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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.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 24 ministers; 12 of the ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family. The king, who holds ultimate authority over most government decisions, also appoints the prime minister–the head of government–who does not have to be a member of parliament. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years, and according to the government, 67 percent of eligible voters participated in the most recent elections, held in 2018. Two formerly prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, did not participate in the elections due to their dissolution by the courts in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities.

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and oversees the civilian security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The Coast Guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain Defense Force is primarily responsible for defending against external threats, while the Bahrain National Guard is responsible for both external and internal threats. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh prison conditions, including lack of sufficient access to medical care in prisons; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, criminal libel, and arrests stemming from social media activity; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; overly restrictive laws on independent nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including revocation of citizenship; restrictions on political participation; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government prosecuted low-level security force members responsible for human rights violations, following investigations by government institutions. Nongovernmental human rights organizations claimed investigations were slow and lacked transparency.

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

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

There were no reports that government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as detainees and former detainees, maintained that torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government security officials continued during the year.

Human rights groups reported accounts alleging security officials beat detainees, placed detainees in stress positions, humiliated detainees in front of other prisoners, deprived detainees of time for prayers, and insulted detainees based on their religious beliefs.

Detainees reported that security forces committed abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation, such as threats of violence, took place at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters facility. Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes younger than age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. The law considers all persons older than 15 to be adults.

Human rights organizations and families of inmates also reported authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners. In November the family of 70-year-old Hasan Mushaima, a prominent leader of a dissolved political society serving a life sentence in prison since 2011, reported that his health was deteriorating and was transferred to a Bahrain military hospital for treatment and then returned to prison after six hours. International human rights organizations reported Professor Khalil al-Halwachi, who has been serving a 10-year sentence since 2014 on weapons charges, was not receiving adequate medical treatment in Jaw Prison.

The Ministry of Interior denied torture and abuse were systemic. In response to a family’s claim that their father was not receiving medical attention, the Ministry of Interior stated that inmates receive full health-care services and medication under the law and in line with humanitarian standards. The government reported all prisons, detention facilities, and interrogation rooms at local police stations and the CID were equipped with closed-circuit television cameras that monitored the facilities at all times.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments, reported receiving 33 complaints in the first quarter of the year and 10 complaints during the second quarter of the year alleging torture, mistreatment, and excessive force used by members of the police. As of May the SIU referred one officer to the Military Court for unknown charges of abuse. The officer received a disciplinary action as a result.

The Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman’s Office reported it investigated all complaints and made recommendations to the government to address concerns. In the first quarter of the year, the office had four investigations underway into complaints against police directorates and had referred eight cases to criminal or to disciplinary proceedings. Fifteen complaints were submitted against the CID; 12 were under investigation. Two complaints each were submitted against the Traffic Directorate and the Customs Affairs. One complaint was submitted against the Coast Guard and was referred for criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

The Office of the Ombudsman’s sixth annual report, released in October 2019, reported 289 complaints and 778 assistance requests between May 2018 and April 2019 from alleged victims of mistreatment by police and civilian staff, or from victims’ families or organizations representing their interests. Of these complaints, 70 were referred to the relevant disciplinary body, including police administrative hearing “courts” and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 28 were under investigation, and 50 were resolved or not upheld. The ombudsman reported receipt of 43 complaints against the CID, of which seven cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary proceedings, and 86 complaints against Jaw Prison, of which 40 cases were referred for criminal or disciplinary action. The ombudsman referred seven of the cases against the CID and 40 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures; 12 and 15 additional cases were under investigation, respectively.

Zakeya al-Barboori, one of the only remaining female political prisoners who was arrested in 2018, and her family formally submitted complaints to NIHR and the Ombudsman’s Office about her treatment in prison, after the king’s 2019 royal decree restored Bahraini citizenship to al-Barboori and 550 other individuals.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The Ministry of Interior police code of conduct requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. The Royal Police Academy included the police code of conduct in its curriculum, required all recruits to take a course on human rights, and provided recruits with copies of the police code of conduct in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the code, although it did not publish details of such steps.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening, due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in detention facilities, which placed a strain on prison administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) reported Building 13 of Jaw Prison housed inmates at 30 percent over capacity. Prisoners complained of limited time for outdoor activities, which did not exceed one hour and a half per day. In August inmates in Building 14 undertook a hunger strike to protest religious discrimination, lack of access to medical facilities, and limits on family visitation due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

For humanitarian reasons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 12, the king pardoned 901 prisoners, and on May 23, he pardoned and released 154 more to mark Ramadan; these releases followed a December 2019 pardon of 268 prisoners. Most of those were juveniles, patients who needed special care, and foreigners. The remaining 585 inmates, who had served half of their jail terms, reportedly received noncustodial sentences.

In December the minister of justice, Islamic affairs, and endowments announced that 4,208 prisoners had either been pardoned and released or granted noncustodial sentences under the country’s alternative sentencing law since 2017 and all juvenile inmates were released, in part due to concerns about overcrowding and COVID-19.

Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, there were reports of lack of access to water for washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities. On August 10, BIRD reported that Jaw Prison and Dry Dock detected a scabies outbreak due to poor hygiene practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, prisoners needing dietary accommodations due to medical conditions had difficulty receiving special dietary provisions.

Authorities held detainees younger than age 15 at the Juvenile Care Center; criminal records are expunged after detainees younger than 15 are released.

The government housed convicted male inmates between ages 15 and 21 in separate buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock Facility. The Ministry of Interior separated prisoners younger than 18 from those between the ages of 18 and 21. Upon reaching 21, prisoners enter the general population at Jaw Prison.

The Ministry of Interior reserved one ward in the pretrial detention center for the elderly and special needs detainees. Officials reported they offered these detainees special food, health care, and personal services to meet their needs.

The ministry operated a center for rehabilitation and vocational training, including various educational, drug addiction, and behavioral programs. Activists said that the programs lacked trained teachers and adequate supplies and that the government did not allow some inmates to take national exams. According to the minister of justice, Islamic affairs, and endowments, inmates released provisionally under the country’s alternative sentencing law were allowed to work at government offices, both in service and administrative positions, to complete the remainder of their prison sentences. In December the minister confirmed to the National Assembly that 22 government offices provide jobs and vocational training to prisoners released under the program, in addition to nine private-sector companies and civil society institutions.

Although the ministry reported detention centers were staffed with experienced medical specialists and outfitted with modern equipment, prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions had difficulty accessing regular medical care, including access to routine medication. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment or very short stays in the hospital, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry’s General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation stated it disinfected cells on a daily basis and provided prisoners with medical kits and hygiene products. New inmates were quarantined for 14 days before they joined the general prison population.

According to the government, eight prisoners died during the year; the cause of death of seven was deemed a result of medical conditions and one a reported suicide.

Administration: Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the Ombudsman’s Office were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups reportedly sometimes had to file multiple complaints to receive assistance. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently, and authorities permitted them 30 minutes of calls each week, although authorities denied prisoners communication with lawyers, family members, or consular officials (in the case of foreign detainees) at times. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation suspended family visits in March, replacing visits with video conferences between detainees and their relatives beginning in April.

There were reports authorities denied prisoners access to religious services during special commemorations, such as Ashura, and prayer time. Some detainees reported prison officials limited time provided for Ashura rituals citing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, but the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), a government human rights body monitoring complaints of human rights violations, said inmates were given additional time to practice Ashura rituals in common areas, adding no religious rituals were allowed in prison cells as a matter of general policy.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the NIHR and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), as well as the Ombudsman’s Office and the SIU (see section 5). International human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of these organizations. During the year the Ministry of Interior reported on the work of the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, which received and examined complaints against security forces. According to its seventh annual report, the Ombudsman’s Office received 207 complaints between May 2019 and April 2020, and it referred 23 of the cases to the SIU for further action, 25 for security prosecution, and two cases to the disciplinary committee. The office continued to investigate 21 cases. The largest number of referred cases came from Jaw Prison and the CID. The Ombudsman’s Office also received 683 assistance requests, which included securing prison visits, telephone calls, medical services, or access to education. Due to intermittent closures of government offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ombudsman’s Office established a WhatsApp account and continued to receive complaints via email.

