecked with almost unlimited authority. Courts and police continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq (civil rights) Office, or in some cases through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often does not exist in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) are the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation.

In areas it controlled, the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to UNAMA, in June, Taliban courts convicted two men in Faryab Province of different crimes. In both cases the men were brought before a crowd, and a Taliban member pronounced their death sentences; the men were immediately executed by public hanging.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but judges did not always follow this requirement, and many citizens complained that legal proceedings often dragged on for years.

Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely applied. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan Province regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

In areas controlled by the Taliban, according to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban established courts that rely on religious scholars to adjudicate cases or at times referred cases to traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. Taliban courts include district-level courts, provincial-level courts, and a tamiz, or appeals, court located in a neighboring country.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban justice system is focused on punishment, and convictions often resulted from forced confessions in which the accused is abused or tortured. At times the Taliban imposed corporal punishment for serious offenses, or hudud crimes, under an interpretation of sharia.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or political detainees.

During the year the Taliban detained government officials, individuals alleged to be spying for the government, and individuals alleged to have associations with the government. For political cases, according to NGOs, there were no official courts; cases were instead tried by Taliban military commanders.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights abuses. Citizens may submit complaints of human rights abuses to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution. Some female citizens reported that when they approached government institutions with a request for service, government officials, in turn, demanded sexual favors as quid pro quo.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests, requiring the presence of a female officer during residential searches, and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Media and the government reported the Taliban routinely used civilian homes as shelters, bases of operation, and shields. There were also reports the Taliban, ISIS-K, and ANDSF used schools for military purposes.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem largely due to insurgent and terrorist attacks. According to UNAMA, actions by nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for the majority of civilian deaths.

After the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and the issuance of the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration on February 29, attacks against U.S. and coalition forces largely stopped, but violence against Afghan security forces and civilians continued, even after the start of intra-Afghan negotiations on September 12.

Killings: UNAMA counted 2,117 civilian deaths due to conflict during the first nine months of the year, compared with 2,683 during the same period in 2019. During this period, UNAMA documented 1,274 civilian casualties resulting from nonsuicide improvised explosive device (IED) attacks perpetrated by antigovernment forces (456 deaths and 818 injured). UNAMA attributed 59 percent of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS-K, 27 percent to progovernment forces, and 14 percent to cross fire and other sources. UNAMA documented a 46 percent decrease in the total number of civilian casualties due to all airstrikes in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019, but documented a 70 percent increase in civilian casualties (349) and a 50 percent increase in civilians killed (156) from airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.

The AIHRC stated that an airstrike in Takhar Province by Afghan forces on October 21 killed 12 children and wounded 18 others at a religious school and mosque. The mosque’s imam was among the wounded. The attack reportedly targeted Taliban fighters. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh initially rejected reports of civilian casualties, stating the attack had targeted a Taliban installation, but the Ministry of Defense declared it had assigned an investigation team to assess allegations of civilian casualties.

During the year antigovernment forces carried out a number of deadly attacks against religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks during the year for which no group claimed responsibility. In June, three imams and a number of worshippers were killed in separate attacks on two mosques in Kabul, and seven students were killed by a bomb at a seminary in Takhar Province.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack civilian targets. On April 21 in Nangarhar Province, the Taliban detonated an IED inside a private pharmacy, wounding eight civilians, including a doctor from the local hospital. The owners reportedly had refused to provide the Taliban an extortion payment.

Antigovernment elements continued targeting hospitals and aid workers. In the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 36 incidents affecting health-care facilities and personnel. UNAMA attributed the majority of these incidents to the Taliban.

On May 12, three gunmen attacked a maternity clinic in a Hazara Shia neighborhood in Kabul run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing 24 mothers, newborns, and a health-care worker. No group claimed responsibility. In June the MSF announced it would close the clinic.

On May 19, the Afghan Air Force conducted an airstrike in Kunduz Province outside a hospital, killing and wounding Taliban who were seeking medical care, as well as killing at least two civilians at the hospital.

On November 22, gunmen detonated explosives and fired upon students, staff, and others, killing 35 and wounding at least 50, at Kabul University. During the attack students and faculty were taken hostage, according to press reports. The attack was later claimed by ISIS-K.

Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities, as well as political candidates and election-related activities, throughout the country. Media reported five staff members of the Attorney General’s Office, including two who reportedly had served as prosecutors, were ambushed and killed in their vehicle in Kabul on June 22. No one claimed responsibility, and a Taliban spokesperson denied any involvement, adding that the peace process had many enemies and that the Taliban, too, would “investigate.” On October 3, a car bomb targeting a government administrative building in Nangarhar Province killed at least 15, including at least four children. Most of the casualties were civilians; no group claimed responsibility. On December 15, Kabul deputy governor Mahbubullah Muhibbi was killed in a bomb blast in Kabul. On December 21, at least 10 persons were killed and 52 wounded in an attack on the convoy of lower house of parliament member Khan Mohammad Wardak. No group claimed responsibility for either attack.

Abductions: In January a three-year-old boy was kidnapped for ransom in Kabul. Businesswomen reported they faced a constant threat of having their children abducted and held for ransom. The UN secretary-general’s 2019 Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in June, cited 14 verified incidents of child abduction, all of which were of boys as young as 11. Of the abductions, 12 were attributed to the Taliban and one each to the ANP and a progovernment militia.

Seven reported abductions of currency exchangers in Herat during the year prompted the currency exchangers there to strike in October to protest.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using IEDs to kill and maim them. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. UNAMA reported 584 civilian casualties caused by unlawful pressure-plate IEDs by antigovernment elements, mostly attributed to the Taliban, during the first nine months of the year, a 44 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019. The state minister for disaster management and humanitarian affairs reported that approximately 125 civilians were killed or wounded by unexploded ordnance per month, and more than 730 square miles still needed to be cleared, which included both previously identified ERW areas as well as newly contaminated ranges. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding unexploded ordinance.

UNAMA reported civilian casualties from ERW in the first nine months of the year accounted for 5 percent of all civilian casualties and caused 298 civilian casualties, with 86 deaths and 212 injured. Children comprised more than 80 percent of civilian casualties from ERW.

Child Soldiers: Under the penal code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. UNAMA reported the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used 11 children during the first nine months of the year, all for combat purposes. Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. NGOs reported security forces used child soldiers in sexual slavery roles. The country remained on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List in the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

The ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. The government operated child protection units (CPUs) in all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight. The difficult security environment in most rural areas prevented oversight of recruitment practices at the district level; CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes. Government security forces reportedly recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazi in every province of the country.

According to UNAMA, the Taliban and ISIS-K continued to recruit and use children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. While the law protects trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, there were reports the government treated child former combatants as criminals as opposed to victims of trafficking. Most were incarcerated alongside adult offenders without adequate protections from abuse by other inmates or prison staff.

UNAMA verified the recruitment of 144 boys by the Taliban in the first nine months of the year. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and to emplace IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. UNAMA reported the Taliban deployed three boys in February to conduct a suicide attack against an ALP commander in Baghlan Province. One of the children accidentally detonated his IED before reaching the ceremony, killing all three children. See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to make it difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. Insurgents targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into their areas and distribute them.

In contrast with previous years, polio vaccination campaigns were not disrupted by the conflict (the Taliban had previously restricted house-to-house vaccination programs). Routine immunization services at health facilities and other immunization campaigns, however, were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and only half of the provinces received vaccination coverage. According to the Ministry of Public Health, there were 46 new reported cases of polio during the year.

The Taliban also attacked schools, radio stations, and government offices. On February 3, the Taliban burned a girls’ school in Takhar Province. In July the Taliban burned a school in the same province after using it as cover to attack ANDSF. On August 20, the Taliban prevented approximately 200 female university applicants in Badakshan Province from taking their university entrance exams by threatening them with fines. Some of these women were ultimately taken to another location in the province to take the exam.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. Discussion of a political nature was more dangerous for those living in contested or Taliban-controlled areas. Government security agencies increased their ability to monitor the internet, including social media platforms, although the monitoring did not have a perceptible impact on social media use.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of the Access to Information Law, which provides for public access to government information, remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the government to meet the requirements of the law. Government officials often restricted media access to government information or simply ignored requests. UNAMA, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated government sources shared information with only a few media outlets. Human Rights Watch criticized the arrest of a government employee who was alleged by First Vice President Amrullah Saleh to have spread false information about the October 21 attack on a school and mosque in Takhar that resulted in civilian deaths.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. The Afghanistan Journalists’ Council said that during the year journalists’ social media accounts were hacked and journalists were threatened by the Office of the National Security Council.

On May 30, a journalist and a driver from Khurshid TV were killed when their vehicle, carrying 15 employees of the station, was hit by a roadside bomb in Kabul. Four other employees of the station were wounded. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

On November 12, an explosive in Lashkargah city killed Radio Azadi reporter Ilias Daee, as well as his brother. Journalist Malala Maiwand was killed by gunmen on December 10 in Jalalabad, and journalist Rahmatullah Nekzad was killed in Ghazni on December 21. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks. Journalists reported facing threats of violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, business owners, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. According to RSF, female journalists were especially vulnerable.

Vida Saghari, a female journalist, faced a series of online harassments, including hate speech and death threats, following her criticism of a cleric’s Ramadan rallies in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, according to RSF.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level than in the capital, Kabul. Political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, financed many provincial media outlets and used their financial support to control the content. Provincial media was also more susceptible to antigovernment attacks.

Print and online media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and websites. A wide range of editorials and daily newspapers openly criticized the government. Nevertheless, there were concerns that violence and instability threatened journalists’ safety. A greater percentage of the population, including those in rural areas, had easier access to radio than other forms of media. According to The Asia Foundation, rural inhabitants primarily received news and information from family and friends, followed by television and radio.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. According to RSF, NDS officials arrested Radio Bayan journalist Mahboboalah Hakimi on July 1. Two days after Hakimi’s arrest, the NDS released a video of Hakimi confessing to posting a video critical of the president, an action he had previously denied, and apologizing to the president. Following Hakimi’s release, he alleged the NDS tortured him and forced him to record his confession.

RSF also reported that authorities had harassed Pajhwok Afghan News agency, including through NDS interrogations of its director, following its June 22 reporting that ventilators intended to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak had been stolen and illegally sold to a neighboring country.

At least six journalists were killed during the year, and another died under suspicious circumstances. According to the Afghanistan Journalists’ Council, as of September, three journalists were kidnapped, 12 were injured, and more than 30 were beaten or otherwise threatened.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists, and civil society alleged the Taliban continued to attack media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.”

Increased levels of insecurity created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. A radio reporter was killed in police crossfire during a demonstration in Ghor Province on May 9. During the year several journalists reported attacks by unknown gunmen connected, they claimed, to their coverage of powerful individuals.

The law provides guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists, but these guidelines were not fully implemented. The guidelines created a joint national committee in Kabul, chaired by Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported the committee met regularly during the year, referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, and pushed for the resolution of cases, but it did not increase protection for journalists. A journalist advocacy organization reported that due to these pressures and the fact that many journalists were not paid for months at a time, many outlets closed during the year.

Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, there were no female journalists in five of the country’s 34 provinces: Kunar, Logar, Nuristan, Paktika, and Uruzgan.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Ajmal Ahmady, Afghanistan Bank governor and economic advisor to the president, blocked journalists on his Twitter feed, reportedly for being publicly critical of him. Journalists and NGOs reported that, although the amended 2018 Access to Information Law provided an excellent regulatory framework, enforcement remained inconsistent and that noncompliant officials rarely were held accountable. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified. Many journalists asserted that First Vice President Amrullah Saleh’s statement that he would hold those who shared “disinformation” on the victims of the October 21 incident in Takhar criminally responsible was a restriction on freedom of speech.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe prison sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

Women in some areas of the country said their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as religious leaders.

Internet Freedom

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high data prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

There were many reports during the year of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information, often by destroying or shutting down telecommunications antennae and other equipment. In June, Human Rights Watch reported that in many Taliban-controlled areas, Taliban authorities limited usage of or otherwise banned smartphones, which generally restricted access to information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom is largely exercised in government-controlled areas. In addition to public schooling, there was growth in private education, with new universities enjoying full autonomy from the government. Both government security forces and the Taliban took over schools to use as military posts.

The expansion of Taliban control in rural areas left an increasing number of public schools outside government control. The Taliban operated an education commission in parallel to the official Ministry of Education. Although their practices varied among areas, some schools under Taliban control reportedly allowed teachers to continue teaching but banned certain subjects and replaced them with Islamic studies; others provided only religious education. The Taliban continued to limit education for girls, especially for those past puberty. A Taliban commander told Human Rights Watch in Helmand Province, “Women’s education is to be banned [while] our country is occupied.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the government limited these freedoms in some instances.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year; however, police sometimes fired live ammunition when attempting to break up demonstrations. Protests and rallies were also vulnerable to attacks by ISIS-K and the Taliban. Islamic State actors fired upon a political rally in Kabul on March 6, killing 32 and wounding at least 58, according to government estimates. Islamic State actors claimed to have detonated explosions during presidential inauguration ceremonies in Kabul on March 9, although no casualties were reported.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The law on political parties requires political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. The law prohibits employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and NDS, from political party membership. Noncompliant employees are subject to dismissal.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without a male family member’s consent or a male relative chaperone. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel. Media reported the Taliban had blocked the highway between Kandahar and Uruzgan and on August 23 had notified private transportation companies operating in the area that the companies would be responsible for civilian deaths should they choose to travel on the road.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Internal population movements continued during the year because of armed conflict and natural disasters, including avalanches, flooding, and landslides. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported more than 172,490 individuals fled their homes due to conflict from January to September 20. Most internally displaced persons (IDPs) left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. Thirty of the country’s 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access because of the poor security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived at constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP sites reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors. Severe flooding and landslides on August 26 in Parwan Province killed 190 individuals and destroyed nearly 4,000 houses. Media reported that on August 27, the Taliban killed four civilian internally displaced survivors of the floods during clashes with the ANDSF.

Intense fighting in Helmand Province in October resulted in the displacement of thousands of families over a period of just two weeks, reported the AIHRC. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated 35,000 individuals were displaced but had only been able to confirm an estimated 14,000 IDPs because deteriorating security conditions interrupted phone service and prevented access.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

The IOM reported undocumented Afghan returns from Iran and Pakistan totaled 449,213 from January 1 to August 15, with 447,206 from Iran and 2,007 from Pakistan. Registered Afghan refugee returns from Pakistan slowed to historically low levels during the year, with just 551 returns as of August 25, in part because UNHCR suspended assisted returns between March 17 and August 10 due to COVID-19 and border closures impeded travel.

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. Nonetheless, UNHCR registered and provided protection for approximately 170 refugees and 250 asylum seekers in urban areas throughout the country. UNHCR also provided protection for 72,000 persons of concern who fled Pakistan in 2014 and resided in the provinces of Khost and Paktika.

g. Stateless Persons

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children in the country as a significant problem and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not derail, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections were held in September 2019. Voter turnout in the presidential election of September 2019 was historically low, at less than 19 percent, reportedly due to security threats, less robust campaigning by candidates, voter apathy, the decoupling of the presidential and provincial elections that traditionally helped drive local mobilization networks, among other factors. Additionally, biometric voter verification determined the validity of ballots in 2019 and reportedly accounted for at least part of the difference in turnout compared with previous elections because of the invalidation of any ballot not biometrically verified. According to the United Nations, the Taliban carried out a deliberate campaign of violence and intimidation, including on polling centers located in schools and health facilities. It found these attacks caused 458 civilian casualties (85 killed and 373 injured) from the start of the top-up registration in June 2019 through September 30, 2019. These figures included 100 incidents on the September 28 election day, resulting in 277 civilian casualties (28 killed and 249 injured). According to the United Nations, civilian casualty levels were higher on election day in 2019 than on the polling days for the first round and second rounds of the 2014 presidential election. On February 18, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that President Ghani secured re-election with 50.64 percent of the vote, while then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s chief opponent, received 39.52 percent of the vote. Although election experts noted technical improvements in the electoral procedures, there were concerns regarding the electoral bodies’ ability to ensure transparency during the results tabulation process. Political campaigns disputed the authenticity of 300,000 votes, of a total of 1.8 million votes cast, causing delays and accusations of politicization of election monitoring bodies. Opposition candidates additionally called for the IEC to reject votes cast at polling places that faced discrepancies with biometric verification of voters. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) investigated approximately 16,500 electoral complaints, ultimately rejecting more than 9,800 complaints, and conducted a recount for nearly 5,400 polling stations. The IEC conducted two audits before finalizing the results it announced in February.

Both President Ghani and Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing in ceremonies on March 9. Afghan political actors mediated the resulting political impasse, ultimately resulting in a compromise, announced on May 17, in which President Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each would select one-half of the cabinet members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law grants parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provides that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote may join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

In large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity.

On December 23, unknown gunmen shot and killed Yusuf Rashid, the head of the Free and Fair Elections Forum, an independent election monitoring group.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. In the 2019 presidential election, women accounted for 34.5 percent of those registered to vote and 31.5 percent of all votes cast. Absent reliable data, civil society, think tanks, and election monitoring organizations assessed that women’s participation across the country varied according to the security conditions and social norms. There was lower female voter turnout in provinces where communities purposely limited female participation in the democratic process, where lack of security was a concern, or both. Conflict, threats, financial constraints, corruption, and conservative family members put female voters at a disadvantage. There were reports some men declared female voting a sin, and others said women should vote for male candidates. There were reports that a biometric voter identification requirement for all registering voters to have their photograph taken was seen by some as an infringement on women’s modesty and, according to media sources, limited women’s ability to vote.

The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the national assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The IEC finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and half of the president’s nominees must be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga is reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution. On July 6, the cabinet decreed that each of the country’s 34 provinces should have one female deputy governor. By year’s end, 14 female deputy governors were appointed.

Traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2016 electoral law mandates that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. On March 22, a gunman fired multiple shots into a vehicle carrying Zarifa Ghafari, the mayor of Maidan Shar in Wardak Province, and her fiance. Both were uninjured in the attack.

No laws prevent members of minority groups from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

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. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. Local businessmen complained government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or outright dismissing charges.

Freedom House reported inadequately trained judges and extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: The Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) reported that since its inception in 2016 to mid-September, the ACJC tried 281 defendants in 76 cases before its trial chamber and 214 defendants in 68 cases before its appellate chamber. Of cases tried in the trial chamber, 199 were sentenced to imprisonment, 23 were fined, and 59 acquitted. Of cases tried in the appellate chamber, 172 were sentenced to imprisonment, 18 were fined, and 24 were acquitted. In January the ACJC appellate court resentenced several former election officials to two and one-half years in prison each, cutting their earlier prison terms by half.

There were reports of political patronage in the government’s COVID-19 response efforts, including accusations of embezzlement and theft of medical equipment by government authorities. On June 22, a media report alleged that 32 ventilators were embezzled from the Ministry of Public Health and subsequently smuggled to Pakistan for a profit. Media reported that on August 24 former minister of public health Ferozuddin Feroz and several former and current deputy ministers were referred to the Attorney General’s Office for suspected misappropriation of funds designated to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Media also reported that in October the governor of Herat Province, the mayor of Herat city, three members of the provincial council, and 17 other top provincial officials were accused of embezzling approximately 20 million afghanis ($260,000) of government funding of COVID-19 response activities. According to ACJC prosecutors, the cases against these officials were sent to the ACJC primary court, but the court sent the case back to the prosecution office to fill investigative gaps. The suspects were released on bail.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials during the year made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. According to government and media reports, since 2015 more than 300 judges, prosecutors, prison personnel, and other justice workers were killed, injured, or abducted. During the year, five judges and one administrative official were killed and two judges were abducted. Justice professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases–particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases–against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. On February 6, the Ministry of Interior announced it had arrested five police officers, including Ahmad Ahmadi, the Kabul counternarcotics chief, for involvement in drug trafficking.

On August 17, the primary court of the ACJC convicted a former official of the National Office of Norms and Standards of accepting a bribe of $100,000 from an unidentified company. The court sentenced the former official to 16 years’ imprisonment, a $100,000 fine (the amount of the bribe), as well as an additional fine of 60,000 afghanis ($765) for carrying a firearm without a permit.

There were allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Interior Ministry officials also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

Financial Disclosure: A 2017 legislative decree established the Administration on Registration and Assets of Government Officials and Employees (Registration Administration) under the Administrative Office of the President. All government officials, employees, and elected officials are required to declare their assets. The Registration Administration was responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from high-ranking government officials. Under the law all government officials and employees must submit financial disclosures on all sources and levels of personal income for themselves and their immediate family annually and when they assume or leave office. Individuals who do not submit forms or are late in submission are subject to suspension of employment, salary, and travel bans. The Attorney General’s Office imposed travel bans on individuals who did not submit their forms; however, the bans were not regularly enforced, especially for high-level officials. For instance, although the website of the Administrative Office of the President showed several high-ranking government officials failed to register their assets, it was public knowledge they frequently travelled internationally. Employment and salary suspensions were not imposed.

As of July 22, the deadline for asset registration, the Registration Administration successfully registered assets of more than 18,000 government employees. Verification of assets was slow and problematic for the administration due to lack of organized systems in some government offices. Public outreach by the Registration Administration allowed civil society and private citizens the opportunity to comment on individual declarations.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. On June 27, an IED killed two members of the AIHRC. Perpetrators of the bombing were not identified. Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW presidential decree was first issued in 2009 and was reinforced by another presidential decree in 2018. Implementation and awareness of the decree remained a serious problem. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape; battery or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The penal code criminalizes rape of both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances is present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The penal code criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “aggression to the chastity or honor of a female [that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina.” Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of EVAW, including through EVAW prosecution units.

Prosecutors and judges in rural areas were frequently unaware of the EVAW decree or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent or violent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing.

The penal code criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which act as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. In October the AIHRC reported that more than 90 percent of these exams were conducted without either a court order or the individual’s consent, and were conducted related to accusations including: adultery, murder, theft, and running away from home, among others. The Ministry of Public Health claimed no exam had taken place without a court order and the consent of the individual. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the EVAW decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to COVID-19 forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a “family matter,” domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, preference toward mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. There were EVAW prosecution units in all 34 provinces, and EVAW court divisions expanded during the year to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spend even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or family.

In 2019 the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned for life the Afghanistan Football Federation’s former head, Keramuddin Karim, and fined him one million Swiss francs (one million dollars) after finding him guilty of sexually abusing female players. At least five female soccer players accused Karim of repeated sexual abuse, including rape, from 2013 to 2018 while he served as the federation president. The players stated that Karim threatened them with reputational and additional physical harm if they did not comply with his advances. Women who rebuffed his advances were expelled from the team, according to eight former players who experienced such treatment. Those who went public faced intimidation. The Attorney General’s Office indicted Karim on multiple counts of rape in 2019, but the court sent the case back to the attorney general for further investigation before trial, and Karim was never questioned. Security forces attempted to arrest Karim on August 23 in Panjshir Province (where he was a former governor) but failed after local residents, many of whom were armed, intervened in support of Karim. At year’s end Karim was still at large.

At times women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread.

Honor killings continued throughout the year. In May a soldier in Badakhshan Province stabbed his 18-year-old sister to death in an apparent honor killing after she rejected her family’s proposal for an arranged marriage.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. By law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Businesswomen faced myriad challenges from the traditional nature of society and its norms with regard to acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization. In April, Human Rights Watch reported that a government employee, in front of other colleagues, told a woman with a disability he would process her disability certificate, which provides a stipend, if she had sex with him. The employee’s colleagues, according to her statement, laughed and said, “How do you want to get your disability card when you don’t want to sleep with us?” She reported that other women with disabilities had faced similar experiences when requesting disability certificates.

Reproductive Rights: In 2020 married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which is in effect by promulgation of presidential proclamation (though parliament has not passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights in 2020. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, however, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions about their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. A mother faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Intentionally ending a pregnancy is a crime under both the penal code and the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law and is punishable by three months to one years’ imprisonment.

In 2020 there were no legal barriers to the use of any type of contraception, but there were social and cultural barriers, including the social practice of mandating a woman’s husband consent to the use of contraception. There were no legal barriers that prevent a woman from receiving reproductive health care or obstetrical care, but socially, many men prevented their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information and better means to manage their reproductive health than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the UN Population Fund, 20 percent of women could not exercise their right to reproductive health due to violence, and 50 percent did not have access to information about their reproductive rights. According to the Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

The WHO reported that the country had 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017 (the last year of reported data). A survey conducted by the Central Statistics Organization in the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Kabul, Kapisa, and Parwan concluded that many factors contributed to the high maternal death rate, including early pregnancy, narrowly spaced births, and high fertility. Some societal norms, such as a tradition of home births and the requirement for some women to be accompanied by a male relative to leave their homes, led to negative reproductive health outcomes, including inadequate prenatal, postpartum, and emergency obstetric care. Access to maternal health care services was constrained by the limited number of female health practitioners, including an insufficient number of skilled birth attendants. Additionally, the conflict environment and other security concerns limited women’s safe access to health services of any kind.

The EVAW law and the Prohibition of Harassment against Women and Children Law (2017) contain provisions to support female victims of violence, including sexual violence. In 2020 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was charged with raising awareness of gender-based and sexual violence and providing legal support to survivors. According to the ministry, assistance was usually focused on pursuing legal action against the perpetrators but sometimes included general health services.

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

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents.

By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands, but they may do so with the husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petition instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW decree, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation.

Female political figures and activists were the targets of assassinations and assassination attempts throughout the year. On December 24, unknown gunmen killed women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani, along with her brother.

Unknown gunmen attacked Fawzia Koofi, a former lawmaker and member of the government negotiating team in intra-Afghan negotiations, who sustained minor injuries.

Similarly, Zarifa Ghafari, the mayor of Maidan Shahr (capital city of Wardak Province), survived two separate assassination attempts. On March 22, unknown gunmen fired on her car; she did not sustain injuries. On October 3, unknown gunmen ambushed her car, but she again escaped unharmed. On November 12, assailants shot and killed Ghafari’s father, an army colonel. The Taliban acknowledged responsibility for the attack. Ghafari claimed the Taliban killed her father to discourage her from serving as mayor.

On August 25, unknown gunmen shot at the car carrying actress and women’s rights campaigner Saba Sahar. Sahar and her companions were injured in the attack.

On November 8, Abdul Sami Yousufi, a prosecutor specializing in EVAW cases, was killed by a group of unidentified gunmen on motorcycles of Herat city. The Herat Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation following the killing.

On November 10, media outlets reported that unidentified assailants attacked and blinded Khatera, a female police officer, for securing a position on the police force. According to media reports, the attackers were tipped off by Khatera’s father. Khatera blamed the Taliban for the attack, although they denied responsibility.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not bestow citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of whom are girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Only 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. In February, Taliban militants set fire to a girls’ school in Takhar Province, burning all equipment, books, and documents.

There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond. There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child, ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($800 to $1,600).

Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. Children who sought police assistance for abuse also reported being further harassed and abused by law enforcement officials, particularly in bacha bazi cases, which deterred victims from reporting their claims.

On September 21, police officers in Kandahar Province beat and raped a 13-year-old boy who died of his injuries. The Attorney General’s Office reported seven suspects were in custody at year’s end and that it filed indictments against them at a Kabul district court in November for assault, rape, and murder.

NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

In 2019 human rights defenders exposed the sexual abuse of at least 165 schoolboys from three high schools in Logar Province, alleging that teachers, principals, vice principals, fellow students, and at least one local law enforcement official participated in the abuse. The release of videos of some the rapes and exposure of the scandal led to at least five honor killings of the victims. Two human rights defenders were subsequently placed in NDS detention after exposing the allegations, forced to apologize for their reporting, and continued to face threats after their release, prompting them to flee the country. The Attorney General’s Office investigation into the scandal resulted in the identification of 20 perpetrators, 10 of whom had been arrested by year’s end. Nine of the perpetrators were convicted of child sexual assault by the Logar Primary Court, which handed down sentences ranging between five and 22 years’ imprisonment. Another four men were indicted by the Attorney General’s Office in early September of raping a male student. One of the suspects, a high school headmaster, was the first government employee to face charges of child sexual assault related to the Logar bacha bazi case.

There were reports some members of the military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. The penal code criminalizes bacha bazi as a separate crime and builds on a 2017 trafficking-in-persons law (TIP law) that includes provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The penal code details the punishment for authorities of security forces involved in bacha bazi with an average punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Although no police officer had ever been prosecuted for bacha bazi, eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents and charged with “moral crimes,” sodomy, or other crimes.

The Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. By EVAW decree those convicted of entering into, or arranging, forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years old (or 15 years old with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, the penal code provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The EVAW decree prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into prostitution. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the TIP law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: During the year NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported as many as 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 in orphanages were not orphans but from families unable to provide them with food, shelter, schooling, or all three. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health-care services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan, the country’s primary military prison. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. Reportedly only one Afghan Jew remained in the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The law provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. Observers reported that both the constitutional provisions and disabilities rights law were mostly ignored and unenforced.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring government identification required for many government services and voting, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma.

Lack of security remained a problem for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. By law 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials acknowledged the law was not enforced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in April in which a woman with a disability reported that Herat city offered no disability support services, including technical support for wheelchair damage. She told interviewers she was stranded indoors, unable to access recreational activities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On March 6, gunmen attacked a ceremony in Kabul attended primarily by Shia Hazaras, killing 32. On October 24, a suicide bomber killed 40 persons and wounded 72 others at an educational center in a Hazara neighborhood of Kabul. ISIS-K claimed responsibility. Many of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 26.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. On March 25, gunmen attacked a Sikh gurdwara (house of worship and community gathering place) in Kabul, killing 25 and injuring 11. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for this attack. On March 26, an IED detonated during funeral services for the victims, injuring one. On March 27, police found and defused another IED near the Kabul gurdwara. In the months that followed, many Sikh families departed the country, going primarily to India, due to threats against Sikhs and what they perceived to be inadequate government protection. At year’s end approximately 400 members of the Sikh and Hindu community remained in the country, down from approximately 600 at the start of the year.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Under Islamic sharia law, conviction of same-sex sexual activity is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Under the penal code, sex between men is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and sex between women with up to one year of imprisonment. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals reported they continued to face arrest by security forces and discrimination, assault, and rape. There were reports of harassment and violence of LGBTI individuals by society and police. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. LGBTI individuals did not have access to certain health-care services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Even registered organizations working on health programs for men who have sex with men faced harassment and threats by the Ministry of Economy’s NGO Directorate and NDS officials.

Saboor Husaini, a transgender activist and artist, died in a Herat hospital after being beaten by an unidentified group of men December 25.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS. While the law allows for the distribution of condoms, the government restricted distribution to married couples.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The labor law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The labor law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the labor law identifies the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ (Ministry of Labor) Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result, the application of the labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate, but it interfered with the National Union of Afghanistan Workers and Employees (NUAWE), forcing its offices to remain closed after several raids in 2018. The Justice Ministry blocked NUAWE from holding a congress, reneged on its promise to unblock union bank accounts, and refused to return confiscated properties until after a union congress. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were sometimes respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor law narrowly defines forced labor and does not sufficiently criminalize forced labor and debt bondage. Men, women, and children were exploited in bonded labor, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment was exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. This type of debt bondage was common in the brickworks industry. Some families knowingly sold their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi (see section 7.c.).

Government enforcement of the labor law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government prosecuted and convicted two perpetrators of bacha bazi for kidnapping and increased the number of child protection units at the ANP. Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by Afghan National Army, ANP, and Afghan Local Police officials, however, the government has never prosecuted an official for bacha bazi, although the Attorney General’s Office investigated and filed indictments against seven Kandahar security officers implicated in the sexual abuse and death of a boy in September. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize victims.

Men, women, and children (see section 7.c.) were exploited in bonded and forced labor. Traffickers compelled entire families to work in bonded labor, predominantly in the carpet and brick making industries in the eastern part of the country. Some women who were sold to husbands were exploited in domestic servitude by their husbands. Men were subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children 15 years old and older to do light nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Labor inspectors do not have legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child labor laws or to impose penalties for noncompliance. Other deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. Most victims of forced labor were children. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coal mines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining, including mining salt; commercial sexual exploitation including bacha bazi (see section 6, Children); transnational drug smuggling; and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work. There were reports of recruitment of children by the ANDSF during the year (see section 1.g.). Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

Some children were forced by their families into labor with physical violence. Particularly in opium farming, families sold their children into forced labor, begging, or sex trafficking to settle debts with opium traffickers. Some Afghan parents forcibly sent boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Children were also subject to forced labor in orphanages run by NGOs and overseen by the government.

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19, because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor were experiencing a worsening of conditions and working longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported that child labor laws were often violated, and children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor.

Gender inequalities in child labor were also rising, as girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. COVID-19 also increased violent attacks on schools and teachers, which disproportionately impacted girls’ access to education and vulnerability to child labor. The UN Security Council reported that nine attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently lead parents to pull girls out of school before boys.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which is commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalized physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Public Health jointly adopted a regulation prescribing a list of 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. It is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage rates for workers in the nonpermanent private sector and for government workers were below the poverty line.

The labor law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime nor occupational health and safety laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations of forced labor that endangered their health or safety.

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.

The three national police forces–the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police–have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces do not report to the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, indigenous peoples and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims.

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 state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported police killed 5,804 civilians in 2019, compared with 6,160 civilians in 2018. Rio de Janeiro State was responsible for 30 percent of the national total, despite representing just 8 percent of the population. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.3 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported, and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.

On May 18, 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro, searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times. During the joint operation of the Federal Police and Civil Police Coordination of Special Resources Unit, authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect. The Federal Public Ministry initiated a public civil inquiry to investigate the participation of federal agents in the case. In addition to the Civil Police’s Homicide Division and Internal Affairs Unit, the state and federal public prosecutor’s offices were also investigating the case. As of August no one had been indicted or arrested.

The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to April grew 31 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. The figures for the four-month period included a spike in deaths in April, with military and civil police reporting 119 officer-involved deaths in the state, a 53-percent increase from April 2019. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military police reported 218 deaths resulting from street operations from January to April.

In Santa Catarina, in the first six months of the year, police killed one person every three days. After pandemic-induced social distancing measures began on March 16, the lethality of military police interventions increased by 85 percent, according to data from the Public Security Secretariat of Santa Catarina. Victims’ families contested police accounts of self-defense, reporting extrajudicial executions and police alteration of crime scenes to match their story.

In the state of Rio Grande do Sul in June, Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida traveled to his friend Dorildes Laurindo’s house in Cachoeirinha, a suburb of Porto Alegre. Almeida and Laurindo requested a ride through a ride-sharing app. Unbeknownst to them, the driver was a fugitive with a history of drug trafficking. Police gave chase while Almeida and Laurindo were passengers. The driver stopped the car, fled, and was arrested. Officers from the Rio Grande do Sul 17th Military Police Battalion in Gravatai fired 35 times, hitting both Almeida and Laurindo multiple times when they got out of the car. Both were taken to the hospital, where Laurindo died of her wounds. Upon discharge from the hospital, Almeida was taken to the Gravatai police station and then to Canoas State Penitentiary for 12 days before being released by court order.

As of August, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating the case of a 2019 operation by two military police units–BOPE and the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE)–in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The operation resulted in the deaths of 15 persons. Military police reported all of the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for the killings.

According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 75 percent of the persons killed by police in 2019 were black. As of August a trial date had not been set for the army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in western Rio de Janeiro City) 1st Infantry Motorized Battalion, who killed black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and injured two others in April 2019. Nine of the accused were released on bail in May 2019. According to a survey of cases between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court involving military personnel, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment.

Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates were common. A survey from NGOs Terra de Direitos and Justica Global found 327 cases of political violence, including murder, threats, physical violence, and arrests of politicians or candidates between 2016 and September 2020. A majority of the violence–92 percent–targeted politicians and candidates at the municipal level. As of September 1, at least two candidate or incumbent city councilors, elected mayors or vice mayors, were killed each month of the year. In 63 percent of the cases, authorities had not identified any suspects. In September, Federal Deputy Taliria Petrone appealed to the United Nations for protection from multiple death threats she had received, saying Rio de Janeiro State and the federal government were failing to offer appropriate protections.

According to the aforementioned survey, as of September 1, a total of 27 politicians and candidates had been killed or attacked, and a record 32 killings of politicians and candidates in 2019. In Rio de Janeiro State alone, nine sitting and former politicians were killed in 2019. In March police arrested two former police officers, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, in connection with the 2018 killing of a gay, black, Rio de Janeiro city council member and human rights activist, Marielle Franco, and her driver. A preliminary trial began in June 2019 at the Fourth Criminal Court in Rio de Janeiro. As of August police had not identified who ordered the crime, and no trial date had been set for the two accused.

The NGO Global Witness reported 23 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2019, leading it to classify the country as “extremely lethal” for activists. In March media reported that police officers from the Ninth Military Police Battalion of Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, killed human rights and land rights activist Daniquel Oliveira with a shot to the back of his head. Oliveira was a leader of the Landless Workers Movement. According to police, Oliveira shot at the officers, and they returned fire to defend themselves. According to other Landless Workers Movement activists, Oliveira was unarmed. Police initiated an internal investigation, and the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais interviewed witnesses regarding the killing.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners, compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.

In May residents of the Favela do Acari in the city of Rio de Janeiro reported that Iago Cesar dos Reis Gonzaga was tortured and killed during an operation in the community led by CHOQUE and BOPE. The victim’s family corroborated the residents’ report, saying that unidentified police officers tortured, abducted, and killed Iago. The 39th Police Precinct in Pavuna was investigating the case.

On July 12, a television channel broadcasted mobile phone video recordings of a police officer from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion holding a black woman on the ground by stepping on her neck. The video was filmed in May in Sao Paulo during a public disturbance call. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident, and the two officers involved were suspended from duty and were under investigation for misconduct. The police officer who held the woman on the ground was indicted for abuse of authority.

There were reports of sexual assault committed by police. According to Globo news outlet, in August security cameras showed a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer inside the building of the victim who accused him of rape. The victim reported that the officer had been in the building a week before the incident responding to a domestic disturbance call. The officer returned to her building, identifying himself to the doorman as the one who had responded to the earlier call and saying that he needed to talk with the victim. The doormen allowed him to enter the building, and according to the victim, the officer entered her apartment and raped her. The state military police were investigating the case. The officer was suspended from field duties.

In January a military court provisionally released the two military police officers from the 37th and 40th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalions suspected of raping a woman in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo, in June 2019. As of August 10, no verdict had been issued. The two officers were not allowed to resume duties in the field.

In March the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the torture accusations against federal military officers from Vila Military’s First Army Division, but as of August no officer had been charged. In 2018 the press reported claims that the officers tortured 10 male residents of Rio de Janeiro. As of March all 10 men had been released after one year and four months in detention.

In July, four military police officers from the Itajai Military Police Battalion were convicted of torture and received sentences ranging from three to 10 years, in an operation that took place in 2011 in Itajai, Santa Catarina. The agents entered a house to investigate a drug trafficking complaint and attacked three suspects–two men and a woman–with punches, kicks, and electrical stun gun shots. The final report indicated officers fired 33 shots at the three suspects and three other persons, including two children.

Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitation. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common. According to a survey of cases involving military personnel between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment. There was a 26-percent increase, however, in arrests of military police officers in the state of Sao Paulo between January and May, compared with the same period in 2019. Most of the 86 arrests during the year were for homicide, corruption, drug trafficking, and assault.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of December 2019, the average overall occupation rate in prisons was 170 percent of the designed capacity. The northern region of the country experienced the worst overcrowding, with three times more prisoners than the intended capacity. The southern state of Parana reported a shortage of 12,500 spaces for inmates in correctional facilities and provisional centers within the metropolitan area of Curitiba as a result of a 334-percent increase in the number of arrests in the first four months of the year. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. A February survey by the news portal G1 showed that 31 percent of detainees were being held without a conviction, a drop from 36 percent in 2019.

A June report by the NGO Mechanism to Prevent Torture highlighted that prisons in all 26 states and the Federal District faced overcrowding and shortages in water (some facilities had water available for only two hours per day), personal hygiene products, and proper medical care. Prison populations endured frequent outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis and suffered from high rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and HIV. Letters from detainees to the Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported a lack of guarantee of rights such as education, recreation, and contact with family and lawyers due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by prison authorities.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. In March 2019 the national daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported that the Sao Paulo Penitentiary Administration Secretary’s Ombudsman’s Office received 73 reports of torture in correctional facilities in the state of Sao Paulo in the first two months of 2019, of which 66 were related to the Provisional Detention Center of Osasco, in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. Reports mentioned long punishment in isolated cells, lack of access to health care, and psychological torture. The center was operating at 50 percent beyond designed capacity.

Police arrested one person in Fortaleza, Ceara State, who was allegedly responsible for the January 2019 prison riots that resulted in the Ministry of Justice authorizing a federal intervention taskforce to enter the state’s prisons. The National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture investigated reports of abuse and reported in October 2019 that prison guards systematically broke prisoners’ fingers as a way to immobilize them. The National Penitentiary Department denied the findings of torture, stating prisoners were injured in the violent riots and received medical treatment.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. According to a March report from the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 35 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared with the general public. One NGO, the Rio de Janeiro Mechanism for Torture Prevention, asserted that injured inmates were denied medication and proper medical treatment.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 188 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2019. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Prison riots were common occurrences. In April approximately 100 minors rioted in the juvenile detention center Dom Bosco in Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro City, after authorities suspended family visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates set fire to mattresses, broke doors, and injured two guards.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Due to COVID-19, Sao Paulo State penitentiaries implemented restrictive visitation policies. Beginning in March visits to inmates in the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul were suspended. In April, Santa Catarina implemented virtual visits. In Rio Grande do Sul, almost 3,000 inmates belonging to high-risk groups for COVID-19 were released from prison to house arrest and electronic monitoring.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Improvements: Ceara State prison officials took steps to reduce overcrowding by building new prisons, including a maximum-security prison inaugurated in February, reforming existing prisons to accommodate 5,000 more prisoners, and maximizing the use of parole programs. The state banned cell phones and televisions in prisons, increased the use of videoconferences so that prisoners had access to lawyers, and provided expanded access to educational courses.

In October a new law established Santa Catarina State’s policy for the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated persons. The law guarantees support and promotes social inclusion for formerly incarcerated persons, assists them in entering the labor market, develops educational and professional qualification programs, and provides incentives to companies that provide jobs to this vulnerable population.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed this provision.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period of pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.

Arbitrary Arrest: On September 2, civil police officers from the Rio de Janeiro 76th Police Station arrested Luiz Carlos da Costa Justino for a 2017 car theft. According to police, the robbery victim identified Justino from a photograph lineup in the police station. According to media outlets, Justino, who was an adolescent at the time of the robbery, did not have a criminal record and therefore police should not have had access to any photographs of him. Video evidence showed that at the time of the crime, Justino, an Afro-Brazilian musician with the Grota String Orchestra in Niteroi, was performing in an event at a bakery located four miles from the crime scene. Justino was released after five days. As of October the public prosecutor’s office of Rio de Janeiro was reviewing Justino’s petition for revocation of the arrest.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department, 30 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial detention. A study conducted by the National Penitentiary Department in 2018 found more than half of pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found that 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land-rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on, resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Brazil endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Persons in the federal government, the Israeli diplomatic mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and synagogues were unaware of any laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims. Representatives of the Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social (UNIBES), a nonprofit organization operating in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years, worked with survivors based in the country pursuing claims, but usually those claims were done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government. UNIBES representatives said governmental assistance was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.

For additional information, the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, can be found at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

Although the law and constitution prohibit warrantless searches, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.

The Ministry of Justice’s Secretariat of Integrated Operations (SEOPI) provided information on individuals identified as antifascists to other law enforcement agencies. The press leaked a SEOPI dossier with the names, photographs, and social media activity of at least 579 individuals nationwide, including police officers, university professors, and former secretaries of public security and human rights. On August 3, the Minister of Justice fired the head of SEOPI and initiated an internal investigation into the matter. On August 20, the Supreme Court determined the monitoring had been illegal.

In October the president signed a decree compelling all federal bodies to share most of the data they hold on citizens, from health records to biometric information, and consolidate it into a single database. Officials argued this would consolidate information and facilitate citizen’s access to government services. There was no debate or public consultations before the decree was signed, and critics warned that the concentration of data could be used to violate personal privacy and other civil liberties. The database was to include biographic information, health information, and biometric data, such as facial profiles, voice, iris and retina scans, and prints of digits and palms.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting. In May journalist Leonardo Pinheiro was killed while conducting an interview in Araruama in Rio de Janeiro State. As of October authorities had not identified any suspects or motives.

As in previous years, the most serious physical attacks were reported in relation to local reporting, such as the case of television news presenter Alex Mendes Braga, who in July was forced off the road in Manaus, Amazonas State, physically attacked, and threatened in apparent retaliation for his recent coverage of suspected fraud at a local hospital.

Multiple journalists were subjected to verbal assault, including when unmasked private individuals yelled in their faces following the onset of COVID-19. The most high-profile incident took place outside the presidential palace in Brasilia, leading a coalition of civil society organizations to file a civil suit against the government for failing to protect journalists there. As of August multiple major outlets had stopped sending journalists to cover events outside the palace, and the palace had taken additional measures to keep journalists separated from civilians gathered outside.

According to Reporters without Borders, President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the press 53 times, verbally or via social media, during the first half of the year. Multiple news outlets reported that on August 23, President Bolsonaro verbally lashed out at an O Globo reporter, who questioned him about deposits made by former aide Fabricio Queiroz to his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

In June, two journalists from the local newspaper Em Questao in Alegrete, Rio Grande do Sul, were beaten by two military police officers after one of the reporters attempted to photograph an army truck outside the city police station. The officers forbade the reporter from taking photographs, seized his cell phone, and kicked and handcuffed him. After an investigation, in August civil police referred the two officers for prosecution for aggression and abuse of authority.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. On July 30, a Federal Supreme Court justice ordered Facebook and Twitter to block multiple accounts for having disseminated “fake news.”

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or systematically censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Nonetheless, the online environment remained constrained by threats of violence against independent bloggers and websites, as well as criminal defamation laws and restrictive limits on content related to elections.

The law protects net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no significant reports of government restrictions on educational or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent.

In June an officer from CHOQUE pointed a rifle at unarmed demonstrator Jorge Hudson during a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Rio de Janeiro governor’s official residence. Although the crowd of protesters was peaceful, military police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the public. The military police spokesperson announced a few days later that the police officer involved in the incident had been punished administratively.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The governmental National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing official documents, protection, and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that refugees were susceptible to human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and forced labor.

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. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants and provides for a humanitarian visa and residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

As of August there were more than 264,600 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country, many of whom arrived in the northern state of Roraima. The country had already officially recognized more than 46,000 of these Venezuelans as refugees. The government continued the process of “interiorization” of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers, moving them from the border to other states to relieve pressure on the resource-strapped state of Roraima and provide increased opportunities for education and work.

In 2019 Rio Grande do Sul became the first state to implement a Central American refugee resettlement program with federal government resources. After presenting evidence they had been persecuted by gangs in their home countries, 28 individuals were resettled. The Antonio Vieira Association, a Jesuit organization, was responsible for carrying out the resettlement.

Employment: The interiorization program also provided economic opportunities for resettled Venezuelans by placing them in economic hubs in larger cities. In partnership with the EU, UNHCR released the results of a 2019 survey of 366 resettled Venezuelan families who found improvements in economic status, housing, and education after resettlement. More than 77 percent were employed within weeks of their resettlement, as opposed to only 7 percent beforehand. Within six to eight weeks of their resettlement, the incomes of Venezuelan migrants across all education levels had increased. Prior to resettlement, 60 percent of those interviewed had been in a shelter and 3 percent had been homeless. Four months after being interiorized, no migrants lived on the street and only 5 percent were in shelters, while the majority (74 percent) were living in rental homes. All Venezuelan families had at least one child in school after resettlement, as opposed to only 65 percent of families beforehand.

Resettled Venezuelans seeking employment reported difficulty obtaining Brazilian accreditation for foreign academic degrees and professional licenses, restricting their ability to work. Civil society organizations raised concerns that business closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected migrants and refugees, many of whom depended on informal jobs or work in the service sector.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2018, citizens chose former federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro as president and elected 54 senators and 513 federal deputies to the national legislature and multiple governors and state legislators to state governments. National observers and media considered the elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On August 5, the Porto Alegre city council opened an impeachment process against Mayor Nelson Marchezan Jr. for allegedly using 3.1 million reais (R$) ($570,000) from the municipal health fund to pay for advertising, including in national newspapers, contrary to the rules established in a decree for the application of resources. The mayor claimed the rules did not apply because the city council explicitly approved the use of funds for safety orientations regarding COVID-19. Proponents of impeachment claimed, however, the advertisements highlighted Marchezan’s response to the pandemic and thus were self-promotional for his re-election campaign.

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

On August 25, the Superior Electoral Court decided that the division of publicly provided funds for campaign financing and advertising time on radio and television must be divided proportionally between black and white candidates in elections. For example, if 20 percent of a party’s candidates are black, at least 20 percent of its publicly provided campaign funding must be used in support of those black candidates. The decision, scheduled to take effect in 2022, was made in response to calls from Afro-Brazilian activists.

The law requires parties and coalitions to have a minimum quota of 30 percent women on the list of candidates for congressional representatives (state and national), mayors, and city council members. By law 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In the 2018 elections, some parties fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In 2018 the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions, representing only 15 percent of federal deputies and 13 percent of federal senators. One newly elected state congresswoman in the state of Santa Catarina suffered a wave of misogynistic social media attacks, including by self-identified members of the military police, after wearing a neckline her critics considered “revealing” during her swearing-in to the state legislative assembly. The military police commander general announced he would investigate the actions of the police officers who posted the offensive comments.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for elected officials. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors in addition to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched many new investigations. During the year prosecutors filed 128 new complaints and issued 61 arrest warrants.

Superior Court of Justice Minister Benedito Goncalves removed Rio de Janeiro governor Witzel from office on August 28 for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response. The court decision came amid a separate and ongoing impeachment process led by the state legislative assembly against the governor. The August 28 ruling led to arrests of high-profile individuals including, among others, former Rio de Janeiro state secretary of economic development Lucas Tristao, pastor (and president of the Social Christian Party) Everaldo Dias Pereira, and business owner Mario Peixoto. The corruption scandal also led to the arrests of Deputy Health Secretary Gabriell Neves in May and former Rio de Janeiro health secretary Edmar Santos in July. As of August 17, Neves remained in detention, while Santos had been released based on his cooperation with the investigation of Governor Witzel. As of August, Rio de Janeiro’s public ministry was also investigating the nonprofit health organization Institute of Basic and Advanced Health Services (IABAS). Rio de Janeiro State contracted IABAS to build and manage seven of the state’s nine COVID-19 field hospitals. The noncompetitive-bid contracts under investigation included purchases of ventilators, medical masks, and rapid diagnostic tests believed to be valued, collectively, at more than $200 million.

On July 29, Sao Paulo senator Jose Serra was indicted for corruption and money laundering by the Federal Court of Justice. On July 30, the Electoral Court of Sao Paulo indicted former governor Geraldo Alckmin for electoral crimes, corruption, and money laundering. Alckmin had allegedly received R$10 million ($1.8 million) for his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Not all asset declarations are made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.

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

Many domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. Federal and state officials in many cases sought the aid and cooperation of domestic and international NGOs in addressing human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some local human rights organizations were critical of the Ministry of Human Rights, stating that many positions were either unfilled or filled by individuals who did not support human rights and that the role of civil society in policy discussions had been severely reduced.

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate had human rights committees and subcommittees that operated without interference and participated in several activities nationwide in coordination with domestic and international human rights organizations. Most states had police ombudsmen, but their accomplishments varied, depending on such factors as funding and outside political pressure.

The government operated a number of interministerial councils linking civil society to decision makers in the government on a range of human rights topics. Many of their activities were interrupted by the pandemic.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the Maria da Penha Law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender that could include domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women, and it stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,326 femicides in 2019, compared with 1,026 in 2018. According to the NGO Brazilian Public Security Forum, law enforcement identified 946 femicides in 2018. According to the National Council of Justice, courts imposed sentences in 287 cases of femicide in 2018.

According to NGOs and public security data, domestic violence was widespread. According to the 13th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 66,000 cases of rape in 2018. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. In cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 89 percent of the time. In July, Santa Catarina Military Police sergeant Regiane Terezinha Miranda was killed by her former husband, who then took his own life. Miranda led the Catarina Network for the Protection of Women, a program designed to prevent and combat domestic violence.