During the fourth quarter of 2019, the SIU referred 12 suspects from Ministry of Interior to the courts, including two senior officials, who were accused of physically attacking inmates in Jaw Prison in April 2019. After a December 2019 hearing, the Lower Criminal Court convicted one prison guard to one year in prison and sentenced five others to three months in prison. Two other prison guards were referred to the ministry’s Military Court to receive disciplinary sentences.

Improvements: Government officials reported the completion of three new Jaw Prison buildings to phase out older facilities and better comply with international standards, including the Istanbul Protocol.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Local and international human rights groups reported that individuals were detained without being notified at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed Ministry of Interior agents conducted many arrests at private residences either without presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one. Government officials disputed these claims.

In 2017 King Hamad reinstated the arrest authority of the National Security Agency (NSA), after it had been removed following criticism in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. On June 26, the king issued an order renaming the NSA as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). There were no reports of the NSA or NIA using its arrest authority during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates law enforcement officers may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught committing certain crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Additionally, the code of criminal procedure requires execution of an arrest warrant before a summons order to appear before the public prosecutor. Local activists reported that police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant and that the Public Prosecutor’s Office summoned political and human rights activists for questioning without a warrant or court order.

By law the arresting authority must interrogate an arrested individual immediately and may not detain the person for more than 48 hours, after which authorities must either release the detainee or transfer the person to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for further questioning. The office is required to question the detainee within 24 hours, and the detainee has the right to legal counsel during questioning. To hold the detainee longer, the office must issue a formal detention order based on the charges against the detainee. Authorities may extend detention up to seven days for further questioning. If authorities require any further extension, the detainee must appear before a judge, who may authorize a further extension not exceeding 45 days. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period and any renewals at 45-day intervals. In the case of alleged acts of terror, law enforcement officers may detain individuals for questioning for an initial five days, which the Public Prosecutor’s Office may extend up to 60 days. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The bail law allows the presiding judge to determine the amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They reported difficulty registering as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles and lack of official government notaries; arbitrary questioning of credentials by police; lack of notification of clients’ location in custody; arbitrary requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; questioning of clients by the Public Prosecutor’s Office on very short notice; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state-appointed attorney before or during their trial.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for weeks with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families regarding detainees’ whereabouts for days.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation. On May 18, the Minister of Justice issued an order allowing defendants’ legal representatives to attend court proceedings virtually if the defendant requested it.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political opposition figures reported the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressure, especially in high-profile cases. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the family law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. Based on the Unified Family Law, the government subdivided family court cases into Sunni and Shia sharia-based court proceedings. Some judges were foreign citizens, serving on limited-term contracts subject to government approval for renewal and residence. The Supreme Judicial Council reported working with the Judicial Legal Studies Institute to prepare, on average, 10 new Bahraini judges per year, in an effort to increase their number. The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On June 15, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences of Zuhair Ebrahim Jassim and Hussain Abdulla Khalil Rashid. Both were prosecuted on charges of targeting security forces and killing a police officer in 2014.

On July 13, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences of Husain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan. Human rights groups claimed there was evidence of torture during their interrogations. Following their 2014 convictions and death sentences by the Court of Cassation, the SIU launched a review of allegations of torture, and the Court of Cassation overturned the sentences based on the SIU’s findings and called for a retrial. In January the Supreme Court of Appeals convicted Moosa and Ramadan and reinstated their death sentences, which the Court of Cassation upheld in July. There were 10 other detainees whose death sentences had been upheld by the Court of Cassation in Bahrain.

Trial Procedures

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there were reports that defendants and their lawyers had difficulty getting police, public prosecutors, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. Plaintiffs are required to provide their own interpreters, except in labor dispute cases, when the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments may provide assistance.

Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges may declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The government may try defendants in their absence, and at least 27 defendants with terrorism-related charges were convicted and sentenced in absentia during the year.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6). In 2017 the government codified a Unified Family Law, which for the first time included a civil code for Shia family law. According to supporters of the law, the unified civil code protects women’s rights, in particular Shia women, from the imposition of arbitrary decisions by unregulated clerics. Women’s rights groups reported the family courts granted divorces more quickly and judicial decisions adhered to the new civil code.

In 2017 King Hamad also ratified a constitutional amendment that grants military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening the security of the state. Media reported the government approved the amendment to better fight terrorist cells, while activists claimed the change would jeopardize fair trial standards. The government did not use this mechanism during the year.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In November 2019 the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced the release of 75 prisoners, most of whom were considered political prisoners, under the country’s alternative sentencing law. Prominent political opposition figures serving life sentences did not benefit from application of the alternative sentencing law and were held separately from the general prison population.

The alternative sentencing law was applied to the sentences of dozens considered political prisoners, including female inmates, who were all released. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and opposition groups welcomed application of the alternative sentencing law. In November 2019 human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh posted a photograph with released prisoner Mujtaba al-Abbar and said he was the first political prisoner to receive an alternative sentence.

In June the government released prominent human rights activist and president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison on charges of “inciting hatred against the regime.”

Leader of the Amal opposition Society Khalil al-Halwachi was arrested in 2014, convicted of “possession of a weapon” and “insulting the judiciary” in 2017, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Authorities refused to grant al-Halwachi an alternative noncustodial sentence, and his family continued to call for his release on humanitarian grounds amid concerns over his health.

During the year two persons were charged with “colluding” with Qatar and were sentenced to three to five years in prison. This was the second time the government charged citizens with “collusion,” following prior prosecutions of three members of a dissolved political society.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may submit civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

In cases where a person has no previous criminal history, is a minor, or is charged with minor legal infractions, the law provides alternative penalties and measures to reduce the number of inmates in detention centers and prisons. The government reported using the alternative sentencing law for more than 4,000 convicts since 2017, according to the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. They were ordered to perform community service; pay their fines, debts, or both; or participate in job training and rehabilitation classes. The law on minors prohibits the imposition of prison terms on children, defined as younger than 15.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informant networks, including ones that targeted or used children younger than 18.

Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to surveil political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened a detainee’s family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” The government limited freedom of speech and the press through prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists.

Freedom of Speech: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. Speech is curtailed in both traditional media and social media. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who expressed such opinions publicly often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech. The penal code allows penalties of no less than one year and no more than seven years of imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.” Defense attorney Abdulla al-Shamlawi, who defended prominent opposition figures, including members of the now banned opposition group al-Wifaq, was prosecuted for “defamation.” On September 14, an appeals court gave al-Shamlawi a six-month suspended sentence for “inciting sectarianism.” The appeals court decision overturned the June 30 verdict of the High Criminal Court, which sentenced al-Shamlawi to eight months in prison for “humiliating an Islamic sect” and “misusing a telecommunications device.”

On August 25, the Court of Cassation upheld a one-year prison sentence against Shia religious preacher Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Mulla Atiyya al-Jamri for a sermon “disdaining a figure that is revered by a religious group,” according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On August 30, the Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested a Bahraini doctor for defaming religious figures during a sermon, stating the sermon promoted violence and sectarian sedition. Activists and rights groups claimed the sermon was misinterpreted. The Public Prosecutor’s Office released the individual on September 1 on bail, placed a travel ban on him, and referred his case to the court.

International and local NGOs reported police summoned approximately 10 individuals, including religious clerics, in the days leading up to and following the Ashura religious rites–the most significant days of the Shia religious calendar. Authorities reportedly summoned and interrogated these individuals for the content of their sermons, and specifically for “inciting sectarian hatred.” Police held some of them overnight; others were detained and released the same day; others remained in custody for several days or weeks.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and English from stations based outside the country, including by satellite. The Ministry of Information Affairs reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments also reviewed those books that discussed religion.

Several journalists submitted suggested reforms for the draft National Action Plan for Human Rights (see section 5).