Prolonged stress and economic uncertainty resulting from the pandemic led to an increase in gender-based violence. A May Brazilian Public Security Forum report showed an average 22-percent increase in femicides in 12 states. The absolute number of femicides in these states increased from 117 in March and April 2019 to 143 in March and April 2020.

The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence. Hotline operators have the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and follow up regarding the status of the case. The government distributed more electronic ankle monitors and panic button devices as a result of a technical cooperation agreement signed between the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice in March 2019. Following implementation of the agreement, the sum of ankle monitors (to monitor abusers sentenced to house arrest or to alert police when abusers under a restraining order violate minimum distance requirements) and panic-button devices (to facilitate police notification that a victim is being threatened) increased from 12,727 to 14,786. The agreement also expanded the training and counseling services for abusers from 22 groups and 340 participants to 61 groups and 816 participants nationwide.

In July, Rio de Janeiro governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August a Rio police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.

NGO and public security representatives claimed that culturally domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter. Oftentimes bystanders either did not report cases of violence or waited until it was too late. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported a 431-percent increase in tweets between February and April during the peak of pandemic-related stay-at-home orders, from neighbors witnessing domestic violence. For example, in July, Fabricio David Jorge killed his wife Pollyana de Moura and then killed himself in their apartment in the Federal District. According to media reports, several neighbors heard screams coming from their apartment but did not report the disturbance to authorities.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police; a study in the state of Rio Grande do Sul found 40 percent of femicide victims had previously sought police protection.

The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.

Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. From 2017 to 2018, 64 percent of rapes involved a “vulnerable” victim, defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse.

In March police arrested a rideshare driver suspected of raping a 13-year-old boy in February in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro City.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison, but it was seldom pursued. A law effective in 2018 broadens the definition of sexual harassment to include actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.

In August a regional labor court judge in Minas Gerais ordered a supervisor to pay an indemnity of R$5,000 ($900) to an employee he had sexually harassed and then dismissed after working for three months with the company.

Sexual harassment was also prevalent at public events such as concerts and during Carnival street festivals. Police departments throughout the country distributed rape whistles and informed Carnival goers of the women-only police stations and the sexual assault hotline during the annual celebrations. According to a February survey from the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, 48 percent of women who attended Carnival events said they suffered some form of sexual harassment during the celebrations. According to public servants and NGOs, the increased awareness and success of national campaigns such as “No means No” led to an increase in reports of sexual harassment during the festivals.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence; however, abortion remains illegal except in limited circumstances with court approval. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), individuals in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services, a continuing problem in those regions hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some local authorities curbed sexual and reproductive services not deemed essential during the pandemic. According to 2018 UNFPA statistics, 77 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. Human Rights Watch reported that the government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to government statistics, women earned an average 79.5 percent of the wages earned by men. According to the Observatory on Workplace Equality, black women earned 55 percent of the wages earned by white men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. Parents are required to register their newborns within 15 days of the birth or within three months if they live more than approximately 20 miles from the nearest notary. Nevertheless, many children did not have birth certificates.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence, but enforcement was often ineffective, and abuse was widespread. The national human rights hotline received 86,800 complaints of violations of the rights of children and adolescents in 2019, an increase of almost 14 percent compared with 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (or 16 with parental or legal representative consent). The practice of early marriage was common. A study of child marriage in the northeastern states of Bahia and Maranhao found that pregnancy was the main motivation for child marriage in 15 of 44 cases. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, 26 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in sex trafficking in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The creation of child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine. On February 18, a nationwide operation coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and carried out by state civil police forces resulted in the arrests of 41 individuals for the possession and distribution of material depicting child sexual exploitation.

Displaced Children: According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, 529 unaccompanied Venezuelan children and adolescents crossed the border into Brazil between May and November 2019. Another 2,133 arrived without a parent, accompanied by another adult, often an extended family member. According to civil society contacts, some of these minors were at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. In one case an adolescent arrived with a much older man she claimed was her boyfriend, but further questioning revealed she had met him on her journey. Authorities alerted child protective services to take guardianship of the minor.

Local child protection services offices act as legal guardians so unaccompanied adolescents can go to school and obtain identification papers to access the public health system. In some areas, however, they could not accommodate the influx of children. State shelters in Roraima, the state where a majority of migrants entered the country, could house a maximum of 15 adolescent boys and 13 adolescent girls. According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, some unaccompanied children ended up living on the streets, where they may be particularly vulnerable to abuse or recruitment by criminal gangs.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 125,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 65,000 lived in the state of Sao Paulo and 29,000 in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

In February, three men assaulted a Jewish man on the street in rural Sao Paulo State. The men shouted anti-Semitic offenses during the assault and cut the victim’s kippah (head covering) with a pocketknife. As of August police were investigating the case but had not identified the attackers.

Prominent Jewish organizations publicly noted their outrage at what they considered anti-Semitic comments made by high-level government officials. In May former minister of education Abraham Weintraub, who is of Jewish heritage, compared a Federal Police operation against fake news to Kristallnacht. Multiple Jewish organizations condemned the comparison, and the Israeli embassy in Brasilia posted on Twitter, “There has been an increase in the use of the Holocaust in public speeches, in a way that belittles its memory and this tragedy that happened to the Jewish people.”

A global survey released in June by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that the percentage of Brazilians who harbored some anti-Jewish sentiment had grown from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020. A survey from the Henry Sobel Human Rights Observatory found that acts of intolerance and anti-Semitic attitudes were increasingly common in society and politics. The organization recorded 30 such acts during the first six months of the year, compared with 26 in all of 2019. There were 349 active neo-Nazi organizations, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas. The largest concentrations were in the states of Sao Paulo, with 102 groups; Parana, with 74; and Santa Catarina, with 69.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online. In May, Safernet, an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites, reported the creation of 204 new pages of neo-Nazi content in the country, compared with 42 new pages in May 2019.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 100 employees to hire 2 to 5 percent of their workforce from persons with disabilities. According to the 2010 census, only 1 percent of those with disabilities were employed.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas. As of October the National Council of Justice reported 3,834 new cases of discrimination based on disability and 1,918 other cases in some phase of the appeal process.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and school resources significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce. In September, President Bolsonaro signed a decree creating the National Special Education Policy to facilitate parents placing their children with disabilities in specialized schools without having to try nonspecialized schools first. Some critics claimed the policy could result in fewer schooling options for children with disabilities.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 52 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.

In a June 19 decision, Judge Ines Zarpelon repeated three times in her written decision that defendant Natan Paz was surely a member of a criminal group due to his Afro-Brazilian race. The judge sentenced him to 14 years and two months in prison for larceny, robbery, and organized crime, consistent with other sentences for similar crimes. Paz’s attorney stated he would appeal the decision, and the National Council of Justice and state bar association requested an investigation of the judge by the Curitiba court and the state Public Ministry. On September 28, the Internal Affairs Office of the state court in Parana dismissed the complaint, noting that the judge’s reference to the defendant’s race had been taken out of context and that the defendant’s sentence was a result of his crimes, not the color of his skin. After the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the country saw widespread Black Lives Matter activism targeted at not only ending police violence against Afro-Brazilians but also raising awareness of pervasive systemic racism in many aspects of society, including the criminal justice system.

Controversial deaths of Afro-Brazilians in Recife and Rio de Janeiro, albeit not at the hands of police, indicated that protests in those cities included a broader message against overall systemic racism in society, according to NGO observers. In Recife a wealthy and well-connected white woman required her Afro-Brazilian housekeeper to report to work despite the housekeeper reportedly not being able to find childcare for her five-year-old son due to COVID-19 closures. The white employer allegedly offered to babysit the toddler but then allowed him to enter an elevator alone and ride to a high floor, from which he subsequently fell to his death. The employer faced a manslaughter charge but was free on bail. Some believed she was treated leniently because of her political connections to local authorities, creating “die-ins” and street protests in the northeastern region of the country. In Rio de Janeiro protests began after the city reported that its first death from COVID-19 was an Afro-Brazilian housekeeper working in the home of a white employer who had recently returned from travel abroad, carrying the virus unknowingly, and had required the housekeeper to report to work. Both cases produced debate on social media regarding pervasive economic racism in the country and the failure of the criminal justice system to treat all citizens equally.

The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.

Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. In July the University of Brasilia revoked the diplomas of two students and expelled another 15 on suspicion of fraud in accessing racial quotas. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, the University of Brasilia reported in August that almost 49 percent of its students were black or brown, up from 10 percent in 2003.

In Rio Grande do Sul, many virtual classes and presentations with themes involving blackness, women, and LGBTI rights fell victim to “Zoom-bombing” by hate groups. Aggressors typically joined the group video calls and interrupted the presentations with messages of a sexual, racist, or homophobic nature. The Federal Police was investigating four cases in Santa Maria, Santo Angelo, and Porto Alegre, all in Rio Grande do Sul State.

Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble and Umbanda faced more discrimination and violence than any other faith-based group. Although less than 2 percent of the population followed Afro-Brazilian religions, a majority of the religious persecution cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions.

On July 31, a Sao Paulo court awarded custody of a 12-year-old girl to her maternal Christian grandmother, removing the girl from her mother, who had supported her daughter’s choice to practice the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble. The grandmother filed for custody alleging the child faced physical and psychological harm after she shaved her head for a Candomble religious ceremony. Although court documents were not publicly available due to the minor status of the child, media reported that authorities had found no evidence of physical or psychological harm and that the girl had said Candomble was her religion of choice. On August 14, the court returned the girl’s custody to her mother and requested further police investigation.

Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions faced physical attacks on their places of worship. According to one religious leader, these attacks resulted from a mixture of religious intolerance and racism, systemic societal discrimination, media’s perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, and attacks by public and religious officials against these communities. On June 9, armed men invaded one of Bahia State’s oldest Candomble temples and destroyed several sacred objects. Media identified the invaders as employees of Grupo Penha packaging company. Representatives of the company denied any wrongdoing but claimed the temple was located on company-owned land.

Indigenous People

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 897,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.

The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved specific regulations on how to develop natural resources on indigenous territory, rendering any development of natural resources on indigenous territory technically illegal.

In May the government launched the second phase of Operation Green Brazil to eradicate forest fires and deter criminal activity by making arrests, issuing fines, and confiscating illegally logged wood. Nevertheless, NGOs claimed the lack of regulation along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions resulted in illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) reported there were more than 20,000 miners illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report released by the NGO Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) in 2020, there were 256 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 151 indigenous territories in 23 states in 2019. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report specifically detailed illegal deforestation in the Amazon. The report concluded that illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon region was driven largely by criminal networks that had the logistical capacity to coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to protect their interests. The report documented 28 killings–most of them since 2015–in which evidence indicated the perpetrators were engaged in illegal deforestation and the victims were targeted because they opposed these criminal activities. Victims included environmental enforcement officials, members of indigenous communities, or others who denounced illegal logging to authorities.

Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to the CIMI report, there were 113 killings of indigenous persons in 2019, compared with 135 such cases in 2018. The killing of indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues in March in Arame, Maranhao, was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.

According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation in cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment caused by large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. In a case that lasted more than 30 years, in 2018 a court ordered the return of 20,000 acres of land to the Pankararu indigenous community in the municipalities of Tacaratu, Petrolandia, and Jatoba in the state of Pernambuco. As a result, the Federal Public Ministry instituted an administrative procedure to coordinate federal actions and prevent conflicts. It received reports of invaders cutting down trees, breaking fences, destroying gardens, and threatening members of the Pankararu community.

NGOs and indigenous people’s organizations reported higher mortality rates among members of indigenous groups due to COVID-19 than the Ministry of Health reported. According to the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon and the NGO Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon, the mortality rate due to COVID-19 among indigenous persons on June 24 in the Amazon was 6.8 percent. In comparison, as of June 27, the ministry reported mortality rates due to COVID-19 averaged 4.3 percent, and in the northern region, where most indigenous groups lived, only 3.7 percent. Some of this discrepancy may have been due to differences in how mortality was calculated based on all indigenous persons or only those who live in indigenous territories. Many indigenous persons expressed concern that the virus, with its higher risk to older, vulnerable populations, could erase their cultural heritage by decimating an entire generation of elders. The Munduruku people, with land in the states of Amazonas and Para, reported losing seven elders between ages 60 and 86 to COVID-19. According to multiple media reports, indigenous leaders believed exposure from outside, specifically miners and loggers, and increased air pollution (due to machinery and burning deforested land) had caused aggravated respiratory health and put an already vulnerable population at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

In July a federal court ordered the federal government to expel the estimated 20,000 illegal gold miners from Yanomami Indigenous territory to protect them from the COVID-19 spread. The Ministry of Health, FUNAI, and the Ministry of Defense sent medical missions and more than 350 tons of health supplies to indigenous territories, including more than $40 million in medical supplies to the state of Amazonas, where most indigenous groups lived. Additionally, the Health Ministry, together with state governments and FUNAI, opened five new hospital wings in the states of Para, Amapa, and Amazonas exclusively for treating indigenous COVID-19 patients. On July 8, President Bolsonaro passed a law creating an emergency action plan to support COVID-19 prevention and treatment for indigenous and other traditional populations. The plan addresses basic hygiene and medical needs. Indigenous leaders made public statements emphasizing that very few of these resources had been delivered to their communities and argued that resource scarcity resulting from the COVID-19 crisis remained a concern.

The Quilombola population–descendants of escaped African slaves–was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes Quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.

Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the mortality rate due to COVID-19 in Quilombola communities as of June was 7.6 percent. In comparison, as of June 27, the Ministry of Health reported mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 4.3 percent, and in the northern region, where a majority of indigenous peoples lived, 3.7 percent.

Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, and threats against leaders and women, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered the hygiene conditions necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in Quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials were not conducting sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.

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

Violence against LGBTI individuals was a serious concern. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed on the basis of gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, the risk for a transgender person of being killed was 17 times greater than for a gay person. According to the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals in Brazil, in partnership with the Brazilian Institute of Trans Education, 124 transgender men and women were killed in 2019, compared with 163 in 2018. Police arrested suspects in only 9 percent of the cases. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was rampant, because many LGBTI persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.

In May transgender woman Vick Santos was found strangled and burned in Itu, Sao Paulo. In July, Douglas Jose Goncalves and his wife, Natasha Oliveira, confessed to the crime. Goncalves told police he strangled Santos in self-defense during an altercation. He and Oliveira then burned Santos’ body in an effort to destroy forensic evidence. Both were arrested and were awaiting trial.

On July 26, two teenagers in Bahia stoned Guilherme de Souza and then took his unconscious body to an abandoned house, which they set ablaze. A few hours after the crime was committed, police arrested the suspects, one of whom confessed that he had premeditated the crime because he was offended when the victim, who was homosexual, had flirted with him.

No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In June 2019, however, the Supreme Court criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if there is widespread media coverage of the incident.

NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTI persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTI employees, and 90 percent of transgender women survived through prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.

According to some LGBTI leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTI population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTI workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. On May 8, the Supreme Court overturned a Ministry of Health and National Health Surveillance Agency regulation that barred men who had sex with other men from giving blood for 12 months, ending any waiting time.

Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. According to one LGBTI activist, although the government provided affordable HIV treatment through the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, many HIV-positive persons did not access the service because they were unaware of its existence or did not understand the bureaucracy required to participate in the program.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Drug trafficking organizations and other groups contributed to societal violence or discrimination. There was evidence that these organizations participated in vigilante justice, holding “trials” and executing persons accused of wrongdoing. A victim was typically kidnapped at gunpoint and brought before a tribunal of gang members, who then tortured and executed the victim.

On July 16, Sao Paulo police arrested six men suspected of being part of the so-called criminal court of the militia group PCC. They were suspected of committing serial killings at the behest of the faction in the southern region of the capital. According to media reports, police believed the suspects killed four persons and buried them in unmarked graves.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.

In March members of a drug trafficking gang that controlled the Cidade de Deus favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro ordered residents to remain indoors after 8 p.m., in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They posted a video on social media saying, “anyone found walking around outside would be punished.” The gang told residents that they had imposed the curfew “because nobody was taking [coronavirus] seriously.” In areas controlled by militia groups such as Praca Seca, in the western part of the city, militia members also prohibited small bars in the area to operate and informed residents they were to remain indoors.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters); the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions; and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, and firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Economy, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence, one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. A 2017 law includes new collective bargaining rights, such as the ability to negotiate a flexible hourly schedule and work remotely.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, the government usually effectively enforced applicable laws and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Economy publishes a “dirty list” of companies found to have employed forced labor. In April the updated list included 41 new companies and owners from a range of sectors such as coffee, mining, and fishing boats. The list is used by public and private banks to conduct risk assessments, and inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor. In July the Labor Prosecutor’s Office announced it would start publishing a separate list of individuals and corporate entities convicted of trafficking in persons and slave labor.

The Ministry of Economy’s Mobile Labor Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

Media also reported cases of forced labor of domestic workers in wealthy urban households. In June authorities discovered a 61-year-old woman working as a domestic servant under forced labor conditions for a wealthy family in a rich Sao Paulo neighborhood. According to media reports, she had worked without the proper salary, and at times for no salary, for the family since 1998. After several media outlets reported the female employer was an Avon executive, the cosmetic company fired her and posted on social media that they would provide housing for the victim, who would also receive unemployment insurance from the government. The accused couple was arrested and then released on bail. All of their bank accounts and assets were frozen.

In 2019 authorities conducted 45 labor inspections and identified 1,054 victims of slave labor, including 20 child victims of slave labor, compared with 44 labor inspections, and the identification of 1,745 victims of slave labor, including 28 child victims of slave labor in 2018. Officials issued administrative penalties to 106 employers guilty of slave labor, compared with 100 employers in 2018. Between January and June, labor inspectors in the state of Ceara received 26 complaints involving child labor, a 62-percent increase from the same period in 2019. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, penalties for slave labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. Prohibitions against child sex trafficking require the use of threats, violence, coercion, fraud, or abuse, which does not meet international standards. The minimum working age is 16, but apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.

On June 28, a superior court decided that the years worked in child labor in rural areas would be counted towards the minimum needed to receive retirement benefits. The court highlighted that although child labor is illegal, it would be unfair to not count the years worked in such harmful conditions.

The Ministry of Economy’s Special Mobile Inspection Group is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred. The government did not always effectively enforce the law. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, penalties for slave labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Between March and May, when most states were under mandatory social distancing measures, labor inspectors uncovered 63 cases of child labor, compared with 176 during the same period in 2019. On June 3, labor authorities used hip-hop music to raise awareness about child labor during a national campaign to address the concern that the COVID-19 pandemic and economic consequences could push more adolescents into exploitative work situations. Rappers Emicida and Drik Barbosa performed the campaign’s theme song, which was shared in a weekly podcast and in 12 social media videos about child slavery.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Economy implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, working hours, occupations, tasks, and career advancement, according to NGO representatives, the law was rarely enforced, and discrimination existed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, however, in 2018 the per capita income of approximately 60 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. The Ministry of Economy verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day and 44 hours per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

The Ministry of Economy sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, officials enforced occupational safety and health (OSH) laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The Ministry of Economy addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation. Fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various virtual training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

Trial Procedures

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

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

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

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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

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

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

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

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

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

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

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

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous People

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. General elections were held on November 8 and widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people, despite some structural flaws. Voters in all constituencies where the government determined elections could be held safely elected members of parliament in both the upper and the lower houses, as well as state and regional legislatures. The government cancelled polling in more than half of the townships in Rakhine State, in addition to cancellations in Shan State, Kachin State, and elsewhere due to insecurity. Results declared on November 14 showed the National League for Democracy maintained its majority of parliament, while a military-aligned party lost seats. By the terms of the constitution, the military itself filled by appointment 25 percent of seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in state and regional legislatures. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi continued to be the civilian government’s de facto leader and, due to constitutional provisions preventing her from becoming president, remained in the position of state counsellor.

The Myanmar Police Force is primarily responsible for internal security. The Border Guard Police is administratively part of the Myanmar Police Force but operationally distinct. Both fall under the Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military general, so they are subordinate to the armed forces’ command. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security but are engaged extensively in internal security, including combat against ethnic armed groups. Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; the armed forces commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, maintained effective control over all security forces. Members of the security forces continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses.

Extreme repression of and discrimination against the minority Rohingya population, who are predominantly Muslim, continued in Rakhine State. Intense fighting between the military and the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army in January displaced thousands more civilians, further disrupted humanitarian access to vulnerable populations, and resulted in serious abuses of civilian populations. Fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State, as well as fighting there among ethnic armed groups, temporarily displaced thousands of persons and resulted in abuses, including reports of civilian deaths and forced recruitment by the ethnic armed groups.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces; enforced disappearance by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in internal conflicts, including killings of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishments, unlawful recruitment of child soldiers, arbitrary denial of humanitarian access, and other conflict-related abuses; severe restrictions on free expression, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of journalists, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of some citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national, ethnic, and religious minority groups; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were rarely enforced; and the use of forced and child labor, including the worst forms of child labor.

There continued to be almost complete impunity for past and continuing abuses by the security forces. In a few cases the government took limited actions to prosecute or punish subordinate officials it claimed were responsible for crimes, although in ways that were not commensurate with the seriousness of the acts. In the few cases where the military claimed to try to convict perpetrators, the process lacked transparency and no details were provided about the identity of the individuals, the crimes they were charged with, or their sentences.

Some ethnic armed groups committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones. These abuses rarely resulted in investigations or prosecutions.

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 security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.) of civilians, prisoners, and other persons in their power.

On April 7, seven persons in Paletwa Township, Chin State, were killed when military airstrikes hit the village. Those killed included two children, a mother, and an infant. Eight others were injured. On June 10, Myo Thant, a 43-year-old also from Paletwa Township, was shot and killed by members of military’s 22nd Light Infantry Brigade.

In late June, a 60-year-old farmer named Lone Hsu was killed and a woman was injured when soldiers opened fire on a village in northern Shan State. The incident sparked a protest by more than 10,000 persons in Kyaukme Township, who called for an end to military brutality against civilians. On June 29, the military announced the squadron commander would be court-martialed because the shooter–an infantry soldier–had died in battle. There was no report of action as of November.

There were reports of suspects in custody dying as a result of police mistreatment. On August 10, two 17-year-old boys, sentenced to two years’ incarceration at the Mandalay Community Rehabilitation Centre for robbery, died under suspicious circumstances after a failed escape attempt, according to local media. The families of the deceased noted injuries found on the bodies of both boys.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by security forces.

Khaing Khant Kyaw, a student at the Defense Services Medical Academy in Rangoon, disappeared in late August after he criticized military leaders in an August Facebook post. As of November, his whereabouts were unknown, according to the news service Myanmar Now.

According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, at least 18 persons from Paletwa Township in Chin State and from Rakhine State remained missing as of November, some two years after disappearing. At least three were reportedly abducted by the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army (AA) (see also section 1.g.).

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

The law prohibits torture; however, members of security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, detainees, and others. Such incidents occurred, for example, in prisons and in Rakhine State. Authorities generally took no action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.

Human rights groups reported incidents of alleged torture by security forces and some ethnic armed groups in ethnic minority areas. In Rakhine State, hundreds of prisoners reportedly were subject to torture and abuse by state prison and security officials.

Sexual violence by security force members continued. On January 14, a Chin woman was hospitalized after she was reportedly tortured while in the custody of military forces operating under the Western Command in Ann, Rakhine State. She was arrested on suspicion that her husband had been in contact with members of the AA. In another case on June 29, a woman in Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township was allegedly raped by three military personnel at gunpoint. The 36-year-old woman filed a complaint with Sittwe Police Station, and the police station accepted the complaint and opened cases for rape, abduction with the intent to rape, and aiding and abetting rape. The military was also conducting an internal investigation.

Although there were reports of official investigations into some cases of alleged sexual violence, the government released no information on them.

Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep.

There was a widespread impression that security force members enjoyed near complete impunity for abuses committed. Police and military tribunals were often not transparent about investigations, trials, or punishments they claimed to have undertaken. There was no information to suggest that human rights training was a prominent part of overall security forces training or that rights abuses were punished in ways commensurate with the seriousness of crimes committed.

On September 16, the military’s Office of the Judge Advocate General announced that it was “investigating possible wider patterns of violations in the region of northern Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.” The announcement came after release of a report by a government-appointed commission on violence in the region that found security forces had committed war crimes (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies).

On June 30, the military announced that two officers and a soldier had been convicted for “weakness in following the instructions” during the “Gu Dar Pyin incident.” Rakhine State’s Gu Dar Pyin village was the site of a massacre by the military in 2017, part of its campaign of mass atrocities that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The military did not provide any other information, such as the names and ranks of those convicted, their role in the massacre, or their sentences.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons, labor camps, and military detention facilities were reportedly harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.

Physical Conditions: There were 46 prisons and 50 labor camps, the latter referred to by the government as “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers.” A prominent human rights group estimated there were approximately 70,000 prisoners. Women and men were held separately. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps. In March, before the latest general amnesty, a human rights group reported that occupancy at the country’s largest prison was nearly triple capacity. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. More than 20,000 inmates were serving court-mandated sentences in labor camps located across the country.

Corruption was endemic in the penal system. Some authorities reportedly sent prisoners whose sentences did not include “hard labor” to labor camps in contravention of the law and “rented out” prisoners as labor to private companies for personal financial gain, although official policy prohibited both practices. In spite of reforms in recent years, conditions at the camps remained life threatening for some, especially at 18 labor camps where prisoners worked as miners.

Bedding was often inadequate and sometimes consisted of a single mat, wooden platform, or laminated plastic sheet on a concrete floor. Prisoners did not always have access to potable water. In many cases family members had to supplement prisoners’ official rations, medicine, and basic necessities. Inmates also reportedly paid prison officials for necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.

Medical care was inadequate and reportedly contributed to deaths in custody. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. Former prisoners also complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and had rodent, snake, and mold infestations.

Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or negative repercussions, but there was no clear legal or administrative protection for this right.

Some prisons prevented full adherence to religious codes for prisoners, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns. For example, imprisoned Buddhist monks reported authorities denied them permission to observe holy days, wear robes, shave their heads, or eat on a schedule compatible with the monastic code. For the general prison population, some authorities allowed individual or group worship, but prohibited long beards, wearing robes, or shaved heads.

Independent Monitoring: The ICRC had conditional and limited access to all prisons and labor camps; it did not have access to military detention sites. With prior approval from the Prison Department, it could visit prisons and labor camps twice monthly but could not meet privately with prisoners. The ICRC reported its findings through a strictly confidential bilateral dialogue with prison authorities. These reports were neither public nor shared with any other party.