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists and human rights groups, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists, photographers, and “citizen journalists” active on social media due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. In August 2019 the family of former member of parliament Osama al-Tamimi, who had been critical of the ruling family on social media, reported he was harassed by security forces and was reportedly under a travel ban.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets,” and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of no more than two years or a fine. Application of the slander law was selective. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 93 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” through April, compared with 172 cases in 2019. In addition, two persons were convicted of “insulting a government institution,” and 582 were convicted of “misusing a telecommunications device.”

National Security: National security-related law provides for substantial fines and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

Internet Freedom

The government blocked access to some websites from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. The government continued blocking Qatar-funded web-based outlets, which it began after cutting relations with Qatar in 2017, and other pan-Arab media outlets that were critical of Bahrain. Access to overseas human rights groups reporting on human rights and political prisoners in Bahrain and opposition-leaning news sites that were critical of the ruling family and the government were blocked within the country. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users.

In May 2019 the Ministry of Interior Cybersecurity Department announced it would use applicable laws to charge social media users who followed accounts that promote hatred and shared their posts. On August 26, the Cybersecurity Department warned against sharing content from Lebanon-based and Iran-based social media accounts that were linked with dissolved political societies al-Wifaq and al-Wafa.

Several reports alleged the government monitored political and human rights activists’ social media accounts and electronic communications.

Defense attorney Abdulla Hashim was charged with misusing social media and publishing “fake news” for eight tweets between 2017 and 2019 highlighting government corruption. At year’s end his case was awaiting an appeal verdict, and he was facing two years in prison for tweets critical of corruption, impunity, and establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services such as housing and education. Several activists reported shutting down or deciding to cease posting to their social media accounts because of the threats.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues. In January the Ministry of Interior summoned historian Jassim Hussain al-Abbas for a speech he gave at a conference in which he discussed the history of mosques in the country and alluded to Shia rulers before the first al-Khalifa emir.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the rights of assembly and association, but laws and the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but a number of laws restrict the exercise of this right. The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations for the fifth year, stating the purpose was to maintain public order in view of sectarian attacks in the region. According to the government, there were no applications submitted to hold a demonstration or protest during the year.

The law outlines the locations where functions are prohibited, including in areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. The General Directorate of the Police may prevent a public meeting if it violates security or public order, or for any other serious reason. The law states that mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Legal experts asserted authorities should not be able to prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions that crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. Organizers of an unauthorized gathering face prison sentences of three to six months. The sentence for participating in an illegal gathering ranges from one month to two years in prison. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. During the year the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated there were 374 individuals arrested for violent gatherings, 346 of whom were convicted.

The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious halls), or other religious sites for political gatherings.

The government did not prevent small, nonviolent opposition demonstrations that occurred in traditional Shia villages that often protested government policies or were intended to show solidarity with prisoners. Police reportedly broke up some of these protests with tear gas, however. While groups participating in these protests often posted photographs on social media of these events, participants were careful to hide their faces due to fear of retribution.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register–civil society groups and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and political societies with the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. The government decides whether a group is social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Labor and Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists asserted the ministry routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. Local NGOs asserted officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it.

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. The government did not always respect these rights.

Foreign Travel: The law provides that the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government maintained an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled, although some persons reported the website was not a reliable source of information. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year the government lifted 37 of 87 travel bans against citizens who were previously restricted from leaving the country.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government considered citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens.

Citizenship: The government may revoke citizenship in both criminal and political cases, including for natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions. At times it threatened to halt payments of pensions or remove families from government-assisted housing if the head of household lost his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. The government did not report how many persons had their citizenship revoked during the year; international human rights NGOs placed the total number at more than 700 since 2012. On August 12, the Court of Cassation reversed the revocation of citizenship of three defendants who were sentenced to life in prison for setting the Sitra Police Station alight in 2017. The Public Prosecutor’s Office asserted the three defendants were connected to a dissolved political society.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

In October the government and the UN high commissioner for refugees signed a memorandum of understanding on data sharing and information exchange with the stated goal of supporting refugees in the Middle East.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times 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; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees reported that as of December, there were 256 refugees and 56 asylum-seekers registered with the agency.

g. Stateless Persons

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government considers only the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not generally grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in the country to a citizen mother (see section 6, Children). Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father was unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for an elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the chairpersons of the upper and lower houses of the parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king cannot dissolve the Council of Representatives for the same reasons more than once. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Approximately 67 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in 2018, according to government estimates.

The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. Some observers expressed broader concerns regarding limitations on freedom of expression and association as well as continued concerns over voting district boundaries. The dissolution of the country’s principal opposition societies and laws restricting their former members from running for office, the absence of an independent press, and the criminalization of online criticism created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, according to Human Rights Watch.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. In 2017 the government dissolved the two most prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, through legal actions.

To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity. A number of societies operated outside these rules, and some functioned on a sectarian basis.

The government authorized registered political societies to nominate candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. The law bans practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may elect to send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and women did participate. In the 2018 elections, six women won seats in the 40-member Council of Representatives, doubling the number of women, and the body elected its first female speaker in that year. The royal court appointed nine women during the year to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. Approximately 9 percent of judges were women, including the deputy chief of the Court of Cassation. Two women in the police force held the rank of brigadier general and general director.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life; the majority of citizens are Shia. In 2018, 11 Shia candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. The appointed Shura Council included 19 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Five of the 24 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia citizens, including one of five deputy prime ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not implement the law adequately, and some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices. The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties may be up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The General Directorate of Anticorruption and Economic and Electronic Security held workshops for various ministries throughout the year.

Corruption: The National Audit Office is responsible for combating government corruption. The Government Executive Committee, chaired by the crown prince, reviews any violations cited in the office’s annual report. In October 2019 the government released the office’s annual report, and the government released some findings to the public; however, the full report was not published or made available online. The government reported that four officials were prosecuted for corruption and bribery-related charges. Their cases were pending as of April.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services and the Bahrain Defense Force, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land remained a concern among opposition groups.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require government officials to make financial disclosures.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government. Beginning in August the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a series of public workshops with government and civil society actors to inform the development of a National Action Plan for Human Rights and to improve transparency. Diplomats and international organization representatives also attended. Some civil society representatives expressed concern the government would not fully reflect the views of civil society in the development of the plan.

Domestic human rights groups operated with government restrictions, with some human rights activists imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to reporting by international human rights organizations. Domestic human rights groups included the Bahrain Human Rights Society and Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the primary independent and licensed human rights organizations in the country; the BCHR, although dissolved by the government in 2004, continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization, Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, also issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs.

Domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment, including police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships. Activists reported forgoing travel, in particular to international human rights events, fearing a reimposition of international travel bans.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Throughout the year the NIHR conducted numerous human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred numerous complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It also operated a hotline for citizens and residents to file human rights-related complaints and offered an in-person walk-in option for filing complaints.

The SIU investigates and refers cases of security force misconduct, including complaints against the police, to the appropriate court, which includes civilian criminal courts, the Ministry of Interior’s Military Court, and administrative courts (see section 1.c.). The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct, although it reported the highest-ranking police officer prosecuted for any crime was a captain.

There is also an NIA Office of the Inspector General and a Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s Office, created as a result of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. While both offices were responsible for addressing allegations of mistreatment and violations by the security forces, there was little public information available regarding the activities of the NIA Office of the Inspector General.

The PDRC, chaired by the ombudsman, monitors prisons, detention centers, and other places where persons may be detained, such as hospital and psychiatric facilities. The PDRC is empowered to conduct inspections of facilities, interview inmates or detainees, and refer cases to the Ombudsman’s Office or SIU.

The ministry organized various human rights training programs for its employees, including a year-long human rights curriculum and diploma at the Royal Police Academy. The academy regularly negotiates memoranda of understanding with NIHR to exchange expertise. The academy continued to include a unit on human rights in international law as part of the curriculum for its master’s degree in Security Administration and Criminal Forensics. The NIHR had a memorandum with the NIA to organize workshops and training sessions for NIA officers relating to human rights and basic rights and to collaborate on future research.

The Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the PDRC worked with each other throughout the year. The Ombudsman’s Office maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse via telephone, email, or in person.

Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective and questioned the independence and credibility of investigations by government-sponsored organizations.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, although the penal code allows an alleged rapist to marry his victim to avoid punishment. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment and execution in cases where the victim is a minor younger than 16, if the rapist is the custodian or guardian of the victim, or when the rape leads to the victim’s death.

The law states violence against women is a crime. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common, according to the BCHR. Although government leaders and some members of parliament participated in awareness-raising activities during the year, including debates on additional legislation, authorities devoted little attention to supporting public campaigns aimed at the problem. The government maintained a shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. The law provides that local police officials should be contacted in cases of domestic violence and that the public prosecutor can investigate if information is passed from the police to them. Victims of domestic violence, however, reported difficulty knowing whom to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint.

The government continued to document and prosecute physical or sexual abuse of women. The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments documented 327 cases of physical or sexual abuse as of September, of which 36 involved children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was rarely practiced, and instances mostly occurred within immigrant populations. There is no specific law prohibiting the practice, although legal experts previously indicated the act falls under criminal code provisions that prohibit “permanent disability to another person.” There were no cases of prosecuting FGM during the year.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: By law “honor” killings are punishable, but the penal code provides a lenient sentence for killing a spouse caught in the act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no cases of honor killings reported during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of imprisonment and fines. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreign female domestic workers.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and they had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

There are no known legal barriers or penalties for accessing contraception. Health centers did not require women to obtain spousal consent for provision of most family planning services except for sterilization procedures. Mothers giving birth out of wedlock in public or government-run hospitals often faced challenges in obtaining birth certificates for their children.

According to statistics compiled in 2013, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate was 61.8 percent. Contraceptives were available without prescription throughout the country regardless of nationality, gender, age, or marital status; however, emergency contraception was not available.

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

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

Discrimination: Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings in family courts, but Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted mothers custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than seven for Shia women, with fathers typically gaining custody once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Sunni women can retain custody of daughters until age 17 and sons until age 15. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until age 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.” Any woman who remarries loses custody of her children.

The basis for family law is sharia as interpreted by Sunni and Shia religious experts. In 2017 King Hamad ratified the Shia portion of the Unified Family Law codifying the rights of Shia citizens, in particular women, according to the civil code on issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia and Sunni family law is enforced by separate judicial bodies composed of religious authorities charged with interpreting sharia. The revised civil law provides access to family courts for all women, ensuring the standardized application of the law and further legal recourse, since decisions made by family court judges are subject to review by the Supreme Judicial Council. In instances of mixed Sunni-Shia marriages, families may choose which court hears the issue.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, with the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased also receiving a share. The government respected wills directing the division of assets according to the deceased.

Women experienced gains in business and government. In the business sector, female-led entrepreneurial ventures constituted more than half of filings for new businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from their father or by decree from the king. Women do not transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d.).

Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. When a child reaches three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and is provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although girls and boys used the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public-school students and are optional for non-Muslim students.

Child Abuse: The Family Courts have jurisdiction over issues including child abuse. NGOs expressed concern regarding the lack of consistently written guidelines for prosecuting and punishing offenders and the leniency of penalties in child-abuse cases in the sharia courts.

There were reports police approached children outside schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages below these ages with approval from a sharia court.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including prostitution. Penalties include imprisonment of no less than three months if the accused used exploitation and force to commit the crime and up to six years if the accused exploited more than one child, as well as fines for individuals and organizations. The law also prohibits child pornography. The Ministry of Justice reported prosecuting 36 cases of sexual exploitation of children as of September, a significant decrease over the prior year.

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

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The constitution guarantees social security, social insurance, and health care for persons with disabilities. The government administered a committee to ensure the provision of care for persons with disabilities that included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee is responsible for monitoring violations against persons with disabilities. During the year the government did not prosecute any cases for violations against persons with disabilities.

Authorities mandated a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions to support and protect persons with disabilities. In 2018 a law established a High Commission for Disabled Affairs to develop a social awareness campaign called “Leave No One Behind,” prepare a national strategy, and develop legislation to address the needs of persons with disabilities. On May 7, the king restructured the commission by appointing new members from the public and the private sector.

Building codes require accessible facilities in all new government and public buildings in the central municipality. The law does not mandate access to other nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities.

No information was available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. According to anecdotal evidence, persons with disabilities routinely lacked access to education, accessible housing, and employment. The sole government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The law stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and violations of the law are punishable with fines.

Eligible voters may vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. The local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes posed problems to voters with mobility disabilities due to lack of physical accessibility. General polling stations in public spaces such as malls allowed for assistive devices. There was no absentee ballot system.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in cooperation with the UN Development Program.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law grants citizenship to ethnic Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There were numerous reports that authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. NGOs stated the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship. There were also reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia residents who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided for more than 25 years. Rights groups reported discrimination, especially in employment practices, against Shia citizens in certain professions such as security forces.

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

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults at least 21 years old, but it does not extend antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to Human Rights Watch, the government prosecuted acts such as organizing a “gay party” or cross-dressing under penal code provisions against “indecency” and “immorality.”

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred, including in employment and obtaining legal identity documents. In some cases, however, courts permitted transgender individuals to update identity documents if they had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no known cases involving societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged publicly that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In prior years the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV/AIDS positive, but the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form and join independent trade unions and the right to strike, with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public-sector workers may join private-sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities may not bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, composing nearly 80 percent of the civilian workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities.

The law specifies only an official trade union may organize or declare a strike, and it imposes excessive requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 10 “vital” sectors–the scope of which exceeds international standards–including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority by secret ballot and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations and bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The law gives the labor minister, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, in practice independent unions faced government repression and harassment. The law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation. They stated that management chose to negotiate with the union it found most favorable, to the detriment of collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

In 2014, after signing a second tripartite agreement, the International Labor Organization (ILO) dismissed the complaint filed in 2011 regarding the dismissal of workers. During the year the government reported it considered efforts at reinstatement, as reflected in the tripartite agreement, to be completed. The government reported that 154 of the 165 cases had been resolved through either reinstatement or by financial compensation. Human rights organizations and activists questioned the government’s claims and reported continuing, systemic labor discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies; however, the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The antitrafficking law prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, a significant fine, and the cost of repatriating the victim(s), which were sufficiently stringent, and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers, except domestic workers, but enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports of forced labor practices among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. Domestic workers from third countries have the right to see the terms included in their employment contract before leaving their home countries, or upon arrival. The law requires domestic contacts to be tripartite and to have the signature of the employer, recruitment office, and employee.

According to reports by third-country labor officials and human rights organizations, employers withheld passports, a practice prohibited by law, restricted movement, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages; some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development (Ministry of Labor) reported 1,976 labor complaints from domestic workers and construction workers, mostly of unpaid wages or denied vacation time. In August the ministry reported that 16 workers were victims of forced labor during the annual summer work ban. Authorities referred 27 companies to the courts for alleged violations of the ban.

In February the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) opened a new office in Buhair Riffa for aggrieved workers to file cases against their employers, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments. In March the LMRA adopted the tripartite domestic contract, which regulates the relationship between the recruitment office, the employer, and the domestic worker. The LMRA required all recruitment agencies to implement the new tripartite contract format.

In 2016 the LMRA instituted procedures that allow workers to change the employer associated with their visa–without permission from their former employer or without their passport. The LMRA threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers. During the year the government shut down recruitment agencies and revoked licenses of others for infringing on workers’ rights. Recruitment agencies complicit in illegal practices may be subject to license revocation, legal action, shutdown of business operations, or a forfeit of license deposits.

The LMRA employed inspectors who were sworn officers of the court, with the authority to conduct official investigations. LMRA inspector reports may result in fines, court cases, loss of work permits, and termination of businesses. These inspectors focus on the legal and administrative provisions under which individuals fall, including work permits, employer records, and licenses. The Ministry of Labor employed general inspectors and occupational safety inspectors. Their roles are to inspect workplaces, occupational health and safety conditions, and the employer/employee work relationship.