The Ministry of Home Affairs Department of Corrections operates the prison and labor camp system. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime were able to visit facilities during the past year, although some restrictions on access remain.

The military did not permit access to its detention facilities.

Improvements: The UN Office of Drugs and Crime strengthened its health system program in four prisons by including measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not prohibit arbitrary arrest, and the government continued to arrest persons, often from ethnic and religious minority groups, and notably in Rakhine State, on an arbitrary basis. Persons held generally did not have the right to appeal the legality of their arrest or detention administratively or before a court.

The law allows authorities to order detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility. The civilian government and the military continued to interpret these laws broadly and used them arbitrarily to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, political staff, and human rights defenders.

Personnel from the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and police commonly conducted searches and made arrests at will, despite the law generally requiring warrants.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law generally requires warrants for arrest, but this this requirement was not always followed.

By law authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, police regularly detained suspects for two weeks, failed to file a charge, and released suspects briefly before detaining them for a series of two-week periods with pro forma trips to the judge in between.

The law grants detainees the right to consult an attorney, but in some cases authorities refused to allow suspects this right. The law provides access to fair and equal legal aid based on international standards and mandates the independence of and legal protection for legal aid workers. The government failed to provide adequate funding and staffing to implement the law fully. Through September the legal aid program handled 300 cases.

There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases, but defendants were often required to attend numerous pretrial hearings before bail was granted.

In some cases the government held detainees incommunicado. There were reports authorities did not inform family members or attorneys of arrests of persons in a timely manner, reveal the whereabouts of those held, and often denied families the right to see prisoners in a timely manner.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, including detention by the military in conflict areas.

Amnesty International documented arbitrary detention in several townships in Rakhine State. A villager from Kyauktaw Township witnessed soldiers arresting 10 villagers, including her husband, on March 16. She said soldiers punched, kicked, and used guns to hit those who resisted.

On July 24, land activist Gei Om was taken into custody after a local official sent a letter of complaint to authorities in Mindat Township, Chin State, alleging that Gei Om had spread false news about possible illicit activities, was involved in an illegal land dispute settlement in 2016, and had been collecting illegal taxes from villagers. Prior to his arrest, Gei Om helped local community leaders to monitor the impact of a model farm project to harvest oil seed plants designed by the Management Committee of Mindat Township, according to the International Federation for Human Rights. They reportedly found that those in charge of the model farms had engaged in illegal logging and that the farms had caused environmental damage in Natma Taung National Park.

Pretrial Detention: Judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy, complicated legal procedures and widespread corruption. Periods of detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence that would result from a conviction.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although habeas corpus exists in law, security forces often arrested and detained individuals without following proper procedures, in violation of national law. Arbitrary arrest or detention was sometimes used to suppress political dissent, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law calls for an independent judiciary, but the government manipulated the courts for political ends and sometimes deprived citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial, particularly in freedom of expression cases.

The criminal justice system was overburdened by a high number of cases lodged against small-time drug users, who constituted an estimated 50 percent of caseloads in the courts.

Corruption in the judiciary remained a significant problem. According to civil society organizations, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody, to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.

The case of political activist Aung That Zin Oo (known as James) illustrates the prolonged delays, procedural irregularities, and political maneuvering that mark the judicial process. On August 25, a township court convicted James of carrying fake identification cards during a 2015 protest and sentenced him to six months at hard labor. James was tried and convicted because the local immigration office refused to drop the charges against him, although all charges against others arrested with him were dropped when the National League for Democracy (NLD) government took office in 2016.

The military and the government directly and indirectly exerted influence over the outcome of cases. Former military personnel, for example, served in key positions, and observers reported that the military pressured judicial officials in cases involving military interests, such as investments in military-owned enterprises.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial but also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the government to violate these rights at will. In ordinary criminal cases, the government allowed courts to operate independently, and courts generally respected some basic due process rights such as allowing a defense and appeal. Defendants do not enjoy a presumption of innocence or the rights to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or, except in capital cases, to consult an attorney of their choice or have one provided at government expense. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; defense attorneys in criminal cases generally had 15 days to prepare for trial. There is a fair trial standards manual, but because of the low standard of legal education, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges were often unfamiliar with precedent, case law, and basic legal procedures. While no legal provision allows for coerced testimony or confessions of defendants to be used in court, authorities reportedly accepted both. There were reports of official coercion to plead guilty despite a lack of evidence, with promises of reduced sentences to defendants who did so.

Although the law provides that ordinary criminal cases should be open to the public, members of the public with no direct involvement in a case were sometimes denied entry to courts. Defense attorneys generally could call witnesses and conduct cross-examinations. Prodemocracy activists generally were able to retain counsel, but other defendants’ access to counsel was inadequate.

Local civil society groups noted the public was largely unaware of its legal rights, and there were too few lawyers to meet public needs.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government continued to detain and arrest journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the military. According to civil society groups who use a definition of political prisoners that includes those who may have engaged in acts of violence and excludes some charges related to freedom of expression and religion, there were 36 convicted political prisoners as of October. Another 584 individuals were facing trial for their political views, of whom 193 were in pretrial detention and the rest were out on bail, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The ICRC had very limited access to political prisoners.

Authorities held some political prisoners separately from common criminals, but political prisoners arrested in land rights disputes were generally held together with common criminals.

On May 18, the Union Election Commission annulled Aye Maung’s status as a lower house lawmaker and barred him from running in future elections due to his treason conviction. In 2019 Aye Maung, then chairman of the Arakan National Party, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for defamation of the state after remarks interpreted by the government as expressing and encouraging support for the AA.

Many former political prisoners were subject to surveillance and restrictions following their release, including the inability to resume studies or secure travel, identity, or land ownership documents.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

No specific mechanisms or laws provide for civil remedies for human rights abuses; however, complainants may use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies but may make complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

Property Restitution

Under the constitution the state owns all land, although there is a limited amount of freehold land and the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Most land is held in long-term lease, meaning that while this leasehold land is still owned by the government, it is leased to private parties on a long-term basis with a general expectation that the leasehold will automatically roll over upon its expiration. The law provides for compensation when the government acquires privately held land for a public purpose; however, civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law and declared that compensation was infrequent and inadequate when offered. The government can also declare land unused or “vacant” and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. Authorities and private-sector organizations seized land during the year; restitution was very limited. In Mon State, for example, retired military personnel acting as private-sector land agents obtained land use rights to pursue development of rubber plantations, while those displaced received minimal compensation.

The General Administration Department of the Office of the Union Government oversees land restitution. There is no judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions, although there are limited administrative processes to manage objections. Administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Researchers and civil society groups stated land laws facilitated land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. In some cases, advance notice of confiscations was not given.

The law does not favor recognition of traditional land-tenure systems (customary tenure). In March the new Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Lands Management Law came into effect, requiring anyone occupying land classified as “vacant, fallow, or virgin” to apply for permits within six months. Continued use of the affected land without applying for permits meant land users would be in trespass and could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. If rigorously enforced, this order could result in millions of persons losing rights of access to their lands. Understanding of the new law and the application process was low in affected communities.

Beginning in September, police began to arrest farmers for violating the new law. Eight farmers were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for farming land in Ayeyarwady Region that the local government seized as vacant and sold to a private company.

Civil society groups argued the new law was unjust and called for its immediate suspension. These groups also called for customary tenure to be defined and included in all land laws since it is included in the National Land Use Policy.

Observers were concerned about official statements suggesting that the new law could also be used to prevent displaced Rohingya from returning to their land or receiving adequate compensation. Officials stated that burned land would revert to the government and posted signs in several venues to that effect. Given that the military bulldozed villages, demolished structures, and cleared vegetation to build security bases and other structures in Rakhine State and given that the land law states that land not used productively within four years reverts to the government, civil society groups saw little progress in returning land confiscated by the government.

In March a group of 41 Karenni farmers and activists who were detained for more than six months for damaging property in a dispute with the army predating the new law were released from prison in Loikaw, Kayah State, after completing their sentences and paying fines. During the year many other farmers were awaiting trial in similar cases.

Neither restitution nor adequate compensation was provided to persons or communities whose land was confiscated under the former military regime.

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

The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, but these protections were poorly enforced. The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications.

Some activists reported the government systematically monitored citizens’ travel and closely monitored the activities of politically active persons, while others reported they did not experience any such invasions of privacy. Special Branch police, official intelligence networks, and other administrative systems (see section 2.d.) were reported agents of such surveillance.

The government and military commonly monitored private electronic communications through online surveillance. Police used Cellebrite technology to breach cell phones. While Cellebrite halted new sales in the country and stopped servicing equipment that was already sold in late 2018, authorities continued to employ the technology.

Authorities in Rakhine State required Rohingya to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the law, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine.

There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

There were long-running armed internal conflicts across the country. Reports of killings, disappearances, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, excessive use of force, disregard for civilian life, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by government forces and armed opposition and rebel groups were common. Within the military, impunity for abuses and crimes continued, although the military took disciplinary action in limited cases.

Conflict continued and escalated between the military and the AA in central and northern Rakhine State and expanded into southern Chin State; clashes between the military and multiple armed groups in northern Shan State took place throughout the year. Heavy fighting between the military and the AA displaced tens of thousands of civilians and resulted in civilian casualties and credible reports of military abuses. Although fighting between the two sides quieted in November and December and some individuals returned home, the situation remained tense and most displaced persons were unable to do so. The military also clashed with the Karen National Union in Karen State, temporarily displacing hundreds in February and March.

Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas without public inquiry or accountability. Following ethnic armed groups’ attacks on the military, the military reportedly often directed its attacks against civilians, resulting in deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the AA, also allegedly committed abuses. The AA allegedly killed off-duty police and military personnel as well as civilians suspected of providing information to the military. Multiple local and international groups reported that the number of dead and injured civilians in the fighting between the military and the AA from January to April alone far surpassed the total for all of 2019–by one accounting, 151 were killed and 394 wounded through the middle of April–as the overall humanitarian situation deteriorated while the geographic scope of fighting grew.

The military blamed the AA for these and other killings of police: a police lieutenant was killed in Kyauktaw, Rakhine State on June 13; a police captain was shot by multiple assailants at the same station on August 12; two off-duty Border Guard Police officers were abducted in Maungdaw, Rakhine State on September 8, one was killed and the other was missing as of October. On September 8, four persons, including two children, were killed and another 10 wounded when the military fired artillery into a village in Myebon Township, Rakhine State, according to local residents and press.

Abductions: Government soldiers and nonstate armed groups abducted villagers in conflict areas.

The AA often abducted officials and others for propaganda purposes. On January 21, the AA released lower house member of parliament Hawi Tin after two months in custody. The AA detained him and several Indian nationals en route from Paletwa, Chin State, to Kyauktaw, Rakhine State. On October 19, the AA claimed responsibility for the October 14 abduction of two NLD candidates who were campaigning in Taungup Township, Rakhine State. The NLD rejected AA demands for the release of students and other protesters in exchange for the candidates.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports provided credible information that the military tortured and beat civilians alleged to be working with or perceived to be sympathetic to ethnic armed groups in Rakhine State. There were also continued reports of forced labor and forced recruitment by the United Wa State Army, the Restoration Council of Shan State, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.

In May a video released by Radio Free Asia on social media showed soldiers viciously beating five blindfolded and bound men from Ponnagyun Township, Rakhine State, on April 27 aboard a naval vessel. The five were forced to confess to being AA members, although relatives and local villagers claimed they were civilians from a village the military shelled on April 13. The military released a statement on May 12 admitting that members of the security forces performed “unlawful interrogations” and promising to “take actions.”

Civilians, armed actors, and NGOs operating inside the country and along the border reported continued indiscriminate landmine use by the military and armed groups.

Child Soldiers: Four ethnic armed groups–the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization; the Shan State Army, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party; the United Wa State Army; and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army–were listed in the UN secretary-general’s 2020 report on Children and Armed Conflict as perpetrators of the unlawful recruitment and use of children. The military was conditionally delisted by the secretary-general as a perpetrator of unlawful recruitment and use of children due to continued progress on child recruitment, although the secretary-general called for continued progress on use of children.

The penalties imposed for recruiting and using child soldiers in a manner inconsistent with relevant laws were not commensurate with the seriousness of these actions. Most child recruitment or use cases reportedly culminated in reprimands, demotions, relocations, fines, or decreases in pensions, penalties significantly less severe than those prescribed by criminal law. Despite military directives prohibiting the use and recruitment of children, some children were still used by the military for noncombat roles in conflict areas. On child recruitment, reports continued that middlemen fraudulently facilitated enrollment of underage recruits, sometimes at the request of the recruits’ families. The Ministry of Defense undertook to investigate military personnel implicated in unlawfully recruiting child soldiers. There was, however, no evidence that the government prosecuted soldiers in military or civilian courts for recruiting or using child soldiers.

The military generally allowed UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures for ending the unlawful use and recruitment of children and identifying and demobilizing those already recruited. There were, however, some delays in securing official permissions, and access to conflict areas was often denied. The government allowed the United Nations to engage ethnic armed groups on the signing of joint plans of action to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those already serving.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The government restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, and Shan States. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations, international NGOs, and diplomatic missions, asserting the military could not ensure their security or by claiming that humanitarian assistance would benefit ethnic armed group forces. In some cases the military allowed gradual access as government forces regained control over contested areas.

A World Health Organization vehicle with UN markings transporting COVID-19 test samples to Rangoon came under fire in Minbya Township, Rakhine State, on April 20, during heavy fighting in the area. The driver was hit and died of his injuries on April 21. The military and the AA traded blame for the attack. Based on the nature of the attack and the vehicle’s passage through a military checkpoint shortly before coming under fire, most observers believed the AA was responsible, although the attack may have been unintended. The government announced the formation of a four-member committee to investigate the attack.

In a separate incident, a convoy of five clearly marked World Food Program trucks came under fire in southern Chin State on April 29 while transporting food aid to vulnerable communities around Paletwa, the site of numerous recent clashes between the military and the AA. One of the drivers suffered a minor injury, and three of the five trucks were damaged. The World Food Program supplies ultimately reached Paletwa on May 2, traveling the final distance by boat.

Reports continued that the military forced civilians to act as human shields, carry supplies, or serve in other support roles in conflict areas such as northern Shan, southern Chin, and Rakhine States. On October 5, military forces conscripted 14 Rohingya civilians, many of them teenagers, to act as “guides” in the village of Pyin Shae, in Buthidaung Township, according to local civil society, officials, and multiple press reports. The soldiers, anticipating a clash with the AA forced the villagers to walk in front of them–using them, in effect, as human buffers. One press report indicated the military might also have believed the area was mined. When the group came under fire from AA forces, two teenage boys were killed and a man was seriously injured; the others fled.

As of November, an estimated 326,500 persons remained displaced by violence in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, and Shan States. An increase of 60,000 in 12 months in Rakhine and Chin States was driven by the fighting between the AA and the military. In some cases, villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” Threats against and arrests of journalists and others who criticized the government or military continued.

Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech was more restricted than in 2019. Authorities arrested, detained, convicted, intimidated, and imprisoned citizens for expressing political opinions critical of the government and the military, generally under charges of defamation, incitement, or violating national security laws. This included the detentions and trials of activists and ordinary citizens. The government applied laws carrying more severe punishments than in the past, including laws enabling years-long prison sentences.

Some persons remained wary of speaking openly about politically sensitive topics due to monitoring and harassment by security services and ultranationalist Buddhist groups. Police continued to monitor politicians, journalists, and writers.

On January 17, the Karen State government charged Karen environmental activist Saw Tha Phoe over his role in a traditional prayer ceremony to protect local water resources against pollution from a coal-powered cement factory. He fled when police attempted to arrest him and was still in hiding as of November. The local government General Administration Department filed a complaint against Saw Tha Phoe for making or circulating statements that may cause public fear or alarm and incite the public to commit an offense against the state or “public tranquility.”

On May 7, the Kayah State government placed numerous restrictions on civil society and political activities, using COVID-19 as a pretext to ban any speeches, writing, pictures, posters, placards, pamphlets, or other activity deemed to be defamatory to authorities, according to The Irrawaddy newspaper.

On September 4, Maung Saungkha, an activist, poet, and cofounder of the freedom of expression activist organization Athan, paid a fine to avoid a prison sentence over an act of peaceful protest to mark the first anniversary of the mobile internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States. Saungkha unfurled a banner asking: “Is the internet being shut down to hide war crimes in Rakhine [State] and killing people?”

Military officers brought or sought to bring charges against several prominent religious figures based on their criticism of the military, including multiple Buddhist monks. Cases against at least three prominent, protolerance monks critical of the military and Burmese Buddhist ultranationalism, Sein Ti Ta, Myawaddy Sayadaw, and Thawbita, remained open as of November.

As of November, proceedings continued in the cases against democracy activist Nilar Thein and four others for their protest during a court hearing for Peacock Generation members (see Academic and Freedom and Cultural Events below). Nilar Thein and the four others were charged with “obstructing” and “deterring” a public official. The maximum sentence is three years in jail.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and able to operate, despite many official and unofficial restrictions. The government continued to permit the publication of privately owned daily newspapers. As of November, authorities approved 47 dailies; however, press freedom declined compared with 2019, and security forces detained journalists under laws carrying more severe sentences than those used in previous years.

Local media could cover human rights and political issues, including, for example, democratic reform and international investigations of the 2017 ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State, although they observed some self-censorship on these subjects. Official action or threats of such action increased against journalists reporting on conflict in Rakhine State involving the AA. The government generally permitted media outlets to cover protests and civil unrest, topics not reported widely in state-run media.

The military continued to react harshly to perceived critical media commentary through prosecution by civil authorities. Members of the ruling party increasingly prosecuted journalists perceived as critical. Officials continued to monitor journalists in various parts of the country, according to Freedom House.

On April 3, Takotaw Nanda (also known as Aung Kyi Myint), a Channel Myanmar News journalist, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for allegedly disrupting a public service and unlawful assembly after live-streaming on Facebook a May 2019 protest against a Mandalay Region cement plant. In May 2019, Aung Marm Oo, editor-in-chief of Development Media Group in Rakhine State, went into hiding after charges were filed that the group reported human rights violations in the continuing fighting between the military and the AA. Aung Marm Oo, also known as Aung Min Oo, received death threats, while Special Branch police interrogated journalists at the media group and questioned his family members.

Authorities took actions against journalists for erroneous reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 21, chief editor of Dae Pyaw News Agency, Zaw Min Oo, was sentenced to two years in prison for falsely reporting a COVID-19 death in Myawady, Karen State, on April 3. He was charged with publishing or circulating a statement, rumor, or report that could arouse “public mutiny, fear, alarm or incitement.” On July 10, Zaw Min, a reporter from Khit Thit Media, was fined for incorrectly reporting a local quarantine center had no staff to feed nine patients and no masks or soap were available.

The government relaxation of its monopoly on domestic television broadcasting continued, with five private companies broadcasting using Ministry of Information platforms. The news broadcasters, however, were subject to the same informal restrictions as were print and online media. The government offered three public channels–two controlled by the Ministry of Information and one by the military; the ministry channels regularly aired the military’s content. Two private companies that had strong links to the previous military regime continued to broadcast six free-to-air channels. The government allowed the general population to register satellite television receivers for a fee, but the cost was prohibitive for most persons outside of urban areas. The military, government, and government-linked businesspersons controlled the eight privately or quasi-governmentally owned FM radio stations.

Violence and Harassment: Government agents, nationalist groups, and businesspersons engaged in illegal enterprises, sometimes together with local authorities, continued to attack and harass journalists who criticized government policy on a range of issues.

On February 9, ultranationalists from the Ma Ba Tha-linked Myanmar National Organization protesting in Rangoon threatened and physically intimidated staff at Khit Thit Media and 7 Day News, according to Tharlon Zaung Htet, editor of Khit Thit Media and a member of the government-sponsored Myanmar Press Council.

On March 4, Frontier Myanmar journalist Naw Betty Han and Ko Mar Naw, a photojournalist from Myanmar Times, were detained for one day and allegedly tortured by the ethnic Karen Border Guard Forces in Myawaddy Township, Karen State, for reporting on the Chinese Shwe Kokko development project.

On May 13, Kyaw Lin, a journalist who reported for online independent news outlets Myanmar Now and Development Media Group, was assaulted in Sittwe, Rakhine State, by two individuals shouting death threats. Kyaw Lin had reported on fighting between the AA and the military. In 2017, an unknown attacker stabbed him in Sittwe after he published an article on local land prices. The perpetrators of the May 13 assault were still at large as of October.

Authorities prevented journalists’ access to northern Rakhine State except on government-organized trips that participants reported to be tightly controlled and designed to advance the government’s narrative. The government continued to use visa issuance and shortened visa validities to control foreign journalists, especially those not based in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally not enforced, laws prohibit citizens from electronically passing information about the country to foreign media, exposing journalists who reported for or cooperated with international media to potential harassment, intimidation, and arrest. There were no reports of overt prepublication censorship, and the government allowed open discussion of some sensitive political and economic topics, but legal action against publications that criticized the military or the government increased self-censorship.

Self-censorship was common, particularly on issues related to Buddhist extremism, the military, the situation in Rakhine State, and the peace process. Journalists reported that such self-censorship became more pronounced after the 2018 trial and conviction of two Reuters journalists. The government ordered media outlets to use certain terms and themes to describe the situation in northern Rakhine State and threatened penalties against journalists who did not follow the government’s guidance, exacerbating self-censorship on that topic.

The military filed a complaint to the Myanmar Press Council when a January 25 Reuters story quoted a lawmaker as saying that army artillery fire had caused the deaths of two Rohingya women. After the reported advocacy by the press council, however, the military withdrew its complaint on March 18 “in the interest of maintaining good relations with the press council.”

The government censorship board reviews all films to be screened inside the country.

Journalists continued to complain about the widespread practice of government informants attending press conferences and other events, which they said intimidated reporters and the events’ hosts. Informants demanded lists of hosts and attendees.

Libel/Slander Laws: A criminal defamation clause in the telecommunications law was frequently used to restrict freedom of expression; charges were filed against journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens perceived as critics of the government and the military.

Noted filmmaker and human rights activist Min Htin Ko Gyi was freed on February 21 after serving seven months in prison for libel for Facebook posts that were critical of the military’s role in politics.

As of November, a case against three prominent political activists, lawyer Kyi Myint, poet Saw Wai, and former army captain Nay Myo Zin, continued in the courts. In late 2019 the military charged them with defamation for remarks they made in April 2019 about amending the military-drafted 2008 constitution. Nay Myo Zin was serving a one-year prison term in Insein Prison on the same charge from another military lawsuit.

National Security: In March the government and military designated the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization and an unlawful association under the law. Nay Myo Lin, founder and editor of Voice of Myanmar, a local Mandalay news outlet, was arrested on March 30 for publishing an interview with an AA spokesperson. He was charged in a local court under sections of the law prohibiting organizations and individuals from contacting or associating with outlawed organizations–a charge carrying a maximum life sentence. Police released Nay Myo Lin on April 10 when the court decided to drop the case.

Internet Freedom

The government censored online content, restricted access to the internet, and continued to prosecute internet users for criticism of the government and military and their policies and actions. In March the Ministry of Transport and Communications issued a series of directives ordering internet providers to block websites.

By order of the Transport and Communications Ministry, mobile phone operators in 2019 stopped mobile internet traffic in eight townships in northern Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township in southern Chin State due to “disturbances of peace and use of internet services to coordinate illegal activities.” Although the ministry announced on June 23 that internet restrictions were extended only through August 1, as of November only 2G data networks were available, according to Human Rights Watch. Some persons reported being unable to access the internet at all. On October 31, the ministry announced all mobile operators should extend restrictions on 3G and 4G mobile data services in the eight townships until at least December 31.

The telecommunications law includes broad provisions giving the government the power to temporarily block and filter content, on grounds of “benefit of the people.” According to Freedom House, pressure on users to remove content continued from the government, military, and other groups. The law does not include provisions to force the removal of content or provide for intermediary liability, although some articles are vague and could be argued to cover content removal. Pressure to remove content instead came from the use or threat of use of other criminal provisions.

In the second half of March, the Posts and Telecommunications Department ordered mobile operators to block more than 2,000 websites, including 67 allegedly distributing “fake news.” In May it followed up by instructing the operators to block a further 22 sites alleged to contribute to “fearmongering” and “misleading of the public in relation to the coronavirus.” Neither the government nor the operators released a full list of the blocked websites, but among those that could no longer be accessed were several registered news organizations, including Rakhine State-based Development Media and Narinjara News, Voice of Myanmar, Karen News from Karen State, Mandalay-based In-Depth News, and Mekong News, which was based in eastern Shan State’s Tachileik.

The government’s Social Media Monitoring Team reportedly continued to monitor internet communications without clear legal authority, according to Freedom House. Social media continued to be a popular forum to exchange ideas and opinions without direct government censorship, although there were military-affiliated disinformation campaigns on social media.

The government limited users’ ability to communicate anonymously by enforcement of SIM card registration requirements. Subscribers must provide their name, citizenship identification document, birth date, address, nationality, and gender to register for a SIM card; noncitizens must provide their passports. Some subscribers reported being required by telecommunications companies to include further information beyond the bounds of the regulations, including their ethnicity.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events continued.

The government tightened restrictions on political activity and freedom of association on university campuses. In September and October, approximately 57 students at universities across the country, who protested human rights violations in Rakhine State, called on the government to lift internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin states and urged reform of laws to comply with international standards for the protection of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. They were arrested and faced a variety of criminal charges, according to the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. The students were charged with unlawful assembly, various speech-related crimes, antimilitary incitement, and other crimes, according to the federation. As of November, more than 20 were imprisoned, while the remainder were awaiting sentencing or were in hiding while facing arrest warrants, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The government generally allowed the informal establishment of student unions, although among university rectors and faculty there was considerable fear and suspicion of student unions because of their historical role in protests. Although some student unions were allowed to open unofficial offices, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, as in previous years, was unable to register but participated in some activities through informal networks.

There were reported incidents of the government restricting cultural events. There is a ban on street art. On April 3, three street artists were arrested for painting a mural about the coronavirus pandemic, according to Human Rights Watch. The artists were charged with violating a law criminalizing speech that “insults” religion after Buddhist hardliners complained the mural portrayed a grim reaper figure that they believed looked like a Buddhist monk, spreading the COVID-19 virus. On July 17, the artists were freed after charges were dropped.

In a series of seven verdicts delivered between October 2019 and June 2020, courts handed down prison sentences to the leader and five other members of the satirical street performance group Peacock Generation. Group leader Zayar Lwin was sentenced to a total of five and one-half years in prison; the others received sentences of two to six years. The military brought the charges after a performance in which members satirically criticized the military’s political power in a democracy. At year’s end up to 25 members still faced charges that carry up to six months in prison, while two members were released in June and August, respectively, having already completed sentences of more than a year.

Public film showings were possible with the cooperation of the Ministry of Information. The MEMORY! film festival showed prescreened classic films in public spaces in Rangoon “under the high patronage of the Ministry of Information.” According to the organizers, mutual trust with the ministry enabled freedom of expression for organizers, participants from civil society organizations, and audiences. Organizers showed films including challenging themes. While MEMORY! faced information ministry censorship, mostly for nudity or Buddhist imagery, no film was banned in its entirety, and journalistic fora and public discussions around the films were free of interference.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights. In addition to direct government action, the government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides the right to peaceful assembly, it was not always respected. While the law only requires notification of protests, authorities treated notification as a request for permission. Authorities used laws against criminal trespass and provisions criminalizing actions the government deemed likely to cause “an offense against the State or against the public tranquility” to restrict peaceful assembly.

Restrictions remained in place in 11 Rangoon townships on all applications for processions or assemblies. Some civil society groups asserted these restrictions were selectively applied and used to prevent demonstrations against the government or military.

Farmers and social activists continued to protest land rights violations and land confiscation throughout the country, and human rights groups reported the arrest of farmers and supporters. Many reported cases involved land seized by the former military regime and given to private companies or persons with ties to the military.

Whether civil society organizations were required to apply for advance permission before holding meetings and other functions in hotels and other public venues varied by situation and by government official. Some officials forced venues to cancel civil society events where such permission was not obtained.

On January 17, four activists–Naw Ohn Hla, Maung U, U Nge (also known as Hsan Hlaing), and Sandar Myint–were sentenced to one month in prison after they were found guilty of protesting without authorization. Police charged the four activists after they participated in a peaceful demonstration organized by residents of the Shwe Mya Sandi housing project in Karen State in April 2019.

On March 20, Than Hla (also known as Min Bar Chay), an ethnic Rakhine development worker, was found guilty of protesting without permission after he participated in a demonstration calling for justice and an end to security force violations in Rakhine State. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison; he was released the same day authorities announced that a second charge of protesting without permission was dropped.

Freedom of Association

Although the constitution and laws allow citizens to form associations and organizations, the government sometimes restricted this right.

The law on registering organizations stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs. In the run-up to the November general election, the government began insisting that NGOs receiving foreign funding were required to register.

Registration requires sponsorship from a government ministry. Some NGOs that tried to register under this law found the process extremely onerous. According to Myanmar Now, NGOs classed as “advocacy groups” would have to pay tax if the Internal Revenue Department determined, based on their tax return, that they made a “profit.” Advocacy groups include those working on human, women’s, labor, and land rights. NGOs expressed concern about the new rules and warned they could place an unfair burden on small organizations and limit their operations.

Activists reported that civil society groups, community-based organizations, and informal networks operated openly and continued to discuss human rights and political issues openly, although discussion of the most sensitive issues could lead to prosecution. They reported, however, that state surveillance of such operations and discussions was common and that government restrictions on meetings and other activity continued.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law does not protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation. Local regulations limit the rights of citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country. By law the president may require the registration of foreigners’ movements and authorize officials to require foreigners to register every change of address exceeding 24 hours.

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement.

Restrictions on in-country movement of Rohingya were extensive. Authorities required the largely stateless Rohingya to carry special documents and travel permits for internal movement in areas in Rakhine State where most Rohingya resided. Township officers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships continued to require Rohingya to submit a “form for informing absence from habitual residence” in order to stay overnight in another village and to register on the guest list with the village administrator. Obtaining these forms and permits often involved extortion and bribes.

Restrictions governing the travel of foreigners, Rohingya, and others between townships in Rakhine State varied, depending on township, and generally required submission of a document known as “Form 4.” A traveler could obtain this form only from the township Immigration and National Registration Department and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, a temporary registration card, and letters from two guarantors. Travel authorized under Form 4 is generally valid for two to four weeks, but it is given almost exclusively for medical emergencies, effectively eliminating many opportunities to work or study. The cost to obtain the form varied from township to township, with required payments to village administrators or to the township immigration office ranging from the official amount of 30,000 to more than two million kyats ($22 to $1,460). The extensive administrative measures imposed on Rohingya and foreigners in Rakhine State effectively prevented persons from changing residency.

Rohingya faced prison terms of up to two years for attempting to travel out of Rakhine State without prior authorization. A total of 128 Rohingya from Rakhine State were arrested in November 2019 after disembarking from boats near beach resorts in the Ayeyarwady Region. They were charged for traveling without valid identity documents, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence, a modest fine, or both. On April 8, a court dropped illegal travel charges against more than 200 accused persons, but according to activists hundreds more Rohingya charged with illegal travel remained in jails and youth detention centers across the country.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained restrictions to prevent foreign travel by political activists, former political prisoners, and some local staff of foreign embassies. Stateless persons, particularly Rohingya, were unable to obtain documents required for foreign travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of November, an estimated 326,500 individuals were living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to violence in Rakhine, Kachin, Chin, and northern Shan States. The large number of primarily ethnic minority IDPs in primarily ethnic-dominated parts of the country can be traced back to decades of conflict between the central government and ethnic communities.

As of November, an estimated 40,000 IDPs lived in areas of the country outside government control, primarily in northern Kachin State. Fighting in Rakhine, Chin, and Shan States displaced tens of thousands of additional persons during the year, compounding the long-term displacement of communities in these areas. Most of those newly displaced in Shan State, however, were able to return home. Locally based organizations had some access to IDPs in areas outside government control, but the military restricted their access, including through threats of prosecution. The military largely restricted access to IDPs and Rohingya in areas of Rakhine State to only the Red Cross and the World Food Program, resulting in unmet humanitarian needs among these IDPs. The government had not granted the United Nations or other international organizations humanitarian access to areas in Kachin State outside of military control since 2016.

The United Nations reported significant deterioration in humanitarian access during the year–a situation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic–and the military continued to block access to IDPs and other vulnerable populations in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse). The Arakan Army-military conflict in Rakhine State and the COVID-19 pandemic were cited as justifications for additional onerous restrictions on humanitarian access in Rakhine State, most of which were not justified on security or public health grounds, according to humanitarian partners operating in Rakhine State.

The government restricted the ability of IDPs and stateless persons to move, limiting access to health services, employment opportunities, secure refuge, and schooling. While a person’s freedom of movement generally derived from possession of identification documents, authorities also considered race, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin as factors in enforcing these regulations. Residents of ethnic minority states reported the government restricted the travel of IDPs and stateless persons.

The approximately 132,000 primarily Rohingya IDPs in Sittwe, Pauktaw, and other townships were dependent on assistance from aid agencies. Humanitarian agencies provided access to clean water, food, shelter, and sanitation in most IDP camps for Rohingya, although the COVID-19 pandemic restricted access from August.

An October Human Rights Watch report on the detention of Rohingya described the IDP camps’ severe restrictions on movement; limited access to education, health care, and work; and the denial of fundamental rights. It referred to the camps collectively as “An Open Prison Without End.” According to the report, more than 130,000 Muslims–mostly Rohingya, as well as a few thousand Kaman–remain confined in IDP camps in central Rakhine State. Rohingya in the camps were denied freedom of movement through overlapping systems of restrictions–formal policies and local orders, informal and ad hoc practices, checkpoints and barbed-wire fencing, and a widespread system of extortion that made travel financially and logistically prohibitive. In 24 camps or camp-like settings, severe limitations on access to livelihoods, education, health care, and adequate food or shelter were compounded by increasing government constraints on humanitarian aid.

The COVID-19 pandemic further compounded freedom of movement restrictions in IDP camps. In general, IDP camps did not have dedicated quarantine centers or testing facilities due to lack of space and dedicated staff. If there was a positive case, movement restrictions were imposed on the entire camp and residents were not allowed to leave or enter the camp, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. IDPs who required testing, hospitalization, and quarantine were moved to outside government facilities where the government and humanitarian organizations provided targeted support for the patient and direct contacts. IDPs received adequate care, and outside of a few isolated cases, there were no major COVID-19 outbreaks at IDP camps.

Camp shelters, originally built to last just two years, deteriorated without construction and maintenance, leading to overcrowding and vulnerability to flood and fire. According to Human Rights Watch, these IDP camp conditions were a direct cause of increased morbidity and mortality in the camps, including increased rates of malnutrition, waterborne illnesses, and child and maternal deaths. Lack of access to emergency medical assistance, particularly in pregnancy-related cases, led to preventable deaths.

Approximately 70 percent of the 120,000 school-age Muslim children in central Rakhine camps and villages were out of school, according to Human Rights Watch. Given the movement restrictions, most could only attend underresourced temporary learning centers led by volunteer teachers. Restrictions that prevented Rohingya from working outside the camps had serious economic consequences. Almost all Rohingya in the camps were forced to abandon their pre-2012 trades and occupations.

Despite the adoption of a national camp closure strategy in 2019, the government’s approach to “closing” IDP camps largely consisted of building new infrastructure near existing camps and reclassifying them as villages without addressing movement restrictions; providing security, livelihoods, or basic services; or consulting with IDPs on their right to return to their areas of origin or to resettle in areas of their choice.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not always cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Dozens of Rohingya were arrested and charged under immigration laws after returning from Bangladesh informally in June and July during heightened scrutiny of border crossings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

The vast majority of Rohingya are stateless. Following the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, up to 600,000 Rohingya were estimated to remain in Rakhine State. There were also likely significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality throughout the country, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent. Although these latter groups did not face the same level of official and social discrimination as Rohingya, they were still subject at best to the lesser rights and greater restrictions of associate and naturalized citizenship.

The government recognizes 135 “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically full citizens. The law defines “national ethnic group” as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. Despite this rule, the government has granted “national ethnic group” status to ethnic groups or withdrawn that status from them throughout the country on various occasions. The Rohingya are not on the list. Several ethnic minority groups, including the Chin and Kachin, criticized the classification system as inaccurate.

The law also establishes two forms of citizenship short of full citizenship: associate and naturalized. Citizens of these two types are unable to run for political office; form a political party; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. Only members of the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Some Rohingya may be technically eligible for full citizenship. The process involves additional official scrutiny and is complicated by logistical difficulties, including travel restrictions and significant gaps in understanding the Burmese language. In practice this also requires substantial bribes to government officials, and even then it does not guarantee equality with other full citizens. In particular, only Rohingya are required to go through an additional step of applying for the National Verification Card (NVC), in which their identity papers will describe them as “Bengali” and presumes them to be noncitizens. This can lead to discrimination in access to public services and a wide range of societal discrimination. While members of other ethnic groups faced challenges, they are not singled out the same way Rohingya are in obtaining citizenship.

The law does not provide any form of citizenship (or associated rights) for children born in the country whose parents are stateless.

The government continued to call for Rohingya to apply for NVCs, created in 2015. The government claimed that these cards were necessary to apply for citizenship as well as other government documentation, such as Citizenship Scrutiny Cards. NGO reports indicated that Rohingya were pressured or coerced to accept NVCs. For example, there were reported cases of government officials requiring Rohingya to have an NVC to go fishing or access a bank account. Many Rohingya expressed the need for more assurances about the results of the process as well as fear that after turning in their old documents they would not be issued new documents. Many said they were already citizens and expressed fear the government would either not affirm their citizenship or would provide a form of lesser citizenship, thereby formalizing their lack of rights. Rohingya in Rakhine State had to identify as “Bengali” to apply for NVCs, while some Muslims from other ethnic groups had to identify as “Bengali” to apply for Citizenship Scrutiny Cards in other parts of the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens a limited ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot. General elections are held every five years, and by-elections are held to fill empty seats due to locally cancelled races or other vacancies in nonelection years. The electoral system is not fully representative and does not assure the free expression of the will of the people. Under the constitution, active-duty military are appointed to one-quarter of all national and regional parliamentary seats, and the military has the right to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs–which has responsibility for police, prisons, and other domestic security matters–and border affairs. The military can also indefinitely assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. The constitution prohibits persons with immediate relatives holding foreign citizenship from becoming president. Amending the constitution requires approval by more than 75 percent of members of parliament, giving the military effective veto power over constitutional amendments. NLD efforts to reform the 2008 military-drafted constitution failed in March due to the military’s veto. Significant portions of the population were disenfranchised due to restrictive citizenship laws or the cancellation of elections due to security concerns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the November 8 national election to be generally reflective of the will of the people, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won approximately 80 percent of the contested 1,150 seats at the state, regional, and union levels in the election. The NLD won 396 of 476 races for national assembly seats; a military-affiliated party won 33, and various ethnically based parties took 47. By-elections in 2017 and 2018 were also assessed as basically free and fair. Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency due to her marriage to a British national.

Most potential Muslim candidates were disqualified from running in the November 8 general election by electoral authorities or blocked by their own parties from running, apparently on a discriminatory basis. Some political parties, including the NLD, nominated Muslim candidates. Two Muslim members of parliament were elected. Almost all members of the Rohingya community, many of whom voted prior to 2015, were disenfranchised and barred from running for office. The government also canceled voting in some conflict-affected ethnic minority areas.

The November general election featured more than 90 political parties and more than 5,640 candidates. The electoral commission cancelled elections across most of Rakhine and parts of Chin, Kachin, Mon, and Shan states and Bago Region, which generated further disillusionment in the electoral process among ethnic minorities and disenfranchised approximately 1.5 million persons nationwide. The government did not permit the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voting age Rohingya in Rakhine State or in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights commented before the elections that there was “no evidence that the government was willing or prepared to facilitate the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voting age Rohingya in Rakhine state or in refugee camps in Bangladesh.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties exercised their rights to assemble and protest. New political parties were generally allowed to register and compete in elections, which featured fewer restrictions than in 2015 on party organization and voter mobilization. Only sporadic interference from military and government officials was reported during the campaign and on November 8, unlike during the 2015 election, when military Special Branch elements were very active as election preparations were underway.

Electoral competition was skewed in part by the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s systematic support from the military, whose personnel and their families were eligible to vote in advance without observers present, in some cases in military barracks, despite a May change to the election law that requires service members to vote at public polling places on election day. Moreover, some legal provisions can be invoked to restrict parties’ operations. The constitution requires that political parties be loyal to the state. Laws allow for penalties, including deregistration, against political parties that accept support from foreign governments or religious bodies or that are deemed to have abused religion for political purposes or disrespected the constitution. The electoral commission, which is appointed by the ruling party, censored opposition party broadcasts on state-run television.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, women and minority groups continued to be underrepresented in government, and policies limited participation in practice. For example, in some municipal elections, the vote was apportioned at the household level, with only one member, usually the male head of household, allowed to vote for the entire household. Women made up only approximately 17 percent of national and local elected legislators.

Ethnic minority parliamentarians from ethnic minority political parties comprised less than 9 percent of legislators at the national, state, and regional level; this did not include the numerous ethnic minority members of the NLD or the Union Solidarity and Development Party (see Recent Elections above for participation of Muslims and Rohingya).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government continued efforts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Corruption remained widespread, particularly in the judicial sector. Police reportedly often required victims to pay substantial bribes for criminal investigations and routinely extorted money from members of the public. The government took some steps to investigate and address corruption of government officials.

On May 22, former Tanintharyi Region chief minister Lei Maw was sentenced to 30 years in prison for bribery, becoming the most senior official ever to be jailed for corruption. On the other side of the ledger, on August 27, the telecommunications minister ordered a shutdown of the Justice for Myanmar website. The site, established in April, sought to expose corrupt links between the military and business communities.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to public financial disclosure laws. The law requires the president and vice presidents to furnish a list of family assets to the speaker of the joint houses of parliament, and the law requires persons appointed by the president to furnish a list of personal assets to the president. The government did not make the reports available to the public.

Civil servants cannot accept gifts worth more than 25,000 kyats ($18). The rules also require civil servants to report all offers of gifts to their supervisors, whether they are accepted.

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

The government did not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently. Human rights NGOs were able to open offices and operate, but there were reports of harassment and monitoring by authorities, and authorities sometimes pressured hotels and other venues not to host meetings by activists or civil society groups. The government systematically denied international institutions or organizations attempting to investigate human rights abuses access to the country or sensitive regions.

Foreign human rights activists and advocates, including representatives from international NGOs, continued to be restricted to short-term visas that required them to leave the country periodically for renewal. The government continued to monitor the movements of foreigners and interrogated citizens concerning contacts with foreigners.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government has not agreed to the opening of an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and has not approved visa requests for its staff.

The government has also refused to cooperate with or give the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, created by the UN Human Rights Council, access to the country.

The government continued to refuse entry to the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar but permitted UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner-Burgener to open an office in the country and to meet with opposition figures, IDPs, senior officials including Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and others in 2019.

In January the International Court of Justice unanimously ordered the government to preserve any evidence of atrocities against Rohingya; ensure that government and security officials refrain from any act that could contribute to genocide; and report to the court on its progress on these measures in May and every six months thereafter. The government submitted its first report in May. The report was not made public. The court’s order followed a 2019 suit by the Gambia alleging that Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention by committing atrocities against Rohingya; failing to prevent and punish genocide; and committing continued violations of the convention. International human rights organizations continued to assert that the country remains in violation of its obligations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission investigated some incidents of human rights abuses. The commission has the power to conduct independent inquiries, and in some cases it called on the government to conduct investigations into abuses. Human rights advocates questioned its ability to operate as a credible, independent mechanism, noting a lack of substantive investigations into allegations of widespread and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. The commission supported the development of human rights education curricula, distributed human rights materials, and conducted human rights training. During the year it investigated one human trafficking case and pushed for equal rights for women police officers.

The Independent Commission of Enquiry for Rakhine State, formed by the government in 2018, released only the executive summary of its final report on January 21. It described the government security forces’ actions in Rakhine State in 2017 as largely in response to a massive insurgency by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and attempted to frame the 2017 violence as part of an armed conflict with Rohingya. The report argued that genocide did not occur and denied the existence of any credible reports of rape and sexual violence, while acknowledging that limited “war crimes and serious human rights violations may have occurred.” As of November, the full report had not been released.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape of a woman outside of marriage carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 14, and the penalty is a maximum of two years in prison. The law prohibits committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than 14. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

The number of reported rapes increased over the previous year, but it was unclear whether this was due to increased awareness or increased incidences of rape. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports police investigations were not sensitive to victims. Civil society groups continued to report police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape, and women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and victims typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases, and reported cases were on the rise. In April Myanmar Times reported the observation by Daw Htar, founder of the NGO Akhaya Women Myanmar, that over the two weeks when the government started community lockdowns in some areas, there was a spike in domestic violence complaints compared to the prelockdown period.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and imposes a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and a fine for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and a fine for physical contact. There was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Reproductive Rights: The right of individuals to manage their reproductive health is limited by the 2015 Population Control and Health Care Law, which restricts sexual and reproductive rights, including the imposition of birth-spacing requirements. The president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care that consider population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. In a special region the government may allow the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning.

Access to family planning was limited in rural areas, and local organizations noted that the unmet need for family planning was particularly high in Rakhine State. Economic hardship and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also limited access to family planning.

In 2020 limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors was available through both public and private facilities, and the Department of Social Welfare adapted gender-based violence services to COVID-19, including expanding virtual platforms for online training.

According to UN 2017 estimates, the maternal mortality ratio nationwide was 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. The 2017 National Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Report stated the maternal mortality ratio in Rakhine State was the second lowest among states and regions. This was not consistent with the previous pattern of Rakhine State reporting a relatively higher maternal mortality ratio, and the Ministry of Health and Sports acknowledged that the results reflected underreporting of maternal deaths due to the conflict in Rakhine State and other parts of the country. NGOs reported that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to maternal mortality rates in Rakhine State being higher than the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortions were also a leading cause of maternal deaths.

Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; a high number of home births; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants, midwives, auxiliary midwives, basic health staff, and other trained community health workers. The UN Population Fund estimated that skilled health personnel attended only 60 percent of births.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law allows the government to impose coercive birth-spacing requirements–36 months between children–if the president or national government designates “special regions” for health care based on factors such as population, migration rate, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government may create special healthcare organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing family planning regulations. The government did not designate any such special regions during the year.

In Rakhine State, local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although some Rohingya with household registration papers reportedly could circumvent the law.

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear the government enforced the law. Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance; it differs from the provisions of statutory law and is often discriminatory against women.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported some sectors did not comply, and other forms of workplace discrimination were common (see section 7.d.).

Poverty affected women disproportionately.

The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by imposing a requirement of public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing for objections to the marriage to be raised in court, although the law was rarely enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: The law automatically confers full citizenship to children of two parents from one of the 135 recognized national ethnic groups and to children who met other citizenship requirements. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Many long-term residents in the country, including the Rohingya, are not among the recognized national ethnic groups, however, and thus their children are not automatically conferred citizenship (see section 2.g.).

A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (e.g., Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately because registration is required to qualify for basic public services and to obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.g.). The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted in its interim report that nearly half of all residents in Rakhine State lacked birth documentation.

A birth certificate provides important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration complicated access to public services in remote communities.

Education: By law education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (up to age 10). This leaves children ages 10 through 13 vulnerable to child labor, since they are not required to attend school but are not legally permitted to work, because the minimum age for work is 14. The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees.

Schools were often unavailable in remote communities and conflict areas, and access to them for internally displaced and stateless children also remained limited.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment was widely used against children. The punishment for child abuse is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement continued child protection programs in partnership with UNICEF to improve data collection, develop effective laws, provide psychosocial assistance, and combat trafficking, and added COVID-19 awareness raising. Violence in Rakhine, Chin, Shan, and Kachin states exposed many children to an environment of violence and exploitation.

Online and street protests continued following the alleged May 2019 sexual assault of a two-year-old girl, pseudonym “Victoria,” at a nursery school in Nay Pyi Taw. Protesters raised concerns about the transparency of the trial, and in July 2019 Win Ko Ko Thein, the leader of an online protest campaign, was arrested for Facebook posts “defaming” the police officers investigating the case. Both cases continued as of November. Legal violations during the “Victoria” trial included the police’s December 2019 disclosure of the victim’s name and of photographs further identifying the child and her parents, their occupations, and the family’s address. On June 2, the promotions of three senior police officers responsible were suspended.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender. The minimum age for Buddhists is 18, while the minimum age for non-Buddhists is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Child marriage occurred, especially in rural areas. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child-sex tourists exploited children, according to Human Rights Watch. The 2019 Child Rights Law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including pimping and prostitution; separate provisions within the penal code prohibit sex with a minor younger than 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits child pornography and specifies a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a modest fine. The law on child rights provides for one to seven years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both for sexual trafficking or forced marriage. If a victim is younger than 14, the law considers the sexual act statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 14 and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is younger than 12.

The country’s antitrafficking in persons law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense.

Displaced Children: The United Nations estimated that approximately 40 percent of IDPs were children. The mortality rate for child IDPs was significantly higher than the national average.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a very small Jewish population. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law directs the government to ensure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Civil society groups reported that children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons; many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.

Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from members of the public and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.

Military veterans with disabilities in urban areas received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at pay equivalent to rank. Persons with disabilities in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to civilian persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. The law providing job protection for workers who become disabled was not implemented.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against members of minority groups persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. Ethnic minority groups constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states comprised approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minority group members also resided in the country’s other regions.

International observers noted that significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.

Burmese remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. The government’s official education plan does not cover issues related to mother tongue instruction, but ethnic languages were taught as extra subjects in some government schools. Progress was slow due to insufficient resources provided by the government, the nonstandardization of regional languages, a lack of educational material in minority languages, and varying levels of interest. In schools controlled by armed ethnic groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum.

The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that claims to have lived in the area of Rakhine State for generations. The Rohingya faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion. Large numbers of Rohingya were forced into internal exile in 2012, and the majority of the population was forced into refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017 during a military ethnic cleansing campaign.

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

Political reforms in recent years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet discrimination, stigma, and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Transgender persons, for example, were subject to police harassment, and their identity is not recognized by the state. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from healthcare providers.

On March 12, an openly gay restaurant owner was sentenced to five years in prison under the “unnatural offenses” law for allegedly sexually assaulting a male member of his staff.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents, such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. Laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

Although the law nominally decriminalizes drug use, possession of small amounts of illegal drugs still leads to long prison sentences. Excessive law enforcement activities and local antidrug groups threatened at-risk drug abusers and hindered access to HIV, harm reduction, and other essential health services. Likewise, the antisodomy law creates an environment that discourages men who have sex with men from accessing available services.

High levels of social stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred them from carrying condoms.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide adequate protection for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered.

Laws prohibit civil servants and personnel of the security services and police from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars with the Chief Registrar’s Office of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). Township-level labor organizations require support from a minimum of 10 percent of relevant basic labor organizations to register; regional or state labor organizations require a minimum of 10 percent of relevant township labor organizations. Each of these higher-level unions must include only organizations within the same trade or activity. Similarly, federations and confederations also require a minimum number of regional or state labor organizations (10 percent and 20 percent, respectively) from the next lower level in order to register formally. The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including NGOs working on labor issues. Organizations that choose to register are required to send organizational bylaws and formation documents to the government and secure sponsorship from a government ministry. Broader restrictions on freedom of assembly remained in place (see section 2.b.).

The law gives unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or conciliation tribunal. Union leaders’ rights to organize, however, are only protected after the official registration of the union. The law does not contain detailed measures regarding management of the bargaining process, such as requiring bargaining to be in good faith or setting parameters for bargaining or the registration, extension, or enforcement of collective agreements. The National Tripartite Dialogue Forum, with representatives from government, business, and labor unions, met during the year. The forum consulted with parliament on labor legislation.

The law stipulates that disputes in special economic zones be settled in accordance with original contracts and existing laws. The government appointed a labor inspector for each such zone and established zonal tripartite committees responsible for setting wage levels and monitoring the ratio of local and foreign labor.

The government partially enforced applicable labor laws; penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. As of November the implementing regulations for the Settlement of Labor Dispute Law amended in 2019 remained in draft.

The law provides the right to strike in most sectors, with a majority vote by workers, permission of the relevant labor federations, and detailed information and three days’ advance notice provided to the employer and the relevant conciliation body. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services such as water, electric, or health services. Lockouts are permitted in public utility services (including transportation; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services generally require the same measures as in other sectors, but with 14 days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management before the strike takes place in order to determine maintenance of minimum service levels. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor issues.