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 laws and regulations related to child labor generally meet international standards. After thorough consultations with local government officials, diplomats of labor-sending countries, representatives from local civil society organizations, and the International Organization for Migration, the experts determined that child labor was not a prevalent problem in the country.

The minimum age for employment is 15, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deemed hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. They may work no more than six hours a day–no more than four days consecutively–and may be present on the employment premises no more than seven hours a day. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

The law requires that before the ministry makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work; proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to determine suitability; and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous. The government generally enforced the law with established mechanisms; however, gaps exist within the operations of the Ministry of Labor that may hinder adequate enforcement of their child labor laws.

In 2017 the government began making moderate efforts to eliminate child labor. The LMRA developed a handbook on the National Referral System for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, opened a shelter for victims, and conducted training on human trafficking for all police officers. There was evidence, however, that children continued to engage in domestic work and sell items on the street. The government did not conduct research to determine the nature and extent of child labor in the country.

The law does not allow expatriate workers younger than 18 to work in the country.

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 .

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national private-sector minimum wage. A standardized government pay scale covers public-sector workers, with a set minimum monthly wage. While the minimum wage for citizens is generally considered a living wage, there is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector; however, the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum monthly wage. There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week without including contract provisions for overtime pay. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The revised labor law improved the legal situation for many workers as it pertains to access to contracts and additional holidays, although it excludes domestic workers from most protections.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor law and mandating acceptable conditions of work. The law stipulates that companies that violate occupational safety standards can be subject to fines.

The Ministry of Labor enforced occupational safety and health standards; it also used a team of engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites. Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. A judge determines fines per violation, per worker affected, or both. A judge may also sentence violators to prison. For repeat violators, the court may double the penalties.

Despite the improvements, NGOs feared resources for enforcement of the laws remained inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, many worksites would not be inspected, and the regulations would not necessarily deter violations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban among large firms, but according to local observers, violations were common among smaller businesses. Employers who violated the ban are subject to up to three months’ imprisonment, fines, or both. The ministry documented 27 companies in noncompliance with the summer heat ban during the year.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify abuses brought to their attention. Workers could file complaints with the ministry. There were 1,979 labor complaints during the year; 1,298 of these complaints were from domestic workers. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor. Police referred 78 cases to the National Referral Mechanism in the first half of the year. Individuals with referred cases received a range of services, including shelter provided by the National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons. The LMRA shelters provided services to 108 migrant workers in the first half of the year. The victims were either domestic workers or skilled workers who entered the country under a tourist visa.

The Migrant Workers Protection Society reported it visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including accommodations of irregular “free visa” workers, who often lived in overcrowded apartments with poor safety standards.

The government continued to conduct workers’ rights awareness campaigns. It published pamphlets on foreign resident workers’ rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce. These workers were vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs, workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

In April the government announced two initiatives to combat COVID-19 and reduce key barriers to underreporting infection cases, including temporary suspension of work permit fees for certain categories of workers, and amnesty for thousands of illegal foreign workers to legalize their status. Although the migrant labor community welcomed the announcement, some citizens urged the government to deport migrant workers to prevent the spread of the virus. The economic impact of the pandemic on migrant workers included the hospitality and service sectors, and dismissed and furloughed workers required food and monetary assistance from local authorities and labor-sending embassies.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Domestic employees must have a contract, but the law does not provide for same rights accorded to other workers, including rest days. In 2017 the LMRA announced that all newly arrived domestic workers would be required to use new tripartite work contracts. The recruitment agency, the employer, and the employee must agree upon the contents of the new contracts. According to local press reports, the new contracts include daily working hours, weekly day off, and mandatory wage receipts, among other conditions. Activists reported that usage of the forms among employers and recruitment agencies remained low throughout the year.

There were credible reports employers forced some of the country’s 86,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work 12- to 16-hour days and surrender their identity documents to employers. Employers permitted very little time off, left female workers malnourished, and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. There were reports of employers and recruitment agents beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions, but most cases involving domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse. The Migrant Workers Protection Society provided female domestic workers with assistance with their cases. Additionally, the National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons provided workers with shelter. Most women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse.

According to NGOs, the construction sector employed more Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis than other nationalities. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. While some workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, the level of freedom workers enjoyed directly related to the types of work they performed.

A Ministry of Labor order requires employers to register any labor accommodations provided to employees. The order also mandates minimum housing standards for employer-provided accommodations. Many workers lived in unregistered accommodations that ranged in quality from makeshift accommodations in parking garages, to apartments rented by employers from private owners, to family houses modified to accommodate many persons. Conditions in the many unregistered or irregular worker camps were often squalid and overcrowded, which likely contributed to a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions.

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.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The 2018 parliamentary elections, while imperfect, generally met international standards of free and fair elections and resulted in the peaceful transition of power from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Adil Abd al-Mahdi. Widespread protests that began in October 2019 led to the resignation of al-Mahdi on December 1, 2019, and triggered a five-month period of government formation. Mustafa al-Kadhimi, acting director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, secured confirmation as prime minister by the Iraqi Council of Representatives on May 6 after announcing commitments to hold early elections in 2021, provide judicial accountability for violence during the previous year’s protests, bring all arms under state control, and address systemic and widespread corruption within Iraqi government institutions.

Numerous domestic security forces operate throughout the country. Iraqi Security Forces are organized administratively within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as within the quasi-ministerial Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing energy infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for the defense of the country but also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces. The National Security Service intelligence agency reports directly to the prime minister.

Iraq’s regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies struggled to maintain order within the country, operating in parallel with the Popular Mobilization Committee, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 militia groups, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces; such units operated throughout the country, often outside government control and in opposition to government policies. Most Popular Mobilization unit members were Shia Arabs, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni Arab, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority units generally operated within or near their home regions. All Popular Mobilization units officially report to the chairman of the Popular Mobilization Committee and are under the ultimate authority of the prime minister, but several units were, in practice, also responsive to Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, each maintain an independent security apparatus. Under the federal constitution, the Kurdistan Regional Government has the right to maintain internal security forces, but the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party separately control additional Peshmerga military units, as well as separate police forces under nominal Kurdish Ministry of Interior control. The constitution also allows for a centralized, separate Asayish internal security service; however, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also each maintain Asayish forces. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also maintain separate intelligence services, nominally organized under the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

Federal civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Force units and the Popular Mobilization Committee. Poorly defined administrative boundaries and disputed territories between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the central government led to confusion over the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts. Members of the security forces committed numerous documented abuses.

The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority provinces beginning in early October 2019 and lasting through mid-2020, with reports of more than 500 civilians killed and 20,000 or more injured. The government took minimal steps to bring to justice those responsible for the violence.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and existence of criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; forced returns of internally displaced persons to locations where they faced threats to their lives and freedom; threats of violence against internally displaced persons and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; widespread official corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions; discrimination in employment of migrants, women, and those with disabilities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the Iraqi Security Forces, including a ministerial investigation of the October 2019 protests, but rarely punished those responsible for perpetrating or authorizing human rights abuses. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the Iraqi Security Forces, Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government Asayish internal security services.

Despite a reduction in numbers, ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. The government continued investigations and was prosecuting allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, publicly noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the counterterrorism law.

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 members of the security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and nongovernmental militias and ISIS affiliates also engaged in killings (see section 1.g.).

In August the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded credible reports of the deaths of 487 protesters and 7,715 incidents of injury to protesters at, or in the vicinity of, demonstration sites from October 2019 to April. A comprehensive disaggregation of those injured was not possible. The casualty findings were broadly consistent with reports from various independent institutions in the country.

Human rights organizations reported that Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia groups engaged in killing, kidnapping, and extortion throughout the country, particularly in ethnically and religiously mixed provinces. Unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen and politically motivated violence occurred frequently throughout the country. In July historian and government advisor Hisham al-Hashemi was killed near his home in Baghdad’s Ziyouna district by two gunmen firing from a motorcycle. No group claimed responsibility for the shooting, but Al-Hashemi had been threatened by the Islamic State as well as pro-Iranian militias.