The amended law no longer defines complaints as “individual” or “collective,” but as “rights-based” or “benefits-based.” A “rights-based” dispute includes violations of labor laws, whereas a “benefits-based” dispute pertains to working conditions as set by the collective agreement, contract, or position. The type of dispute determines the settlement procedure. Under the amended law, “rights-based” disputes do not go through a conciliation process or an arbitration proceeding but go directly to court proceedings. The amended law has no requirements for good faith bargaining and permits worker welfare committees to negotiate disputes, even in workplaces where unions exist. The amended law significantly increases fines for labor violations, but it eliminates prison terms as punishment for violations.

Labor groups continued to report labor organizations’ inability to register at the national level, a legal prerequisite for entering labor framework agreements with multinational companies.

There were continued reports of employers engaging in forms of antiunion discrimination. The International Labor Organization (ILO), labor activists, and media outlets reported employers firing or engaging in other forms of reprisal against workers who formed or joined labor unions, including using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for dismissing workers organizing unions in factories. Trade unions reported cases in which criminal charges were filed against workers for exercising their right to strike, and trade union members were arrested and charged with violating peaceful assembly laws when holding demonstrations regarding labor rights generally.

Worker organizations reported that formal dispute settlement and court procedures were not effective at enforcing labor laws. Workers resorted to engaging in campaigns with international brands to pressure factories to reinstate workers or resolve disputes. For example, in August, after negotiations between Kamcaine Manufacturing with the Industrial Worker’s Federation of Myanmar regarding terminations, Kamcaine Manufacturing agreed to reinstate 57 dismissed union members, including seven executive members. Similarly at the Youngan factory, union organizers were dismissed, but the company later complied with the arbitration council’s decision to reinstate the workers.

Labor organizations also reported that local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

Workers and workers’ organizations continued to report they generally found the Ministry of Labor to be helpful in urging employers to negotiate.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Laws prohibit most forms of forced or compulsory labor, although it is allowed for use by the military and penal institutions. Laws also provide for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others. The law provides for criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. The penalties are commensurate with analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the areas where significant conflict was occurring.

The government established a forced labor complaints mechanism under the Ministry of Labor, which began receiving and referring cases during the year, replacing the previous mechanism run in coordination with the ILO. The ILO and unions expressed concerns that the government’s mechanism does not provide sufficient protections for victims. Since February the mechanism had received at least 34 complaints and carried over an additional 24 open cases reported through the interim mechanism that took over from the ILO in 2019. Of these 58 combined cases, the labor ministry reported that 25 were officially listed as settled, while 33 were listed as continuing cases. Cases are listed as settled once they have been referred to the appropriate authorities and action has been taken. For example, cases of underage military recruitment are considered settled once they have been referred to the Ministry of Defense and the victim has been released from military service and provided social assistance. These complaints were in addition to the 61 complaints received directly by the ILO as of November.

Although reports of forced labor continued, the ILO reported their number of complaints decreased. Reports of forced labor predominantly arose in conflict and ceasefire areas. The complaints mechanism was not accessible in these areas.

The military’s use of forced labor declined, although the 2020 Secretary-General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict noted an increase in use of children by the military with indicators of forced labor in conflict-affected areas in Rakhine State. The military continued to compel forced labor by civilians as porters, cleaners, and cooks in conflict areas. Although the military and the government received complaints through the complaints mechanism about the military’s use of forced labor, no military perpetrators were tried in civilian court, and it was not possible to confirm military assertions that perpetrators were subjected to military justice.

Prisoners in the country’s 50 labor camps engaged in forced labor (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

The ILO did not receive any verified reports of forced labor in the formal private sector, although domestic workers remained at risk of forced labor. There were reports of forced labor in the production of a variety of agricultural products and of jade, rubies, and teak. Traffickers forced men to work domestically and abroad in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction, and they subjected women and girls primarily to sex trafficking or forced labor in garment manufacturing and domestic service.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The 2019 Child Rights Law sets the minimum age at 14 for work in certain sectors, including shops and factories; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. There is, however, no minimum age for work for all sectors in which children were employed, including agriculture and informal work. Some sector-specific laws identify activities that are prohibited for children younger than 18. The law prohibits employees younger than 16 from working in a hazardous environment, and the government prepared a hazardous work list. Penalties under the Child Rights Law are analogous to other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Trained inspectors from the Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department monitored the application of these regulations, but their legal authority only extends to factories. In addition, inspectors were hindered by a general lack of resources.

The United Nations documented a sharp reduction in the recruitment of children by the Burmese military for use in armed combat, although it continued to document cases, mainly in Rakhine State, of the use of children by the military in noncombat roles. Both practices continue to occur within some ethnic armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained prevalent and highly visible. Poverty led some parents to remove their children from school before completion of compulsory education.

In cities children worked mostly as street vendors, refuse collectors, restaurant and teashop attendants, and domestic workers. Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (also see section 6). Children were also vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture and forestry, gem production, begging, and other fields. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations of forced labor. Child labor was also reported in the extraction of gems and jade, as well as rubber and bricks.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination.

Restrictions against women in employment exist based on social and cultural practices and beliefs. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred by hiring practices and cultural barriers. Women were not legally prohibited from working in certain professions, except in underground mines. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

There were reports government and private actors practiced discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and undercut their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTI persons. Activists reported job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons were limited and noted a general lack of support from society as a whole. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV/AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum daily wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage covers a standard eight-hour workday across all sectors and industries and applies to all workers in the formal sector except for those in businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The law requires the minimum wage to be revised every two years. Overtime cannot exceed 12 hours per workweek, should not go past midnight, and can exceed 16 hours in a workweek only on special occasions. The law also stipulates that an employee’s total working hours cannot exceed 11 hours per day (including overtime and a one-hour break). The law applies to shops, commercial establishments, and establishments for public entertainment. The law requires employers to pay employees on the date their salary is due for companies with 100 or fewer employees. For companies with more than 100 employees, the employer is required to pay employees within five days from the designated payday. Up to 75 percent of the workforce was in the informal sector or self-employed and thus was not covered by the laws.

The 2019 Occupational Safety and Health law sets standards for occupational safety and health, and welfare. The law does not provide inspectors the authority to make unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to suspend businesses operating at risk to worker health and safety until risks are remediated.

Labor unions reported instances in which workers could not remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Unions reported that workers concerned about COVID-19 positive cases in factories were nonetheless required to work. Penalties for safety and health violations were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The Ministry of Labor’s Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department oversees labor conditions in the private sector. Inspectors were authorized to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor law inspectors and factory inspectors was insufficient to address occupational safety and health standards, wage, salary, overtime, and other issues adequately. In some sectors other ministries regulated occupational safety and health laws (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation).

Workers’ organizations alleged government inspections were rare and often announced with several days’ notice that allowed factory owners to bring facilities–often temporarily–into compliance. Corruption and bribery of inspectors reportedly occurred, according to UNICEF, unions, and the labor NGO Solidarity Center.

The public sector was reasonably likely to respect labor laws; frequent violations occurred in private enterprises. Workers continued to submit complaints to relevant government agencies and the dispute settlement mechanism.

There were no recent statistics available on industrial accidents leading to death or serious injury of workers. In July a landslide in a mining area killed at least 172 persons scavenging for jade in an area closed because of heavy rains.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trial Procedures

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government denied a number of requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui. In September the government denied the permit request made by the Civil Society Working Group (GTSC) to organize a ville morte (ghost city). The GTSC was demanding the arrest of Ali Darassa, UPC commander in chief, and the resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. To deter individuals from participating in the demonstration, the government deployed interior security forces and the presidential guards in the streets. Some GTSC representatives were briefly arrested. On October 13, the youth movement known as “4500,” which intended to demonstrate in front of the office of the judicial police regarding an increase in the cost of a national identification card, was prevented by police from holding its sit-in in Bangui. Three members of the movement were arrested by police and released shortly thereafter.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of September there were an estimated 659,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the number of IDPs increased by 8 percent, from 590,000 to 641,000. An estimated 67 percent of IDPs lived with host families, while 33 percent lived on IDP sites.

Humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services.

Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, often assumed to be associated with armed groups that IDPs encountered if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. Women and girls were particularly at risk of sexual violence on the sites and when venturing outside, such as to go to markets or for agricultural activities. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned regarding evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities, putting at risk IDPs and humanitarian staff. Recent survey data indicated an estimated one-third of IDPs residing in IDP sites were concerned regarding their security. Of registered deaths in IDP households surveyed in the three months prior to the mid-year survey, 25 percent were linked to armed conflict.

Security concerns, related to criminality as well as armed group clashes resulting in violence, prevented aid organizations from operating in certain areas. For example, 17,000 IDPs in N’dele were without assistance after aid agencies temporarily suspended operations in May when security incidents in the wake of fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians made it untenable to continue. Also in N’dele, an estimated 9,700 IDPs sought refuge at an IDP site near MINUSCA to escape fighting between armed groups in early March. By mid-March, however, the site had been emptied as a result of pressure from armed elements.

On February 6, armed individuals broke into the residences of International Committee of the Red Cross employees in Kaga-Bandoro. The attackers assaulted guards and stole material goods. On March 23, in N’dele, attackers broke into the premises of the international NGO War Child and stole computers and office equipment.

During the year two humanitarian workers were killed and 21 injured. There were 304 reported incidents affecting humanitarian workers, premises, and assets between January and September, a 39 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day, threats and violence by armed groups reportedly stopped the vote in 26 of 68 subprefectures and interrupted the vote in six other subprefectures. At year’s end it was unclear what percentage of voters were unable to vote due to insecurity. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by armed groups. There were no reports government security actors attempted to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. If needed, a second round of presidential and legislative elections may be held in February 2021 and local elections are scheduled to be held later in 2021. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui; however, some media reported the threats of violence suppressed the turnout in insecure areas. NGO observers reported minor irregularities in places where the vote occurred, most commonly citing a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites and cases where voters who did not have a voter identification card were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. A local NGO group, National Observatory of Elections, stated the irregularities did not undermine the credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported the vote in Bangui conformed to CAR’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were expected to be announced in early January 2021.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Five of the 39 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 11 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men. In July 2019 the national assembly rejected the provision on gender parity provided in the draft electoral code and decided instead that political parties’ candidate lists must be composed of at least 35 percent women.

Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere.

In March 2019, 14 members of parliament, including three women, were elected to the Executive Bureau for one-year terms. The election of only three women did not comply with the law on parity, which requires there be a minimum of 35 percent representation by women in state and private institutions for a period of 10 years. The 2016 gender equality law also prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance; however, the National Observatory had not been established by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities and ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues. In December 2019 President Touadera launched the National Good Governance Strategy.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult in view of limited government capacity.

Corruption: No corruption cases were brought to trial. There were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption and bribery. In February an audio recording circulated on social media alleging fraud during the vote of state budget by the national assembly. The fraud was allegedly orchestrated by the first vice president of the national assembly. The CAR government took no legal actions.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income to the Constitutional Court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

As of September there was no evidence that any ministers declared their assets.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In 2019 the commission collaborated with the Ministry of Justice, MINUSCA, and the African Union to draft the country’s National Human Rights Policy. In addition, the government was setting up the SCC’s victim and witness protection unit with MINUSCA’s assistance (see section 1.e.).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. In 2019 MINUSCA verified 322 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 187 women, 124 girls, three men, two boys, and six women of unknown age. These incidents included 174 rapes or attempted rapes and 15 cases of forced marriage.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instruments prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

As of July the Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) received 501 complaints from victims of various profiles, including 227 victims of sexual violence (rape, assault, forced marriage) and 232 cases of other form of violence. According to UMIRR, there were 266 reported cases of women who were victims of societal abuse in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women had been subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately one-half of girls were mutilated between ages 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice has substantially declined in recent years.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government does not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: After recurrent military-political crises, the CAR continued to be characterized by widespread insecurity and impoverishment. The state was largely absent outside of Bangui. This situation created barriers to providing adequate assistance, including health and reproductive care, to vulnerable populations. Many displaced families were in makeshift sites, in the bush, or in fields far from existing basic social services. Of the 814 hospitals and dispensaries in the country, only 55.3 percent were functional in 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests NGOs were nearly entirely responsible for the provision of healthcare services outside of Bangui.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care.

The government has committed to implementing the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action held in Cairo. Law number 06.005 of June 20, 2006, authorized abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape. The law prohibits certain acts that endanger sexual and reproductive health, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Article 29 of the law criminalizes all forms of sexual violence and exploitation in all its forms that target women.

Citizens, in particular women and girls, were affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. The country experienced multiple armed conflicts in the last 20 years, and customs and traditions in the country influenced the existence and exacerbation of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increases the risk of spreading of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) Findings Report, 82.2 percent of women did not use any form of contraceptive. For girls aged 15 to 19 years, 88.7 percent do not use contraception (MICS IV 2018-2019). The World Health Organization reported 22 percent of women said their need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods. The prevalence of HIV among people aged 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent (MICS 2010; contacts at the Institute Pasteur in Bangui reported the infection rate in the capital was approximately 18 percent. Data from the MICS IV survey (2018-2019) indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor involved in the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate healthcare. Only 18.9 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS IV 2018-2019). Fertility was very high (6.4 per MICS IV 2018-2019), and 42.8 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS IV 2018-2019). The lack of sexual and reproductive education led to early fertility among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). These factors partly contributed to high maternal and neonatal mortality. Only 53.4 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas).

Women were victims of many forms of gender-based violence, including FGM/C, sexual violence, and early marriage. This gender-based violence is exacerbated by conflicts. According to the MICS 2006 survey, nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 51.6 percent suffered verbal abuse, 32.2 percent were raped. According to MICS 2010, 24 percent of women aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C. Although UNICEF did not yet publish the 2020 MICS, contacts reported FGM/C remained a widespread issue in the country and rates may be higher now than in 2010. No information was available on the FGM/C’s implication on maternal morbidity. The MICS 2010 indicated that the induced abortion rate was 6.9 percent among women aged 15 to 45.

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

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is in charge of investigating abuses against women and children. As of July children’s rights abuses were reported in 42 households. According to UMIRR, 214 girls and seven boys were reported victims of societal abuse.

With the support of UNICEF, Bethanie, a local NGO, provided legal, psychological, and socioeconomic assistance to 900 vulnerable children, including 200 children victims of sexual violence, 100 children accused of witchcraft, 250 children with HIV, and 350 children victims of other forms of violence in the prefecture of Ombella M’poko and Bangui.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2017 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls married before age 18 and 29 percent of girls married before age 15, and that 27 percent of boys married before age 18. The practice of early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: On June 15, the government enacted the Child Protection Act. The legislation has a series of measures that address the exploitation of minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 64 percent of IDPs, 48 percent of whom were children younger than five, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. There were no available statistics concerning the implementation of this provision.

The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Peuhl (also known as Fulani or Mbororo), primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the north. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Peuhl faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Peuhl began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Peuhl’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

In December 2019 a young man from the subprefecture of Baboua, who was heading to the cattle market, was killed by unidentified armed men. The population of Baboua accused the Peuhl community of being the perpetrators. On December 30, dozens of young persons armed with machetes, knives, and other bladed weapons retaliated against a Peuhl citizen from a neighboring commune of Baboua, killing him.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Peuhl minority, as well as the forest dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities, although its efficacy had yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who comprise 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Reports by credible NGOs, including the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, stated the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a moderate to substantial fine. When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a moderate to substantial fine. There were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. The IOM reported the case of an LGBTI person who had to move due to physical violence against him by neighbors due to his sexuality. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region the government often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed Anti-balaka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Interfaith Religious Platform, which includes Muslim and Christian leaders, continued working with communities to defuse tensions and call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Kara/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year, there were recorded acts of violence among the various ethnic groups–primarily between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to Ndele.

The law prohibits the practice of witchcraft. Conviction of witchcraft is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine. Individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft experienced social exclusion. According to a legal advocate, the penal code does not have an established definition of witchcraft, and the state does not typically intervene in these cases. District chiefs often preside over witchcraft trials: however, the accused are also often killed by the local population. For instance, on August 27, local press reported that in the village of Barka-Panziin, in the prefecture of Mambere-Kadei, a 60-year-old woman suspected of witchcraft by the inhabitants was severely beaten by her own children and buried alive by the local population. She was rescued by gendarmes stationed at a timber company located two miles away. Women accused of witchcraft faced the possibility of sexual violence in prison while waiting for their trial or serving their sentence. Those accused of witchcraft reported psychological harm from fearing for their physical safety due to the accusations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection (Ministry of Labor) has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The president of the labor court stated the court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports such practices occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all of the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education. The law stipulates the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. The government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. Government officials were alleged to have subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers during the year (see section 1.g.).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, if rigorously enforced, the laws would be sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting occupations and tasks. The labor code prohibits the employment of women in jobs that exceed their strength. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premise if persons work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the Ministry of Labor must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector are established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was below the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy without a minimum wage. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other crimes.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

If information exists concerning dangerous working conditions, the law provides that workers may remove themselves without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Violations for occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. Often miners supplemented these earnings with either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

The government does not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other OSH statistics, and officials failed to respond to International Labor Organization direct requests to provide this information.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30, 2018. On January 10, 2019, the National Independent Electoral Commission declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the 2018 presidential election. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, who stated the results did not match those of their observation mission. The 2019 inauguration of President Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police, which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard, and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the Congolese National Police, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by illegal armed groups, and other conflict-related abuses; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests of journalists, censorship, and criminal libel; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious acts of official corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups, and indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although there was impunity for many such abuses. Authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish those who were responsible, particularly at higher levels. The government convicted some officials on counts of murder, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and corruption, and sometimes punished security force officials who committed abuses.

Government security forces, as well as illegal armed groups, continued to commit abuses, primarily in the restive eastern provinces and the Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender-based violence. Illegal armed groups also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and forced labor. The government took military action against some illegal armed groups and investigated and prosecuted some armed group members for 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 numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Military courts had primary responsibility for investigating whether security force killings were justified and pursuing prosecutions.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against illegal armed groups (IAGs) in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for at least 225 extrajudicial killings across the country as of June 30. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri Provinces, where the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) fought the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and other militias, including ethnic militias in the Djugu Territory of Ituri.

The United Nations reported that between March 30 and April 22, Congolese National Police (PNC) officers and members of the military police were responsible for the extrajudicial killing of 66 persons, as well as the injuries of another 74, through excessive use of force related to the crackdown on the political and religious separatist movement Bundu Dia Kongo, also known as Bundu Dia Mayala. In particular UN and other investigators found that on April 22, PNC officers attacked a church in Songololo, Kongo Central Province, filled with Bundu Dia Kongo supporters, killing 15. On April 24, during an operation to arrest Ne Muanda Nsemi, the leader of Bundu Dia Kongo, at his compound in Kinshasa, PNC and Republican Guard clashes with Bundu Dia Kongo supporters resulted in the deaths of at least 33 persons. Following the Kinshasa operations, military prosecutors took steps to investigate whether security forces had committed unjustifiable killings and indicated they would pursue prosecutions. As of October the investigations continued.

Local media reported that on May 21, a PNC officer shot and killed a protester in Beni, North Kivu Province. The victim, Freddy Kambale, a member of the youth activist group “Fight for Change” (LUCHA), was protesting continued insecurity in the region. Police responding to the protest initially stated the march was in violation of national COVID-19-related state of emergency provisions, which prohibited any gatherings larger than 20. Local observers testified that only 20 persons were present at the protest. On July 13, a military court found the police officer in question guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the bodies of three men who washed up in the Lubumbashi River after protests on July 9 bore scarring and mutilations that indicated possible torture. At least one man was alleged to have been in military police custody prior to his death. As of September military justice officials were investigating the case.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as mobile hearings supported by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights violations. The United Nations reported that as of July 31, at least 85 FARDC soldiers and 32 PNC officers had been convicted of human rights abuses.

IAGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). IAGs recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, government officials, and others. IAGs, including the Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R) and other groups, were responsible for at least 1,315 summary executions as of June 30, which the UNJHRO described as a “staggering increase” when compared with the 416 killings recorded during the same period in 2019.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and sometimes detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods. Despite President Tshisekedi’s promise to grant the United Nations access to all detention facilities, some ANR prisons remained hidden and thus were impossible to access.

UNJHRO reported that on February 22, PNC agents allegedly arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained two men in Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province. The two were arrested on the grounds that they were fighting in public. On February 24, a family member went to the police station to visit the men and was informed that they had escaped. Since the arrest, however, the family had not heard from the two men.

MONUSCO reported that on June 9, a man in Kinshasa was the victim of an enforced disappearance. Prior to his disappearance, the victim reportedly informed a relative of a dispute between himself and a FARDC officer living in Camp Kokolo, a military facility in Kinshasa. As of September a military justice investigation was underway.

IAGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports the SSF continued to abuse and torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protesters.

Local media reported that on June 13, an ANR agent in Kalemie, Tanganyika Province, arrested and flogged a businessman accused of counterfeiting U.S. currency. The man was summoned to the ANR office five days after making a purchase in a store in Kalemie. The ANR agent allegedly whipped the man’s lower body to force a confession. A photograph of the man circulated on social media showing him bloody with his pants down. The man was hospitalized due to his injuries. In response Human Rights Minister Andre Lite called for an investigation, noting the government had a policy of zero tolerance for torture. As of November the investigation continued.

On July 28, PNC agents in Kisangani, Tshopo Province, arrested three members of the Filimbi citizen movement after they protested the refusal of Tshopo provincial Governor Walle Lufungula to resign after being censured by the provincial legislature. Filimbi and other civil society groups reported they had followed all appropriate legal requirements for organizing a public march. Local human rights defenders reported police tortured and mistreated the Filimbi activists while they were under arrest, with one sent to the hospital following their release on July 30.

Human Rights Minister Andre Lite publicly condemned the governors of Equateur, Mongala, Sankuru, Haut Uele, and Kasai Central Provinces for ordering the torture of political dissidents.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were 30 open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including three from 2019, one from 2018, one from 2017, 18 from 2016, and seven from 2015. As of September the government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 30 open allegations: 17 cases of rape of a child, three cases of sexual assault of or sexual activity with a child, one case of rape of an adult, five cases of transactional sex with an adult, three cases of sexual assault of an adult, and one case of an exploitative relationship with an adult. Impunity among the FARDC for such actions was a problem, though the government continued to make progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The ongoing conflict in eastern DRC impeded some efforts at accountability for such actions. The United Nations reported that the military justice system investigated human rights abuses and convicted officers for crimes of sexual violence, murder, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

Impunity among the FARDC for such actions was a problem, though the government continued to make progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The ongoing conflict in eastern DRC impeded some efforts at accountability for such actions. The United Nations reported that the military justice system investigated human rights abuses and convicted officers for crimes of sexual violence, murder, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without providing them access to family or legal counsel.

Physical Conditions: Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,200 inmates simultaneously during the year. In August 2019 the National Human Rights Council published findings from visits to prisons in each of the country’s 26 provinces in 2018. The council found that all except four prisons were grossly overcrowded and most buildings used for detention were originally built for other purposes. For example, in Kamina, Upper Lomami Province, 244 prisoners were being held in a former train station. In Isiro, Upper Uele Province, 96 men were detained in a beer warehouse. In Bunia, Ituri Province, 1,144 prisoners were held in a former pigsty.

Following the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in January, the government began an initiative to decongest prisons. That process accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as of June 30, at least 2,843 prisoners had been released.

Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population, as well as prison escapes. Local media reported that the Ministry of Justice, which oversees prisons, did not have enough money to pay for food or medical care for inmates. The United Nations reported that through June 30, 89 individuals had died in detention, a 16 percent decrease, compared with 106 deaths recorded in the same period in 2019. These deaths resulted from malnutrition, poor sanitation conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. Because inmates received inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to provide them sustenance.

Local human rights organizations reported that during a 30-day period in January, at least 49 inmates in Kinshasa’s Makala Central Prison died of malnutrition and related diseases, with another 69 prisoners in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, and 44 in Goma, North Kivu Province, starving to death between October 2019 and February. On May 3, 20 inmates escaped from the central prison in Watsa, Haut Uele Province, by removing the facility’s roof; in the wake of the incident, the prison director admitted many of the prisoners were suffering from malnutrition.

Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits. According to a Deutsche Welle report in May, prisoners in Kasai-Oriental capital Mbuji Mayi’s central prison and at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa were subject to gross overcrowding and had to pay prison officials for sleeping space.

IAGs detained civilians, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Justice, but it sometimes denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and military intelligence services. COVID-19 prevented internal travel, thus negatively affecting monitoring efforts.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but the SSF routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.). IAGs also abducted and detained persons arbitrarily, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law arrests for offenses punishable if convicted by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members and sometimes denied them due process (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Security forces regularly held protesters and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 1,327 persons across the country as of June 30, compared with 2,947 persons during the same period in 2019. Human rights defenders continued to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention without a fair public trial.

On January 20, Joseph Lokondo, a human rights activist, was arrested for criticizing the governor of Equateur Province, Dieudonne Boloko. He remained in pretrial detention until July 7, when, according to HRW, an appeal court sentenced him to six months in prison for “contempt for a member of the government.” On July 8, Lokondo was released due to time served. During his time in prison, he allegedly suffered from severe illnesses due to the prison conditions and from being assaulted by SSF during his arrest.

Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.

The UNJHRO reported that on April 11, FARDC soldiers arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained at least 35 persons in Uvira, South Kivu Province, for not participating in scheduled weekly community work on the renovation of a road. The detainees were released after paying a fine.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. A local NGO, the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, estimated that between 75 and 80 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays. According to a Deutsche Welle report in May, prisoners in Kasai-Oriental capital Mbuji Mayi’s central prison and at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa were often denied their right to a trial.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence and intimidation. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion.

A shortage of prosecutors and judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on cases of corruption and malpractice. Rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates.

Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year. In July, however, HRW reported that 11 persons during the year had been arrested for “contempt of authority,” a crime under the law. Of these 11 cases, one was arrested for allegedly insulting the president, while the other 10 were arrested for alleged contempt against provincial authorities or parliamentarians.

Local civil society groups claimed that 23 individuals still imprisoned for the 2001 assassination of former president Laurent-Desire Kabila were political prisoners, because they had yet to be given a fair trial.

While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and ANR (see section 1.c.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. Family members were often punished for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. The United Nations reported that as of June 30, military and police officers had committed 320 violations of the right to property.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

SSF continued fighting hundreds of disparate IAGs in the east of the country.