In August civil society activists blamed pro-Iranian militias for the killing of prominent activist Ossama Tahseen in Basrah Province by unknown gunmen. Tahseen was shot 21 times while security forces reportedly looked on. Also in August unknown gunmen killed female activist Reham Yakob. Yakob, who had previously led all-women protests in Basrah, had harshly criticized the government and pro-Iranian militias via social media before her death.

Government security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings. The Iraqi Parliament announced in December 2019 that a parliamentary “fact-finding committee” assigned to investigate the use of violence in the southern provinces had concluded its work and that its final report would be submitted to then caretaker prime minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, without providing a timeline. The Dhi Qar Province portion of the investigation remained unfinished due to “incomplete statements of the officers.” Ultimately the committee did not release its final report, and apparently no significant legal action was taken against the perpetrators. The establishment of a fact-finding body to pursue accountability for violence against protesters was one of the first commitments of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government when he became prime minister in May. On July 30, al-Kadhimi stated that violence during demonstrations, as of that date, had killed at least 560 persons, including civilians and security personnel.

During the year the security situation remained unstable in many areas due to intermittent attacks by ISIS and its affiliated cells; sporadic fighting between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and ISIS strongholds in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units; and sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence.

Terrorist violence continued throughout the year, including several ISIS attacks (see section 1.g.). According to the Iraqi Security Media Cell (a component of the Defense Ministry), the number of ISF personnel killed in attacks during the year was 88, while another 174 members were wounded.

b. Disappearance

There were frequent reports of forced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including Federal Police and PMF units. UNAMI/OHCHR reported that from October 2019 to March, UNAMI received 154 allegations of missing protesters and human rights activists presumed to have been abducted or detained.

UNAMI/OHCHR stated in a May report that they were not aware of any official investigations conducted by law enforcement authorities to locate the missing, to identify and prosecute those responsible, or to obtain justice and redress for victims. The government also did not initiate investigations into the abduction and torture of demonstrators and did not prosecute any perpetrators in relation to such acts, including those committed by nongovernment militias and criminal groups.

Local authorities in Sinjar, Ninewa Province, reported approximately 70 Yezidis were confined in secret Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) prisons. Local authorities alleged that since July 2019 PKK fighters had abducted more than 400 Yezidi women residents whose fates remained unclear. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces did not have direct access to Sinjar and were unable definitively to verify reports. In July the PKK kidnapped two citizens in Duhok Province. The fate of the two abductees remained unknown.

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

Although the constitution and laws prohibit such practices, they do not define the types of conduct that constitute torture, and the law gives judges full discretion to determine whether a defendant’s confession is admissible, often without regard for the manner in which it was obtained. Numerous reports indicated that government officials employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence, which in some ISIS-related counterterrorism cases was the only evidence considered.

As in previous years, there were credible reports that government forces, including Federal Police, the National Security Service (NSS), and the PMF, abused and tortured individuals–particularly Sunni Arabs–during arrest and pretrial detention and after conviction. Former prisoners, detainees, and international human rights organizations documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and, to a lesser extent, in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities.

Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees. UNAMI/OHCHR reported that some detained protesters were subjected to various mistreatment during interrogation, including severe beatings, electric shocks, hosing or bathing in cold water, being hung from the ceiling by the arms and legs, death threats and threats to their families, as well as degrading treatment (such as being urinated on or being photographed naked). In the same report, women interviewees described being beaten and threatened with rape and sexual assault. A local NGO in June reported that dozens of torture cases were recorded in detention centers in Ninewa, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, Anbar, Dhi Qar, and Baghdad.

Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the Iraqi Security Forces, Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government Asayish internal security services.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and occasionally life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and the threat of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by an increase in the number of alleged ISIS members detained during the past two years. In addition three of the 24 correctional facilities managed by the Iraqi Corrections Service–the government entity with legal authority to hold persons after conviction–remained closed due to security concerns, worsening overcrowding in the facilities that remained open.

In July the Ministry of Justice warned of an emerging health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic due to prison overcrowding. A senior ministry official stated the juvenile prison was holding 600 inmates, despite a maximum capacity of 250. The official claimed the Justice Ministry had tracked 31 positive cases of COVID-19 among the juvenile inmate population as of July.

In June the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) echoed the Ministry of Justice’s concerns reporting that the country’s penal system’s facilities suffered from overcrowding and a lack of infrastructure and health services, adding that maintaining social distancing among inmates was impossible, which would turn prisons into epicenters of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In April the Justice Ministry announced that 950 adult inmates and 57 juveniles received special pardons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities. In August the ministry also announced the opening of a new prison in Baghdad to reduce overcrowding with assurances the new prison complied with international standards.

The IHCHR estimated the number of detainees and inmates in Ninewa detention centers at 5,500 individuals, with the number of juveniles (younger than age 18) detained in terrorism cases at 1,000. Overcrowding in detention centers ranged from 150 to 200 percent of their capacity, especially in al-Faysaliah Detention Center in Mosul. The IHCHR reported the centers witnessed high death rates, including 180 deaths in 2018, 40 in 2019, and 22 as of June.

The number of detainees increased beyond the designated capacity across the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s (IKR) six correctional centers. The Independent Human Rights Commission Kurdistan Region (IHRCKR) reported the Erbil Correctional Center, built to house 900 detainees, held 1,957 inmates. The IHRCKR reported three inmates with chronic disease died without getting proper medical treatment due to overcrowding of detention centers. Limited medical staff was unable to handle all cases and provide adequate medical services to all prisoners.

Within the IKR, provinces applied parole and criminal code provisions inconsistently. Legal procedures were often delayed by administrative processing, and parole decisions were not made in a timely fashion.

According to UNAMI, the KRG’s newer detention facilities in major cities were well maintained, although conditions remained poor in many smaller detention centers operated by the KRG Ministry of Interior. In some KRG Asayish detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults. An IHRCKR report stated that as of September, authorities housed more than 50 minors in Erbil Women’s and Children Reformatory Center with their convicted mothers. UNICEF funded a separate annex to the prison for these minors, but they continued to lack access to education.

Administration: The central government reported it took steps to address allegations of mistreatment in central government facilities, but the extent of these steps was not known. Both Iraqi and international human rights organizations asserted that judges frequently failed to investigate credible allegations that security forces tortured terrorism suspects and often convicted defendants based solely on coerced confessions.

Prison and detention center authorities sometimes delayed the release of exonerated detainees or inmates due to lack of prisoner registration or other bureaucratic issues, or they extorted bribes from prisoners prior to their release at the end of their sentences. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly demanded bribes or beat detainees when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.

The KRG inconsistently applied procedures to address allegations of abuse by KRG Ministry of Interior officers or the Asayish. In a September report on prison conditions across the IKR, the IHRCKR stated that some prisons failed to maintain basic standards and to safeguard the human rights of prisoners. The report emphasized the need for new buildings and for laws to protect the rights and safety of inmates.

Independent Monitoring: Iraqi Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. In June the government complied with a request from the IHCHR to allow alternative virtual methods to monitor prisons and detention facilities after prison authorities prevented the commission’s inspection teams from accessing these facilities due to the spread of COVID-19.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and laws 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. Despite such protections, there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, predominantly of Sunni Arabs, including internally displaced persons (IDPs). In July security forces arrested 20 Sunni alleged suspects after an ISF brigadier general was killed during an ISIS attack in Tarmiya. The detainees were not involved in the attack, had no reported affiliation with ISIS, and were released only after the prime minister’s direct intervention.

In September, ISF units arrested prominent activist Dhurgham Majid and 40 other protesters in al-Hillah, Babil Province, and detained them until the following day without providing a reason for their detention.

KRG security forces detained at least 50 protesters, activists, and journalists in late August in the towns of Zakho and Duhok. Many observers called the detentions arbitrary, either because persons were detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly, or because authorities ignored their right under law to be brought before a judge within 24 hours.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The law requires authorities to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for arrest within 24 hours of the detention–a period that may be extended to a maximum of 72 hours in most cases. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The law requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the NSS to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The law also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.