There were credible reports that the IAGs and SSF perpetrated serious human rights violations and abuses during internal conflicts. On June 30, the UNJHRO reported that IAGs in the country were responsible for a “staggering increase” in human rights abuses, noting that the number of abuses attributed to IAGs had increased by 91 percent during the same period in 2019. The United Nations reported that as of July 31, 41 members of armed groups were convicted of human rights abuses.

Conflicts continued in some of the eastern and northern provinces, particularly North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Ituri, Maniema, Upper Uele, and Lower Uele, as well as in the Central Kasai region. IAGs continued to perpetrate violence against civilians; these include: the Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Lord’s Resistance Army, former fighters from the March 23 Movement, various Mai Mai (local militia) groups, and ethnically aligned militia groups in the Djugu area of Ituri Province, including those tied to the Congolese Development Cooperation (CODECO). Many IAGs originated in foreign countries or were predominantly composed of noncitizens.

Conflict among armed groups caused significant population displacement and led to many human rights abuses, especially in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces. In North Kivu Province, the NDC-R, Mai Mai Mazembe, ADF, FDLR, as well as a host of smaller armed groups fought among themselves and caused significant population displacements as they fought over territory. There were reports some elements within the FARDC collaborated with some factions of the NDC-R.

In July the International Crisis Group released a report on the past three years of intercommunal violence between Lendu and Hema groups in the Djugu area of Ituri Province. The report noted that most of the wave of violence had primarily been perpetrated by groups of Lendu youths, including the militia group CODECO, who were not necessarily well organized or supported by the majority of the Lendu community. These groups continued to attack Hema communities, other communal groups in the Djugu area, and the FARDC in increasingly brazen assaults, causing significant loss of life.

In a May report, the Congo Research Group assessed that the NDC-R, under commander Guidon Shimiray Mwissa (Guidon) between 2014 and 2020, emerged as the most dominant and effective rebel group in the country. The report described the NDC-R’s successful development of parallel governance and tax schemes in the large, resource-rich areas under its control. According to the Congo Research Group, the NDC-R’s success battling other major groups, such as the FDLR, allowed it to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with the FARDC, in which NDC-R was permitted to hold territory, established businesses, and collected taxes, “mimicking the FARDC and the state.” In return, the FARDC supplied NDC-R with ammunition and uniforms and allowed the group unhindered passage through large swaths of the east. In July local media reported the group split after the ousting of the group’s commander, Guidon, and FARDC increased attacks on Guidon’s faction in an attempt to execute the existing warrant for his arrest. Other armed groups took advantage of this instability to move into NDC-R-controlled territory. As of November, Guidon remained at large.

Operational cooperation between MONUSCO and the government continued in the east. The MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade supported FARDC troops in North Kivu and southern Ituri Provinces. MONUSCO forces deployed and conducted patrols to protect internally displaced persons from armed group attacks in North Kivu Province, southern Ituri Province, and South Kivu Province near Minembwe.

Killings: Data from UN reporting shows that on average, eight civilians were killed every day in conflict-affected areas.

As of June 30, the UNJHRO reported the SSF summarily killed 155 civilians in conflict-affected zones, a decrease compared with the 173 killings during the same period in 2019. In July the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report covering violence in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces between January 1, 2019, and January 31, 2020, related to the ADF and FARDC’s campaign against that group. The report identified abuses committed by SSF during the campaign against ADF, especially following a large-scale deployment in October 2019. The report described eight summary executions by the FARDC and the arbitrary arrests of 91 persons, including at least four children.

The United Nations reported that on May 7, during operations against IAGs in the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu, a FARDC soldier in the 3416 regiment killed a three-year-old girl and injured one man and two women during an eviction. The soldier was arrested and detained by the military prosecutor, who subsequently opened an investigation into the killing.

UNJHRO also reported that IAGs killed at least 1,315 civilians, including 129 women, in the first six months of the year, a significant increase from the same period in 2019, during which 416 civilians were killed. As of June 30, violence attributed to various Lendu militias in Ituri Province resulted in at least 636 summary executions and an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced persons. Djugu-based assailants in Ituri Province were responsible for killing at least 525 individuals, largely during ambushes and attacks against villages targeting civilians. Sixty-one civilian deaths were attributed to the NDC-R. MONUSCO reported that on January 6, NDC-R combatants killed two women, wounded one man and another woman with machetes, and abducted two other men, in Masisi territory of North Kivu. The attack was reportedly an act of revenge against the civilian population whom the NDC-R combatants accused of facilitating the arrest of one of their group.

The Mai Mai Nyatura group summarily executed 98 civilians in conflict-affected provinces in the first half of the year, while the FDLR summarily executed at least 66 civilians.

The OHCHR report in July attributed “widespread, systematic, and extremely brutal” human rights violations to the ADF, including at least 496 civilian deaths. In follow-up reporting covering events between February 1 and June 30, OHCHR identified an additional 383 killings attributed to the ADF. For example, on May 18, in Beni territory of North Kivu, ADF combatants killed seven civilians with gunfire and machetes and injured three others. The ADF fighters burned down four houses during the attack.

Abductions: Of the 1,327 persons SSF arbitrarily arrested, many were in conflict-affected areas in the east of the country.

UN agencies and NGOs reported IAGs abducted individuals, generally to serve as porters or guides or to demand ransom for them. As of June 30, the United Nations reported that Djugu-based militias abducted at least 201 civilians, and that in total, IAGs abducted at least 118 children. Mai Mai Mazembe and NDC-R were the greatest perpetrators of child abductions.

On May 18, in Lubero, North Kivu Province, NDC-R fighters detained at least 70 persons, whom they tied up and beat with sticks and a rifle. The assailants took the victims to a camp, where they were held for ransom and forced to build shelters and carry water. The ADF reportedly also abducted individuals to serve as forced labor in camps. The OHCHR’s July report stated that the ADF abducted 508 persons, including 116 children.

As of August 5, Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker documented 212 abductions, including the abduction of 16 children in Upper Uele and Lower Uele Provinces. The Lord’s Resistance Army was determined to be responsible for 153 of the abductions.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The FARDC, PNC, ANR, IAGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence. As of July 31, the United Nations documented 501 adult victims and 64 child victims of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred throughout the country but principally in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Provinces.

UN agencies and NGOs reported that through June 30, the FARDC arrested, illegally detained, raped, and tortured at least 378 persons in conflict-affected areas. During this period the FARDC forced 46 civilians, including one woman and one child, into labor. The government disputed these numbers.

IAGs also perpetrated numerous incidents of physical abuse and sexual violence. UN data showed that the FDLR, along with Twa militias and Djugu-based assailants, were the most prolific perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. The UNJHRO reported that most cases of rape committed by the FDLR took place in Nyiragongo territory, when women were on their way to Virunga National Park to collect firewood. MONUSCO reported that on May 2, in North Kivu’s Nyiragongo territory, FDLR combatants raped two women, killing one of them. Twa militia members tended to target women working on farms or on their way to or from farming. For example, in April, Twa militiamen raped 16 women on their farms in Tanganyika Province before forcing them into the forest for the night and releasing them the next morning.

The UNJHRO reported at least 95 adult women were victims of sexual violence perpetrated by the armed group FLDR. At least 30 children were victims of sexual violence perpetrated by NDC-R.

MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section reported that more than 80 percent of women and girls separated from armed group the Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri Province reported being victims of sexual violence. On February 14, a military court in Bunia, Ituri Province, convicted three members of the Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri of war crimes for rape, looting, and participation in an insurrectional movement. The three were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

On July 28, a military court in Bunia also convicted 15 members of CODECO and FPIC of participation in an insurrection movement, sentencing them each to 20 years in prison and a fine. In an effort to combat impunity for the violence in Ituri Province, the military court held the hearings in public.

On November 23, a military court convicted Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) founder Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka for war crimes, mass rape, recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and multiple other crimes. Sheka surrendered to MONUSCO in 2017, and his trial started in 2018. While NGO representatives commended the high quality of evidence presented at the trial, they also raised concerns regarding its slow pace, witness intimidation, and the lack of appeals process under the law for war crimes trials.

A January report by OHCHR described mutilations, dismemberment, and other atrocities committed by Lendu militias and noted that the violence “could present at least some elements of the crime of genocide.”

Child Soldiers: There were no incidents of the FARDC using child soldiers. On August 3, the Ministry of Defense issued a decree reinforcing the prohibition on recruitment or use of child soldiers by the FARDC.

According to the United Nations, at least 952 children were separated from IAGs during the first six months of the year. The majority came from the Mai Mai Mazembe militia in North Kivu. The ADF continued to kidnap children and use them as combatants; OHCHR reported that the ADF forcibly recruited at least 56 children from January 2019 through January. NDC-R also recruited and used children. MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section reported 59 cases of child recruitment as of June 30, an all-time low number, and a significant decrease from the 601 children recruited in 2019.

The government continued to work with MONUSCO to engage directly IAGs to end the use of child soldiers. As of June 30, two years into the outreach, a total of 34 armed group commanders had pledged not to use or recruit children. The Ministry of Defense’s August 3 decree noted that any entity, including armed groups, convicted of recruiting or using children would be subject to 10 to 20 years of forced labor under the 2009 child protection law. On August 27, Radio Okapi reported the decree was already being implemented.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Fighting between the FARDC and IAGs as well as among IAGs continued to displace populations and limit humanitarian access, particularly in Ituri Province; Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, Lubero, Beni, and Nyiragongo territories in North Kivu Province; South Kivu Province; Maniema Province; and Tanganyika Province.

In North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Kasai Oriental, and Upper Katanga Provinces, both IAGs and elements of the FARDC continued to illegally tax, exploit, and trade natural resources for revenue and power. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. The natural resources most exploited were gold, cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), and wolframite (tungsten ore) but also included wildlife products, timber, charcoal, and fish.

The illegal trade in minerals financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF. Both elements of the SSF and certain IAGs continued to control, extort, and threaten remote mining areas in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, and Haut Katanga Provinces and the Kasai region (see section 4.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, or arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests. Through June 30, the UNJHRO documented human rights abuses against at least 47 journalists and other media professionals. An HRW report in July stated that provincial-level officials were using the national state of emergency related to COVID-19 to restrict press freedoms and detain journalists and activists who criticized them or their policies.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes intimidated, harassed, and detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, president, or SSF.

On July 9, Henri Maggie, the vice-president of the youth league for former president Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for contempt of President Felix Tshisekedi, under provisions of a 1963 ordinance that prohibits individuals from publicly insulting the head of state.

On May 9, in Lisala, Mongala Province, three activists–Peter Tetunabo, Taylor Engonga, and Yannick Mokanga–along with journalist Fabrice Ngani, were arrested when they delivered a note to the provincial parliament criticizing the governance record of Governor Crisbin Ngbundu Malengo. By June 8, all four had been released. According to Reporters without Borders, on June 17, provincial authorities revoked reporting credentials from Ngani and five other journalists.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned in Kinshasa and in other major cities, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the former president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 116 cases of attacks on media from November 2019 to October and attributed 35 of these attacks to ANR and PNC agents. Another 48 were attributed to provincial and local political authorities. JED reported one journalist killed, one disappeared, nine incarcerated, and 31 detained for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF.

HRW reported that on May 8, government security forces stopped three journalists working for Radio Fondation–Daniel Madimba, Serge Kayeye, and Jean-Baptiste Kabeya–at a roadblock on the outskirts of Mbuji-Mayi, Kasai Oriental Province. The two were accused of insulting Provincial Governor Jean Maweja Muteba and were subsequently assaulted. The following day, police arrested the radio station’s program director, Faustin Mbiya, interrogated him, and accused him of “contempt of authority” and “public insult.” On May 13, Mbiya was released without charge.

Local media reported that on July 4, PNC officers in Kinshasa detained Ange Makadi Ngoy, a journalist for the online news site 7sur7.cd, as she filmed protests. Ange stated the officers confiscated her press badge and equipment.

Local media also reported that on July 12, the ANR arrested Patrick Palata, director of the Tala Tala TV station in Matadi, Kongo Central Province, for having broadcast a report on the shooting death of a local woman. Authorities confiscated his recordings, which contained witness testimony alleging that guards of Governor Atou Matubouana killed the woman. On July 14, Palata was released without charge.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by provincial government authorities not to cover events organized by the opposition or report news concerning opposition leaders.

JED reported that on May 26, Crispin Ngbundu, governor of Mongala Province, ordered the closure of four radio stations: Radio Mongala, The Voice of Bumba, The Rural Radio of Bumba, and Radio Mwana Mboka. Ngbundu’s orders accused radio journalists of defamation and insulting provincial authorities. On June 17, Mongala provincial authorities issued an order for the immediate dismissal of six journalists from three of those stations: Fabrice Ngani, Victor Mbonzo, Tresor Emaka, and Jose Lingili from the Voice of Bumba; Olivier Peguy Yenga of Radio Mongala; and Benjamin Mondonga of Radio Mwana Mboka.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law does not consider the veracity of reported facts in the case of a defamation complaint. Instead, the judge is only to consider the damage to the accused from revelations in a journalist’s work.

The national and provincial governments used defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On April 24, according to HRW, police in Gemena, Sud Ubangi Province, arrested Alexandre Robert Mawelu, a reporter for Radio Liberte, after he had criticized the provincial governor in a social media forum linked to his radio show. On April 29, Mwelu was granted provisional release, but he still faced official charges of “contempt for a member of the government” and “defamatory statements” as of the end of July.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: IAGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were some reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms 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, but government authorities restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly, especially in Upper Uele, North Kivu, and Tanganyika Provinces. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government sometimes used this advance notification requirement to decline to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. During the COVID-19-related state of emergency, which lasted from March 24 through August 15, public gatherings of more than 20 persons were banned. The SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

Local media reported that on January 17, meetings called by opposition leader Martin Fayulu were banned in six cities. Protesters in Kinshasa and Kindu were violently dispersed.

The United Nations recorded 57 human rights violations committed by state agents related to the COVID-19 state of emergency. For example, on April 4, PNC officers arrested 14 members of the youth activist group LUCHA in Kinshasa as they were preparing to submit documentation to a COVID-19 working group. Police also beat some of them. The victims were accused of failing to comply with the state of emergency’s limit on gatherings of more than 20 individuals.

On July 9, local media also reported that police in Kinshasa broke up a street protest against the COVID-19-related closure of the Zando market. During the scuffle three persons were killed, two were electrocuted by downed power lines, and one was crushed by the stampeding crowd.

MONUSCO reported that the majority of human rights abuses during the state of emergency came from individual SSF agents taking advantage of the situation to mistreat, arbitrarily arrest, or extort victims. The UNJHRO reported that on April 4, PNC officers arbitrarily arrested a woman and her daughter in Nyaragongo, North Kivu Province, under the pretext that the provincial governor’s public health orders allowed police to arrest anyone caught chatting in the streets. The two women were forced to give police a bribe in order to be released.

The UNJHRO reported more restrictions on democratic space and human rights violations related to fundamental freedoms, compared with the same period in 2019. In the first six months of the year, the office documented 573 violations of democratic space, compared with 461 violations recorded during the same period in 2019. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process was burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, reported the government had denied their registration requests. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: The SSF established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, both for security reasons and to track movement related to the Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks. Travel was significantly restricted during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The SSF routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns. IAGs engaged in similar activity in areas under their control, routinely extorting civilians at checkpoints and holding them for ransom.

Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports FARDC soldiers and IAG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, including individuals displaced for longer than 12 months, there were 5.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), including 3.2 million children, in the country. The government was unable to consistently protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. The government sometimes closed IDP camps without coordinating with the international humanitarian community. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable.

Conflict, insecurity, and poor infrastructure adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. In August, UNHCR stated there were 1.7 million IDPs in Ituri Province; the agency had no access to certain zones in the region due to insecurity and inability to travel. Due to lack of funding, the humanitarian response plan for the country targeted only half of the persons in need in Ituri Province. Population displacements continued, particularly in the east. Many areas with IDPs continued to experience insecurity, such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory, Ituri Province, South Kivu’s Fizi Territory, and Maniema and Tanganyika Provinces. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the east resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Due to the remote location, weak civilian authority, and insecurity of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape. UNHCR representatives stated that 4,500 Congolese were forcibly repatriated from Angola in May and June. Seventy percent of returnees lingered along the DRC-Angola border, waiting to return to Angola if and when the situation there improved.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government occasionally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

As of June 30, UNHCR reported 528,752 refugees in the country, primarily from seven adjacent countries, of whom approximately 214,000 were from Rwanda. Of the refugees in the country, 63 percent were children.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Upper Uele, and Tanganyika Provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the regions, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. UNHCR reported Rwandan refugees in the Masisi Territory of North Kivu were subject to cyclical displacement as a result of FARDC and IAG operations and were forced to relocate to South Kivu Province.

Incursions by South Sudanese forces into areas of northern DRC affected security for asylum seekers, refugees and Congolese returnees, as well as local populations.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

As of June 30, there were 2,807 asylum seekers in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently than citizens.

Durable Solutions: As of September, more than 1,100 refugees returned to the Central African Republic from the northern part of the country. COVID-19 restrictions prevented other voluntary returns.

The country did not invoke the cessation clause effective in 2013 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. In 2016 the government joined other refugee-hosting countries and UNHCR to commit to facilitating repatriation of Rwandans from countries of asylum. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees who opted to remain in the country. Refugees received long-term, renewable permits to remain in the country. The program included a path to citizenship. Conflict impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation, and between January and August it assisted in repatriating 499 Rwandan refugees.

In late December 2019, local media reported that 1,919 Rwandan refugees in South Kivu Province were repatriated following a FARDC offensive against IAGs in the area. The population included former combatants and their family members. Of this population, 529 were refugees registered with UNHCR. UNHCR was unable to meet with the refugee population prior to the event to ascertain whether their return to Rwanda was voluntary. The event was not in accord with the UNHCR-DRC-Rwanda Tripartite Agreement on refugee returns.

As of September 30, UNHCR reported 281 refugees voluntarily returned to Burundi.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

g. Stateless Persons

The country has a population of de facto stateless residents and persons at risk of statelessness, including persons of Sudanese origin living in the northeast, Mbororo pastoralists in the far north, forced returnees from Angola and former Angolan refugees, mixed-race persons who are denied naturalization, and Congolese citizens without civil documentation. There were no accurate estimates of this population’s size. The law does not discriminate in granting citizenship on the grounds of gender, religion, or disability; however, the naturalization process is cumbersome and requires parliamentary approval of individual citizenship applications. Persons whose names are not spelled according to local custom were often denied citizenship, as were individuals with lighter colored skin. Persons without national identification cards were sometimes arbitrarily arrested by the SSF.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018 and drew criticism grounded in procedural transparency concerns. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) cancelled elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu Province, reportedly due to health concerns generated by the Ebola crisis, and in Yumbi in Mai Ndombe Province due to insecurity. Although the CENI organized legislative and provincial contests in those areas in March 2019, more than one million voters were disenfranchised from the presidential contest.

In January 2019 the CENI announced opposition candidate Tshisekedi won the presidential election, and in accordance with electoral law, the Constitutional Court confirmed the CENI’s results later that month. In a statement the council of bishops criticized the outcome, noting “the results of the presidential election as published by the CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission.”

Many international actors expressed concern regarding the CENI’s decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources indicating opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. In January 2019 Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, marking the first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress political party won 32 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the Common Front for Congo coalition won 335 seats of 500 seats total. Senatorial elections were held in March 2019 through an indirect vote by provincial assemblies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement. The SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events.

State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest sources of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of political opponents, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

In a number of districts, known as chefferies, traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although some ethnic groups in the restive east claimed discrimination. Women held 10 percent of seats in the National Assembly (52 of 500) and 10 percent in the provincial assemblies (72 of 690). In April 2019 Jeanine Mabunda was named president of the National Assembly, the second time a woman has held that position. Of 108 senators, 23 were women. Among the 66 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, vice ministers, and minister delegates, 12 were women, an increase in the total number from that of the previous government (from 10 percent of 59 such positions to 17 percent of 65 such positions). Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga Provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 6).

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

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. Local NGOs blamed these levels of corruption, in part, to the lack of a law providing for access to public information.

In March, President Tshisekedi created the Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (APLC). A special service under the Office of the President, the APLC is responsible for coordinating all government entities charged with fighting corruption and money laundering, conducting investigations with the full authority of judicial police, and overseeing transfer of public corruption cases to appropriate judicial authorities.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In an interview on social media in April, former presidential corruption advisor Luzolo Bambi and Director of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice Georges Kapiamba alleged that the government lost approximately $15 billion per year due to corruption.

On March 23, the Court of Cassation convicted former minister of health Oly Ilunga Kalenga and his financial advisor Ezechiel Mbuyi Mwasa of embezzling $400,000 in funds intended for the Ebola outbreak response. Both were sentenced to five years in prison.

On June 20, Vital Kamerhe, the chief of staff to President Tshisekedi, was convicted by a Kinshasa court of a range of charges, including embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, and corruption. Kamerhe was sentenced to 20 years in prison, fined several million dollars, and stripped of the right to vote and hold public office for 10 years after serving his sentence. The court found Kamerhe responsible for embezzling tens of millions of dollars earmarked for President Tshisekedi’s 100 Days infrastructure development program. Two codefendants were also found guilty on corruption charges: Lebanese businessman Jammal Samih and presidency advisor on import/export matters Jeannot Muhima. Kamerhe’s sentence was the highest-level conviction of a public servant in the country’s history.

On June 23, the same Kinshasa court convicted two government officials–Benjamin Wenga, director of the Office of Roads and Drainage, and Fulgence Bamaros, director of the National Road Maintenance Fund–of embezzlement. Both Wenga and Bamaros were sentenced to three years in prison for their role in misappropriating funds from Tshisekedi’s 100 Days program. A codefendant, director of the Congolese Construction Company Modese Makabuza, was found guilty of complicity and sentenced to one year of forced labor.

Office of Roads Director Herman Mutima was imprisoned for nearly six months due to corruption allegations related to the 100 Days program. On August 22, he was acquitted by a Kinshasa court and released from jail.

In January the Congolese Association for Access to Justice released a report accusing parastatal mining company Gecamines of failing to repay a $222 million loan from Fleurette Mumi, a company owned by sanctioned businessman Dan Gertler. Reuters reported that prosecutors were investigating possible money laundering and fraud related to the 2017 loan, and Yuma was barred from leaving the country. In a May Council of Ministers meeting, President Tshisekedi instructed the minister of portfolio to submit a detailed report on the allegations. As of November the investigation continued.

Elements of the SSF were undisciplined and corrupt. PNC and FARDC units regularly engaged in illegal taxation and extortion of civilians. They set up checkpoints to collect “taxes,” often stealing food and money and arresting individuals who could not pay bribes. The UNJHRO reported that during the COVID-19 state of emergency, the SSF took advantage of government restrictions to mistreat and extort civilians for not observing orders on curfew or wearing masks.

The law prohibits the FARDC from engaging in mineral trade, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal involvement by some FARDC units and IAGs included protection rackets, extortion, and theft. The illegal trade in minerals was both a symptom and a cause of weak governance. It illegally financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF and sometimes generated revenue for traditional authorities and local and provincial governments. A 2019 report from the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research group, determined that in the trading hub of Itebero, North Kivu Province, traders paid $10 per ton of coltan to the president of the local trading association, who distributed this money to the FARDC, ANR, and Directorate General for Migration. Individual FARDC commanders also sometimes appointed civilians with no overt military connection to manage their interests at mining sites covertly.

Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal and illicit and strongly linked to both armed groups and certain elements of the FARDC. Artisanal mining products, particularly gold, were smuggled into Uganda and Rwanda, often with the connivance of government officials. In June the UN Group of Experts reported that the country’s “gold sector remained vulnerable to exploitation by armed groups and criminal networks…” thereby hindering traceability programs and the viability of legal trading. The report highlighted that Ituri Province was a major source of smuggled gold found in Uganda. The Group of Experts determined that Mai Mai Yakutumba financed its activities through gold from sites in Misisi, in South Kivu Province. Similarly, Mai Mai Malaika profited from artisanal gold mining at the Namoya Mining site in Salamabila, in Maniema Province. The UN Group of Experts also reported that FARDC soldiers regularly accepted bribes from artisanal miners to access the Namoya site, which was owned by the Banro Mining Corporation. Mining experts and law enforcement officers interviewed in the report described natural resource-related crimes as “quick cash” and explained that violators often bribed law enforcement agencies to secure safe transit of illegal goods.

As of 2017 research by IPIS estimated 44 percent of artisanal mine sites in the east were free of illegal control or taxation from either elements of the SSF or IAGs, 38 percent were under the control of elements of the FARDC, and the remainder were under the control of various armed groups. In areas affected by conflict, both IAGs and elements of the SSF regularly set up roadblocks and ran illegal taxation schemes. In 2019 IPIS published data showing state agents regularly sold tags meant to validate clean mineral supply chains. The validation tags–a mechanism designed to reduce corruption, labor abuses, trafficking in persons, and environmental destruction–were regularly sold to smugglers.

A June report from the UN Group of Experts found armed groups regularly financed their activities through illegal mining. The report documented cases of certain FARDC units involved in the illegal exploitation of gold resources. In Fizi, South Kivu Province, the Kachanga mine was controlled by some FARDC members, who collected a daily fee from anyone entering the mine. According to the report, that money was sent to the military hierarchy of the 33rd military region. Members of the 3306th regiment also allegedly provided protection to gold dredging company Congo Bluant Minerals, in Mwenga and Shabunda, South Kivu Province, despite the company’s operations having been officially suspended in 2019.

The UN Group of Experts also reported that several armed groups, including Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo, Mai Mai Nyatura, Force for the Defense of Human Rights, Mai Mai Malaika, and Mai Mai Yakutumba financed activities through the control of artisanal gold and coltan mining sites in North and South Kivu Provinces.

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s enacted budget included off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully published. These accounts facilitated graft by shielding receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. The special accounts pertained to eight parastatal organizations that raised revenues that were not channeled through the government’s tax collection authorities. “Special accounts” are subjected to the same auditing procedures and oversight as other expenditures; however, due in large part to resource constraints, the Supreme Audit Authority did not always publish its internal audits, or in many cases published them significantly late. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard of 2016, the government is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. In June 2019 the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative board noted the country had made meaningful progress in its implementation of the 2016 standard but also expressed concern regarding persistent corruption and mismanagement of funds in the extractive sector.