Human rights organizations reported that government forces, including the ISF (including the Federal Police), NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish, frequently ignored the law. Local media and human rights groups reported that authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and frequently held such detainees for prolonged periods without charge or registration. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them, but many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges.

In May, Amnesty International reported that armed members of the KRG’s Asayish entered the home of teacher and activist Badal Abdulbaqi Abu Bakr in the town of Duhok and arrested him without a warrant. Bakr was later charged with “misuse of electronic devices” for his role in organizing peaceful protests through social media platforms.

The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. The law provides for judges to appoint free counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney/client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date.

Government forces held many terrorism-related suspects incommunicado without an arrest warrant and transported detainees to undisclosed detention facilities (see section 1.b.).

Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest or unlawful detention by government forces, including the ISF (including the Federal Police), NSS, PMF, Peshmerga, and Asayish. There were no reliable statistics available regarding the total number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention if not enforced disappearance (see section 1.b.). Humanitarian organizations also reported that, in many instances, federal authorities did not inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or the charges against them. Many reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention involved suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members.

There were reports of Iran-aligned PMF groups also arbitrarily or unlawfully detaining Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, and other minorities in western Ninewa and the Ninewa Plain. There were numerous reports of 30th and 50th PMF Brigades involvement in extortion, illegal arrests, kidnappings, and detention of individuals without warrants. In July credible law-enforcement information indicated that the 30th PMF Brigade operated secret prisons in several locations in Ninewa Province, which housed 1,000 detainees arrested on sectarian-based, false pretenses. Leaders of the 30th PMF Brigade allegedly forced families of the detainees to pay large sums of money in exchange for the release of their relatives.

In October, Iraqi security forces in Basrah arbitrarily detained without warrant eight human rights defenders, including human rights defender Hussam al-Khamisy, according to witnesses who spoke to the NGO Gulf Center for Human Rights and local rights groups. The eight were held for six hours and released only after being forced to sign a document, which they were not allowed to read.

Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are authorized by law to hold pretrial detainees, as is the NSS in limited circumstances, for a brief period. Lengthy pretrial detentions without due process or judicial review were a systemic problem, particularly for those accused of having ties to ISIS. There were no independently verified statistics, however, concerning the number of pretrial detainees in central government facilities, the approximate percentage of the prison and detainee population in pretrial detention, or the average length of time held.

The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including the large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption. Overcrowding of pretrial detainees remained a problem in many detention centers.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS, where the large number of ISIS-related detainees and use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were reports of detention beyond judicial release dates and unlawful releases.

According to the IHCHR, 448 non-Iraqi women and 547 children were in Ministry of Justice custody as of September. Of the 547 children, 222 were placed with their mothers, while 80 were sent to the juvenile correctional department and 32 were sent to state shelters (orphanages).

Authorities reportedly held numerous detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel, presentation before a judge, or arraignment on formal charges within the legally mandated period. Authorities reportedly detained spouses and other family members of fugitives–mostly Sunni Arabs wanted on terrorism charges–to compel their surrender.

KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention; however, no data was available regarding the approximate percentages of prison and detainee population in pretrial detention and the average length of time held.

KRG officials noted prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. COVID-19 preventive measures and closures presented additional obstacles to the resolution of judicial proceedings during 2020.

According to the IHRCKR, some detainees remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders were issued for their release. The IHRCKR reported that other detainees remained in detention centers longer than required due to lack of implementation of parole and closure of courts due to COVID-19 restrictive measures. Lawyers provided by an international NGO continued to have access to and provide representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law grant detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention and the right to prompt release. Despite the 2016 law concerning rights of detainees, NGOs widely reported that detainees had limited ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court and that a bribe was often necessary to have charges dropped unlawfully or gain release from arbitrary detention. While a constitutional right, the law does not allow for compensation for a person found to have been unlawfully detained. In July an Iraqi NGO documented 10 cases of detainees forced to pay bribes to gain release from detention and cited stories of family members blackmailed by security officers who accepted bribes without releasing the detainees. The report quoted an IHCHR member who said that at least half of these detainees had been incarcerated for periods ranging from six months to two years without having their cases settled.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Iraqi constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. The Federal Supreme Court rules on issues related to federalism and the constitution, and a separate Higher Judicial Council manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters.

Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation.

Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. In February the head of the Iraqi Bar Association, Dhia al-Saadi, announced his intention to prosecute the perpetrators who tried to assassinate protester lawyer Ali Ma’arij in Dhi Qar Province.

Judges in Mosul and Baghdad were repeatedly criticized by international NGOs for overseeing hasty trials and handing down long prison sentences for ISIS family members. Defense attorneys said they rarely had access to their clients before hearings and were threatened for defending them. According to Amnesty International, trials for terrorism-related charges lasted anywhere from one to 10 minutes, and authorities often brought groups of 50 to 80 detainees into the court to be sentenced together. Children older than age nine also were prosecuted for illegal entry into the country despite statements that their parents brought them to the country without their consent.

The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but KRG senior leaders reportedly influenced politically sensitive cases. Judicial appointments and rulings were reportedly also influenced by the region’s strongest political parties.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide all citizens the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right for all defendants. Some government officials, the United Nations, and civil society organizations (CSOs) reported trial proceedings fell short of international standards.

By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. Judges in ISIS-related cases, however, sometimes reportedly presumed defendants’ guilt based upon presence or geographic proximity to activities of the terrorist group, or upon a spousal or familial relationship to another defendant, as indicated by international NGOs throughout the year. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of the charges against them. Trials were public, except in some national security cases. Numerous defendants experienced undue delays in reaching trial.

In 2019 the government established specialized terrorism courts to prosecute accused foreign terrorist fighters repatriated from neighboring Syria. In April 2019 courts began preparing cases against nearly 900 citizens accused of joining ISIS. The IHCHR said that as of August, a total of 794 of the 900 had been found guilty of terrorism crimes and sentenced to death. By law the Court of Cassation reviews each sentence, but according to the IHCHR, it was likely that all of the death penalty sentences would be upheld.

Defendants’ rights under law include the right to be present at their trial and the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense, if needed. Defendants frequently did not have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in investigative, trial, and appellate proceedings. This scenario was typical in counterterrorism courts, where judicial officials reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members quickly, including through mass trials.

Defendants also have the right, under law, to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed. The qualifications of interpreters varied greatly. Some foreign missions provided translators to their citizen defendants; however, not all countries were able to provide this service. When no translator was available, judges reportedly postponed proceedings and sent the foreign defendants back to jail.

Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right, under law, to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, defendants and their attorneys were not always granted access to evidence, or government officials demanded a bribe in exchange for access to the case files. In numerous cases judges reportedly relied on forced or coerced confessions as the primary or sole source of evidence in convictions, without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony.

The public prosecution, defendant, and complainant each have the right to appeal an acquittal, conviction, or sentence in a criminal court ruling. Appeals are heard by the criminal committee, consisting of a presiding judge and a minimum of four other judges, within the Federal Court of Cassation in Baghdad. The criminal committee automatically reviews all cases with a minimum sentence of 25 years, life imprisonment, or death. The committee may uphold a decision or overrule it and return the case to the trial court for a retrial or for additional judicial investigation. The law provides for retrials of detainees convicted due to forced or coerced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants. The Ministry of Justice reported in 2019 that authorities released almost 8,800 detainees from government custody between the law’s enactment in 2016 and October 2019. Updated figures were not available as of December.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in September that a study of appeals court decisions indicated judges in almost two dozen cases appeared to ignore torture allegations and, in some instances, relied on uncorroborated confessions. According to HRW, judges denied these appeals even when the torture allegations were substantiated by forensic medical exams, and where the confessions were unsubstantiated by any other evidence or extracted by force.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners and argued they had violated criminal statutes. It was difficult to assess these claims due to lack of government transparency, prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures, slow case processing; and extremely limited access to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government alleged the government imprisoned individuals for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.