In September local media reported that the financial inspector general was investigating the management of both the Bukangalonzo agroindustrial park and the Go-Pass airport tax, as part of its efforts to inform the population of extant cases of financial wrongdoing.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president and ministers to disclose their assets to a government committee. The president and all ministers and vice ministers reportedly did so when they took office. The committee had yet to make this information public.

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. IAGs repeatedly targeted local human rights defenders for violent retribution when they spoke out against abuses. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights published reports and made public statements on prison conditions, the Universal Periodic Review, and human rights violations during the COVID-19 state of emergency. It also held human rights training sessions for magistrates, visited detention centers, conducted professional development workshops for human rights defense networks in the interior, and followed up on complaints of human rights abuses from civilians.

The Human Rights Ministry made public statements condemning arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights defenders and called for impartial investigations into April violence by the PNC and other state security forces in Kinshasa and Kongo Central during operations against the Bundu Dia Kongo group. The ministry also developed a plan for eliminating the worst forms of child labor in mining communities.

Both the National Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Ministry continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs and full-time representation in all 26 provinces.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters. The government and military prosecutors cooperated with the UN team supporting investigations related to the 2017 killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, in Kasai Central Province. In May, Tresor Mputu Kankonde, a former leader of the Kamuina Nsapu militia, and one of the suspects alleged to be responsible for the killing of Sharp and Catalan, was arrested by military police in Kasai Central Province. In a press statement, the head of the Kasai Central military prosecutor’s office stated Mputu would be prosecuted for murder. On October 20, following six months during which it was put on hold due to COVID-19, the trial reconvened.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims, and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape or intimate partner rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions. Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence.

From January through June, the UNJHRO reported at least 436 women and 183 girls were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict-affected areas. IAGs frequently used rape as a weapon of war (see section 1.g.).

Government agents raped and sexually abused women and girls during arrest and detention, as well as during the course of military action. MONUSCO reported 148 cases of sexual violence attributed to FARDC and PNC agents as of June 30. The UNJHRO stated nearly one-third of sexual violence cases committed against girls were committed by the SSF. While it was a problem throughout the country, the majority of cases took place in areas affected by internal conflict. The PNC continued its nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence by the SSF, including through the fight against impunity and the protection of victims and witnesses. The campaign operationalizes the national action plan to combat sexual and gender-based violence; however, as of year’s end the plan had not been fully funded and few activities had taken place.

On July 7, Colonel Jean Daniel Apanza, head of the military’s internal commission to combat sexual violence, reaffirmed the FARDC’s principle of “zero tolerance for cases of sexual violence.”

MONUSCO reported that on January 15, the military court in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, convicted one FARDC soldier and one PNC officer on charges of rape. The soldier and officer were sentenced to 20 years in prison each. During the same hearing, five other FARDC soldiers were convicted of other human rights abuses and received prison sentences.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence and provides for a sentence of two to five years in prison and substantial fines if convicted; in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year if convicted, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Many couples and individuals lacked the means and access to information to enjoy these rights. The law also recognizes the rights of all couples and individuals of reproductive age to benefit from information and education on contraception and to have free access to reproductive health services.

According to the UNFPA, during the year 28 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had their demand for family planning with modern methods satisfied. Challenges affecting access to family planning and reproductive health services included a failing transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, and poor logistics and supply chain management leading to frequent stock shortages. Cultural norms favoring large families; misinformation surrounding contraceptive use, including fear that contraception causes infertility; and, especially, the population’s general low capacity to pay for contraceptive services were also barriers.

The adolescent birth rate was 138 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The services were free and intended to provide a postexposure prophylaxis kit within 72 hours to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  The government established mobile clinics for survivors in remote areas.

According to the 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, despite sustained high usage of health facilities for deliveries, which suggested a poor quality of health services. Geographic barriers, lack of appropriate equipment, and low health professional capacity also hindered the provision of quality maternal and child health services and led to high maternal mortality and childbirth complications, such as obstetric fistula.

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

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. The law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination. There were legal restrictions on women in employment–including limitations on occupations considered dangerous–but no known restrictions on women’s working hours.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. Despite President Tshisekedi’s policy of free primary education, the government was unable to provide it consistently in all provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children. Primary and secondary schools were closed during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. There were reports of teachers pressuring girls for sexual favors in return for higher grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred. The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine. The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. From January through June, UNICEF assisted 2,018 children (1,999 girls and 19 boys) who were victims of sexual exploitation. Most of these children were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance.

There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which was the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. In 2019 the NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and causing misfortune.

UNICEF registered 2,646 orphans who lost parents to the Ebola virus, during an outbreak in the eastern part of the country that was officially declared ended on June 25. During the outbreak 1,604 children were separated from their parents–either because they were isolated after being in contact with an Ebola-affected individual or because their parents were undergoing treatment. These children received psychosocial support in UNICEF-supported nurseries.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small 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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires the state to promote their participation in national, provincial, and local institutions. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

As of November the law did not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities including access to health care, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no reasonable accommodations are required of educational facilities to support their full and equal inclusion. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities did not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities due to shame.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between IAGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

On August 8, the International Day for Indigenous Peoples, President Tshisekedi gave a speech condemning the social stigmatization and lack of economic opportunity for the “pygmy” people.

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

While no law specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, individuals engaging in public displays of consensual same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses against FLGBI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in supporting discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

LGBTI persons in South Kivu Province reported that in 2018 a coalition of revivalist churches in Bukavu published materials characterizing LGBTI persons as against the will of God. The publications contributed to a deteriorating environment for LGBTI rights in the area. Advocates in the eastern part of the country reported arbitrary detentions, acts of physical violence, including beatings, being stripped naked, sexual abuse in public settings, and rape. In some cases LGBTI persons were forced by threats of violence to withdraw from schools and other public and community institutions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14 captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 percent expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism. Civil society groups reported albinos were killed and their bodies disinterred from their graves and cut up for use in rituals meant to grant special power to anyone, from soccer teams to political campaigns, for example.

Long-standing ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. During the first half of the year, Hutu populations in North Kivu were subject to forced displacement by both the SSF and IAGs operating in the area. Intercommunal violence between Hema and Lendu groups in Ituri Province resulted in killings and displacement (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes. It is against the law, however, for police, army, directors of public and private enterprises, and domestic workers to strike. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. It also grants unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and a single business may include members of more than one union. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years, a length of time deemed excessive by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members and one employer representative; union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with unions. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors), do not have the right under the law to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

Union committees are required to notify company management of a planned strike, but they do not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. Generally the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. Sometimes, employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law prohibits striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor. This rule was not enforced, and no one was reported to have been imprisoned.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the associated penalties were not adequate to deter violations. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three continuous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private-sector and public-enterprise unions at the national level. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. Of the 15 national unions that represented the public administration sector, five accounted for the majority of the workers.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Workers in the public and private sectors held strikes regarding unpaid salaries. Local media reported that PNC officers occasionally violently broke up these protests. In May miners at Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine went on strike and successfully demanded payment of a special allowance for continuing work while under a two-month quarantine due to COVID-19. Other mines were similarly placed under lockdown measures with quarantined workers raising concerns regarding overtime pay and unsafe working conditions, but it was unclear how and whether matters were resolved.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not effectively exercise the right to strike. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations and lack of funding for the General Labor Inspectorate, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate the workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances companies refused to negotiate with unions and negotiated individually with workers to undermine collective bargaining efforts. Unions had an active complaint with the ILO pertaining to past allegations of interference in union elections.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so irregularly.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows for arrest and forced labor as a penalty to repay the tax debt. This had not been put into practice, however.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were reports that forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country. Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining equipment, often at high interest rates. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay their debt were at risk of debt bondage. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate the practice. In the east IAGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages and held men, women, and children captive for trafficking, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. In North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, some members of FARDC units and IAGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines. There were no reports of FARDC units forcing persons to work in mines. IAGs sometimes forced local communities to perform construction work and other labor at mine sites. The government did not effectively enforce laws banning this practice.

On August 3, the Human Rights Ministry launched a plan to monitor human rights and labor abuses in mining communities in accordance with the Voluntary Principles Initiative on Security and Human Rights, by establishing local oversight commissions consisting of government representatives, civil society groups, and private companies.

Some police officers arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports in North and South Kivu Provinces of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced or compulsory labor and took no action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. The government did not report any official forced labor investigations, and there were no prosecutions. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16, and a ministerial order sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items. Penalties are not commensurate with other serious crimes.

Government enforcement of child labor law remained weak. While criminal courts heard some child labor complaints, it was unclear if these resulted in sentences. The government did not allocate child labor-specific budgetary resources to the relevant ministries and the National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted an action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor, slated for implementation during the year; however, as of December it had not been implemented. In August the General Labor Inspectorate issued a plan to conduct a child labor survey and develop a roadmap to review and curb the use of child labor in the rice sector in Kongo Central Province. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. These agencies had no budgets for inspections and conducted no specialized investigations for child labor.

The law prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations. Nonetheless, various mining sites, located principally in North Kivu and Upper Katanga Provinces, employed many child workers. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Treated as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures.

The FARDC deployed a battalion in June to dismantle illegal artisanal mines in the southeast, where working conditions were hazardous and child labor was prevalent. Soldiers cleared thousands of illegal miners from industrial cobalt and copper concessions, reportedly burning dozens of homes and ransacking a school in the process. The FARDC, mining police, and private security forces, including those guarding large-scale mining concessions, reportedly subjected child laborers on artisanal mining sites to extortion and physical abuse.

There was a systematic government effort to redirect child labor away from mines. The government and the African Development Bank continued an 80-million-dollar project to provide alternative livelihoods for children engaged in the cobalt sector. In 2019 World Vision announced it had reduced exploitation and the worst forms of child labor for 1,380 children in mining sites through the provision of vocational training and schooling opportunities.

The Ministry of Mines prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting minerals; however, the ministry had limited enforcement capacity.

In 2019 the government undertook a $2.5-million project to boost the capacity of labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. In addition in March the Ministry of Mines issued a decree forming an interministerial commission with the Ministry of Labor to inspect child labor in artisanal mines. As of September the commission had yet to take action, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August the human rights minister issued a decree operationalizing the government’s commitment to joining the Voluntary Principles Initiative on Security and Human Rights in the extractive sector, which provides a roadmap towards comprehensive human rights oversight of mining communities and stipulates zero tolerance for the worst forms of child labor.

In August the PNC approved a mining police handbook codifying the mining police’s specialized unit’s duties in the protection and enforcement of human rights, including combatting child labor, in mining areas.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was a problem throughout the country (see section 7.b.). Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. The commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Various mining sites, located principally in the eastern regions of North Kivu and Katanga Provinces, employed many child workers. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Treated as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures.

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Upper Katanga, Kasai Oriental, Kasai Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu Provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws, and penalties were not commensurate with other violations of civil rights.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. There were known legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous. Persons with disabilities, including albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest pay scales applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor was implementing a minimum wage increase in a series of increments. The minimum wage was above the poverty line. Most businesses were not in compliance with this minimum wage but faced few penalties.

In the public sector, the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 hours per week to 72 hours every two weeks, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The average monthly wage did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Salary arrears became more frequent in both the civil service and public enterprises. Many public-sector employees reported they did not receive their annual bonuses. In 2012 the government began paying some civil servant salaries through the banking system in an effort to stop the practice by which supervisors created fake employees and skimmed off some of their subordinates’ salaries. The Budget Ministry stated 75 percent of civil servants received their pay through the banking system, but some observers believed that figure was grossly inflated. For many the government delivered cash in large shipments for local authorities and supervisors to distribute.

The labor code specifies health and safety standards. Penalties were not commensurate with similar legal violations. The Ministry of Labor employed 115 labor inspectors and 71 labor controllers, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate penalties. The government did not effectively enforce such standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. Major international mining companies effectively observed health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. Nonetheless, the law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 IPIS estimated there were approximately 300,000 artisanal miners in the 2,000 identified mine sites in the east. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controlled the government until December 2019 when the coalition dissolved and was replaced by the Prosperity Party. In the 2015 general elections, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front and affiliated parties won all 547 seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (parliament) to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In 2018 former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation to accelerate political reforms in response to demands from the country’s increasingly restive youth. Parliament then selected Abiy Ahmed Ali as prime minister to lead these reforms. Prime Minister Abiy leads the Prosperity Party.

National and regional police forces are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order, with the Ethiopian National Defense Force sometimes providing internal security support. The Ethiopian Federal Police report to the Ministry of Peace. The Ethiopian National Defense Force reports to the Ministry of National Defense. The regional governments (equivalent to a U.S. state) control regional security forces, which are independent from the federal government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of all security forces committed some abuses.

Abiy’s assumption of office was followed by positive changes in the human rights climate. The government decriminalized political movements that in the past were accused of treason, invited opposition leaders to return and resume political activities, allowed peaceful rallies and demonstrations, enabled the formation and unfettered operation of political parties and media outlets, and carried out legislative reform of repressive laws. The opening of political space has also met with challenges. Reforms are taking place in an environment with weak institutions including in the security sector. Ethnic tensions increased, resulting in significant violence in some cases. Citizen-on-citizen violence caused the majority of human rights abuses.

On November 4, fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force resulted in protracted conflict in the northern Tigray Region and reports of serious and widespread abuses. As of the end of the year, there was very limited access to the majority of Tigray, except for the capital Mekele, resulting in a lack of reporting and making it difficult to ascertain the extent of human rights abuses and violations.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces and private entities; forced disappearances by unnamed armed groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including harassment of journalists, and blocking of the internet and social media sites; interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial or ethnic minority groups; and existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct.

The government at times did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, resulting in impunity for abusers due to a lack of institutional capacity. The government took positive steps toward greater accountability under the Abiy administration to change the relationship between security forces and the public. In June the attorney general’s office and the government-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigated Amnesty International’s allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. The administration also addressed past reported abuses such as restrictions on freedom of assembly, political prisoners, and interference with privacy. In late August the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and human rights nongovernmental organizations deployed investigators to 40 sites in Oromia Region to probe ethnic-based killings after the June 29 killing of Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa.

There were human rights abuses by paramilitary groups, rebel forces, and youth groups. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s preliminary assessment of the November 9 attack in Mai-Kadra in Tigray concluded that a Tigrayan youth group supported by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force killed approximately 600 persons. Amnesty International reported that the abuses were carried out by police special forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force. A local human rights group reported that on June 29 and 30, youth groups attacked the villages of Arsi and Bale Zones in Oromia. The federal police arrested 1,500 regional officials for participation in the violence or failing to prevent the violence following the death of Hachalu Hundessa. The Oromo Liberation Army-Shane, an armed separatist group with factions in western, central, and southern Oromia, killed civilians and government 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 numerous reports that the government and its representatives committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. There were cases identified by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) where security forces used excessive force against civilians. Other reports were being investigated by international bodies. The federal police had an internal investigative unit that investigated cases of criminal acts perpetrated by police. The internal unit’s decisions regarding penalties against police were kept confidential.

The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) had a military police division with a military investigative unit that reported to the military attorney general’s office. The military police passed evidence from their investigations to the prosecutors and defense counsels. The ENDF attorney general directed the investigations and heard the cases in military court.

On January 19, a security official reportedly shot a 20-year-old man tending his store near Mugi, in western Oromia. On January 21, unidentified security officials rounded up five young men in a small town outside of Mugi, interrogated them in a private residence, and then shot and killed them, according to a local journalist. It is not clear which security service perpetrated these abuses.

On August 9, regional special forces clashed with protesters in Sodo in the Welayita Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. Media reported the forces killed 17 citizens after youth groups blocked roads and burned tires in response to the arrest of 28 members of the zonal leadership, including Zonal Administrator Dagato Kumbe and members of the Welayita National Movement opposition party.

On August 27, the EHRC issued a press release declaring it had evidence that security forces killed protesters in Assasa, Sahshemene, Bale Robe, Ginir, Asebot, Chrio, and Awedaye. The EHRC called on the government to create an independent body to investigate.

On May 29, a member of a local militia in Mekele, capital of the Tigray Region, shot and killed a woman following a labor dispute concerning salary. Afterwards, the militiaman shot himself but survived.

On May 29, fighters of the former Oromo Liberation Army-Shane (OLA-Shane), an armed separatist group, with factions in western, central, and south Oromia, reportedly killed four civil servants and wounded three others in Wagari Buna locality in West Wellega Zone of Oromia Region. The team of civil servants was on route to Nejo town after delivering agricultural supplies to internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the neighboring Benishangul-Gumuz Region.

On November 9, Amnesty International reported an armed group killed a large number of civilians in the town of Mai-Kadra in western Tigray Region. The victims were reportedly largely to be non-Tigrayan seasonal laborers. The Amhara regional media agency reported there were approximately 500 victims. Although the identity of the attackers remained unconfirmed, witnesses stated forces associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force committed the killings (See section 1.g., Respect for the Integrity of the Person–Abuses in Internal Conflict.).

b. Disappearance

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

In December 2019 approximately 17 university students were kidnapped by an armed group in western Oromia Region. The government charged 17 OLA-Shane individuals with terrorism charges for the abduction. The trial against the suspects continued as of December. At the end of the year, the status of the missing students remained unknown.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports that security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.

On May 29, Amnesty International released a report claiming that security forces carried out torture in OLA-Shane areas. The EHRC and the attorney general’s office reviewed these reports and concluded that the report was biased.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there is one open allegation, submitted in 2018, of sexual exploitation and abuse by an Ethiopian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission in the region, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of October the United Nations had substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the Ethiopian government had not provided information on accountability measures taken by year’s end.

Impunity remained a problem, although some measures were taken to hold security forces accountable for human rights abuses. Lack of transparency regarding those being charged and tried in courts of law made it difficult to determine if significant improvements were made.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Problems included gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care. Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely and reports noted poor hygiene.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. Prison cells were small and cramped. International organizations reported that it was common for cells to have small windows that allow only a little light into estimated 430-square-foot cells, one of which may hold as many as 38 cellmates. Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities.

The government budgeted approximately nine birr ($0.23) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. Many prisoners supplemented this allocation with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families, and some families did not know of their relatives’ locations. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Medical attention following physical abuse was insufficient in some cases.

Prisoners had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care.

The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities operated an unknown number of unofficial detention centers.

Approximately 9,500 persons in the Oromo Region were arrested for ethnically related violence and destruction of property after the death of Hundessa (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups). Regional authorities later reported that approximately one-half of those arrested were released. On September 26, the Oromia regional government reported that 5,728 persons were charged in connection with the violence. The excessive crowding in detention facilities raised concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 in the prison system. The Prison Commission responded by using public facilities such as schools as makeshift prisons to improve prison-inmate distancing.

Administration: There were reports that prisoners were mistreated by prison guards and did not have access to prison administrators or ombudspersons to register their complaints. Legal aid clinics operated in some prisons. At the regional level, these clinics had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Prison officials allowed some detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.

The law generally provides for visitor access to prisoners. Authorities, however, denied some indicted defendants visits with their lawyers. In some cases police did not allow pretrial detainees to have access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel. Prison regulations stipulate that lawyers representing persons charged with terrorism offenses may visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities denied family members’ access to persons charged with terrorist activity.

Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison and even by section within a prison. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray.

Independent Monitoring: During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross visited 51,000 prisoners throughout the country as part of its normal activities.

Regional authorities allowed government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. The EHRC monitored federal and regional detention centers, and interviewed prison officials and prisoners. The NGO Justice for All-Prison Fellowship Ethiopia had access to multiple prison and detention facilities around the country.

The EHRC and the attorney general’s office checked on the welfare of high-level political prisoners arrested for possible involvement in organizing violence following the killing of the popular singer Hachalu Hundessa. During the week of July 12, the EHRC twice visited high-level prisoners such as Jawar Mohamed, Eskinder Nega, and Bekele Gerba. The independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council reported that the detainees were in good health, were visited by family members, and were in touch with lawyers defending their cases.

Improvements: On February 17, the government published the Federal Prison Proclamation that makes the Federal Prisons Commission an independent body that reports to the attorney general’s office; requires that all prisoners be treated with human dignity and are given education and technical training to assist with rehabilitation; stipulates that prisoners are to be provided clothing and three meals per day; and are given free medical care (including psychiatric care) on premises. The Federal Prison Commission was to be monitored and supervised by the Committee of Community Leaders (comprising religious, cultural, and human rights leaders), the EHRC, and the parliament. The act also stipulates that prisoners “shall have an accommodation that preserves his human rights, dignity, security, and health during his stay in prison.” The proclamation introduced categorization and separation of prisoners according to age, gender, and risk level.

The legislation led to reforms within the prison system. The Prisons Commission had an independent budget and chain of command from other ministries, and the commission reported directly to parliament. The commission launched its own training centers, educational programs, and driving schools to provide inmates with basic skills to reduce recidivism. The commission began building its own hospital system for cost savings and to decrease dependency on local community hospitals.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and federal law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require detainees to appear in court and face charges within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in this 48-hour period. With a warrant, authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge. The courts increasingly pushed authorities to present evidence or provide clear justifications within 14 days or release the detainee. Courts also demanded to see police investigative files in order to assess police requests for additional time.

On April 6, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) replaced an antiterrorism law that permitted arbitrary arrests. The ATP provides that a suspect or defendant accused under the provisions of the ATP is to be “protected in accordance with [the] constitution, international agreements [ratified by the government] and other laws of the country concerning rights and conditions of suspected or accused persons.” The ATP prohibits warrantless searches and interception of private communications without a warrant or court order. It gives leasing and rental business owners up to 72 hours to provide the identities of foreigners (nonresidents) to police, significantly narrowing the scope of the law by excluding residents, and reduces the penalties for noncompliance. The ATP ends lengthy detention without a court appearance and gives the courts authority to prioritize any terrorism-related arrests.

A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with murder, treason, or corruption. In other cases the courts set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($13 and $250), amounts that few citizens could afford. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel, but defendants received these services only when their cases went to trial and not during the pretrial phases. In some cases a single defense counsel represented multiple defendants (coaccused) in a single case.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces.

On May 13, an estimated 1,600 persons were arrested in Addis Ababa for “violating the state of emergency” and not wearing face masks. The EHRC urged police to stop arbitrary arrest of individuals for not wearing face masks and declared that the tactics were needless. All the detained were released within 72 hours (see section 1.c.).

Pretrial Detention: The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays, in some cases lasting years.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: During the year no cases were brought to the courts by individuals claiming unlawful detention. The law does not provide compensation for unlawfully detained persons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak and overburdened.

Trial Procedures

Under the constitution, accused persons have the right to a fair, public trial without undue delay, a presumption of innocence, legal counsel of their choice, appeal, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The law requires officials to inform detainees of the nature of their arrest within a specific period time, which varies based on the severity of the allegation. The law requires that if necessary, translation services are provided in a language defendants understand. The federal courts had staff working as interpreters for major local languages and are required to hire interpreters for defendants that speak other languages.

In August the EHRC reported that the regional courts performed well in presuming innocence of detainees. The human rights body also stated that courts made sure that detainees’ families were informed of detentions.

The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but the scope and quality of service were inadequate due to a shortage of attorneys. A public defender often handled more than 100 cases and might represent multiple defendants in the same criminal case. Numerous free legal-aid clinics, primarily based at universities, also provided legal services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers such as law students and professors to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis. There is a lack of a strong local bar association or other standardized criminal defense representation.

The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional courts. Many rural citizens had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree before the start of the formal legal process to use the sharia court. Sharia courts received some funding from the government. Sharia courts adjudicated a majority of cases in the Somali and Afar regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, functioned predominantly in rural areas. Women often believed they lacked access to free and fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and due to persistent gender discrimination.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were multiple detentions of political leaders who were released or sentenced based on criminal acts. Following the June 30 violence caused by the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, there were approximately 40 arrests of political leaders and their followers. In July the highest profile leaders were visited in jail by the attorney general’s office and the EHRC at least three times. These opposition leaders were provided the same protections as other detainees. Several opposition leaders who were arrested following the killing of Hachalu Hundessa are still in detention awaiting trial.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides citizens the right to appeal in civil court, including in cases with human rights abuses. For rights abuses where a government agency is the accused perpetrator, the victim initiates the process by filing a complaint at the EHRC. The EHRC investigates and makes recommendations to the concerned government agency.

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

The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property. The law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit” cases in which a suspect enters premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises. This legal exception also applies when police have reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime punishable if convicted by more than three years’ imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and a delay in obtaining a search warrant could allow for the evidence to be removed.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The government engaged in offensive operations against the armed separatist group OLA-Shane in western, northern, and southeastern Oromia. The government had military-led command posts in the affected areas that coordinated all security operations. Command posts are led by the ENDF but are supported by regional special forces, regional police, and regional militias.

On November 4, fighting between the ENDF and the Tigray Special Forces resulted in protracted conflict in the northern region of Tigray. The fighting affected the entire region. As of the end of the year, there was very limited access to Tigray, except for the capital Mekele, resulting in a lack of reporting and making it difficult to ascertain the extent of abuses. There were numerous reports of looting and destruction of infrastructure in Tigray, including in refugee camps. There were reports that government security forces, security forces from neighboring regions, the Eritrean military, private militias, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force all committed human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, sexual assaults, forced displacement of civilian populations, and torture. There are reports that government security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests and detentions. International organizations, including the United Nations reported that a humanitarian crisis was unfolding and they prepared to assist with basic services, food, and medical supplies.

Killings: Residents of Qellem Wellega Zone in Oromia told media that government security forces killed seven civilians.

The Oromia Region’s Security Bureau reported that OLA-Shane fighters killed more than 770 individuals, wounded more than 1,300, and abducted 72 persons.

On November 1, suspected OLA-Shane fighters killed at least 54 ethic Amhara residents of Gawa Qanqa in West Wellega Zone, according to Amnesty International. Witnesses reported that men, women, and children were killed, and property was looted and burned.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and the press, and the government generally respected this right. The government generally opened political space (including freedom of speech) which resulted in the proliferation of new media outlets and the return of some diaspora outlets.

On March 23, the government published Proclamation 1185/2020, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation. Domestic human rights groups criticized the law for using broad legal definitions that could be used to repress freedom of speech. The government applied it in a few cases (See section 2.a., Respect for Civil Liberties–Freedom of Expression–Internet Freedom.).

Freedom of Speech: Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government diminished significantly.

On April 4, Elsabet Kebede was arrested by Addis Ababa police after she had posted the names and ethnicity of persons infected with COVID-19. She was detained for one month and released on bail May 8 without charge.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The number of news outlets increased under the Abiy administration. Between J