A legal advisor at an Iraqi human rights NGO noted the disappearances of at least 75 human rights and political activists who were kidnapped from protest squares and were being held by unknown parties presumed to be Iranian-backed militias.

In May, Prime Minister al-Kadhimi ordered the immediate release of all detained protesters. The Higher Judicial Council subsequently ordered courts around the country to release all protesters. In July the prime minister followed up with unannounced visits to prisons where nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed protesters were being detained. According to local human rights organizations, prison officials were surprised by al-Kadhimi’s visits, during which the prime minister reportedly asked detainees whether there were any protesters among them.

After al-Kadhimi’s prison visits the IHCHR confirmed the release of 2,740 protester detainees. The IHCHR was allowed to visit the remaining 87 detainees, those accused of specific violent acts against government forces, while in custody.

Amnesty: A general amnesty law approved in 2016 and amended in 2017 includes amnesty for corruption crimes under the condition that the stolen money be returned. NGOs and politicians complained that authorities implemented the law selectively and in a manner that did not comply with the intended goal of the legislation, which was to provide relief for those imprisoned under false charges or for sectarian reasons.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations through domestic courts. Administrative remedies also exist. The government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations due in part to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch on maintenance of law and order, coupled with an understaffed judiciary.

Unlike federal law, KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention and survivors of the Anfal chemical weapons campaign waged by the former Baath regime of Saddam Hussein; the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles such cases. The ministry approved approximately 5,127 cases (many historical) that were to receive compensation consisting of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, although the government could not always pay compensation due to budget constraints. The ministry stated there were 20,364 unlawful arrest claims approved but pending final compensation decisions.

Individuals in the IKR and the rest of the country who were imprisoned for political reasons under the former Baath regime of Saddam Hussein received a pension as compensation from the government. While KRG political prisoners’ pensions were approximately 500,000 dinars ($440) plus 50,000 dinars ($44) for each year of being imprisoned, the central government paid other Iraqis a minimum of 1.2 million dinars ($1,050).

Property Restitution

The constitution and law prohibit the expropriation of property, except for the public benefit and in return for just compensation. In previous years government forces and PMF units forced suspected ISIS members, in addition to religious and ethnic minorities, from their homes and confiscated property without restitution. Although home and property confiscations declined sharply during the year, many of those who confiscated the homes still occupied them or claimed ownership to the property. This factor, among other concerns, contributed to low rates of return for IDPs to these areas. The compensation commission of Mosul, Ninewa Province, stated that families of suspected ISIS members could receive compensation if they obtained a security clearance to return home from the NSS, but HRW reported that almost all families of ISIS suspects were being denied clearance.

In Mosul, activists claimed that various PMF militia confiscated more than 5,000 private and public properties by manipulating property registration to replace the owner of record, many of whom fled the area during ISIS occupation. Similarly, NGO contacts reported a pro-Iranian militia group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, confiscated the Abu Nawas theater building in November, one of the oldest theaters in Baghdad, to support their activities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government forces often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Killings: Iraq Body Count, an independent NGO that records civilian deaths in the country, reported 848 civilians killed during the year due to internal conflict, a drop from 2,392 civilian deaths reported during the preceding year. An IHCHR commissioner attributed the drop in deaths to reduced protest activity during the year, as well as to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Despite its territorial defeat in 2017, ISIS remained a major perpetrator of abuses and atrocities. The remaining fighters operated out of sleeper cells and strike teams that carried out sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, and assassinations against security forces and community leaders. These abuses were particularly evident in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din provinces. Salah al-Din provincial operations commander Saad Muhammed told local media on July 25 that an ISIS group attacked the house of a village leader, Khudair Abbas al-Samarrai, and killed him along with five of his immediate family members.

Abductions: There were frequent reports of enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government forces, including the ISF and PMF, as well as non-PMF militias and criminal groups.

A UNAMI report released in August on enforced disappearances in Anbar Province called for independent and effective investigations to establish the fate of approximately 1,000 civilian men and boys who disappeared during military operations against ISIS in Anbar during 2015-16. The report highlighted a list of 300 names, compiled by the IHCHR, of persons allegedly kidnapped from al-Sejar, al-Saqlawia, and al-Razzazah in 2016. Despite this list’s being shared with Iraqi government officials, as of August the IHCHR had not received any information about these individuals, and the Iraqi government had not added the names to their databases of known missing persons.

The KRG Office for Rescuing Kidnapped Yezidis on September 2 stated that 2,880 (1,304 females and 1,576 males) of the 6,417 Yezidis kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 remained missing. The report indicated ISIS attacks on Yezidi communities had resulted in 310,000 Yezidi IDPs, forced more than 100,000 to flee Iraq, and left 2,745 children as orphans. The statement noted that in Sinjar 83 mass graves had been discovered, in addition to dozens of individual gravesites, and that 68 holy shrines and temples were destroyed. The report noted that referenced statistics did not reflect additional human casualties or the vast material losses in residential and agricultural land, residences, businesses, livestock, cars, and other property.

Other minority populations were also victims of gross human rights violations committed by ISIS forces. A Shabak member of parliament reported that 233 Shabak men women and children had been kidnapped by ISIS and their whereabouts remained unknown. Ali Hussein, of Iraqi Turkmen Front, reported approximately 1,200 Turkmen had been kidnapped, including 446 women. Hussein estimated that 800 of the 1,200 were killed, while the rest remained missing. The KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs estimated the total number of Christians killed by ISIS at 303, with another 150 missing. According to the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga, more than 45 Peshmerga taken prisoner during the fighting with ISIS remained missing.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups stated that government forces, including Federal Police, National Security Service, PMF, and Asayish, abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunni Arabs.

The Iraqi War Documentation Center (IWDC) released a statement in July stating that in June and July approximately 207 civilians were reportedly detained, mostly Sunnis accused of ISIS affiliation, by ISF and PMF units, from the Salah al-Din, Ninewa, Diyala, and Baghdad belt areas, including at least 10 women and three children. The IWDC added that one of these detainees, Ahmed Hadi al-Dulaimi, from Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad, died on July 6 while in PMF custody and that his body showed signs of torture.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the central government’s Ministry of Defense conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. The government and Shia religious leaders expressly prohibited children younger than 18 from serving in combat.

In previous years ISIS was known to recruit and use children in combat and support functions. Due in part to ISIS’ territorial defeat, little information was available on its use of children in the country during the year.

In June the UN Security Council published a report on children and armed conflict, in which the UN secretary-general commended the government for its continuing discussion with the United Nations on developing an action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces and noted that no new cases of recruitment and use by those forces were documented during the year.

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: Conflict disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar, and Ninewa provinces.

Government forces, including the ISF and PMF, established or maintained roadblocks that reportedly impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need, particularly in disputed territories such as Sinjar, Ninewa Province. Media outlets circulated a video of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a UN World Food Program (WFP) vehicle in Ninewa on August 26. The Saraya Awliyaa al-Dam militia declared responsibility for the attack. A WFP worker was reportedly injured by the blast in Bartalla district between Erbil and Ninewa.

ISIS reportedly targeted religious celebrations and places of worship, civilian infrastructure, including several attacks on electricity and water infrastructure in Kirkuk and other provinces. ISIS leadership characterized the attacks as “continuous operations to drain through attrition the Iraqi army, Iraqi police, and Peshmerga.”

On August 22, ISIS militants reportedly carried out an IED attack against a Shia holy site during an Ashura religious procession in Dujail, located in southern Salah al-Din Province. The resulting clashes between ISIS and government forces responding to the attack resulted in 13 fatalities and three injuries among Iraqi Federal Police and Saraya al-Salam militiamen, as well as seven civilians wounded.

On August 25, the Iraqi Security Media Cell reported that ISIS terrorists opened fire on a police station in the Daquq area of the Kirkuk highway with four reported deaths and four wounded.

In 2017 the UN Security Council, in cooperation with the government, established the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) with a goal to bring justice and accountability to individuals who committed, or participated in, mass atrocities and serve as a deterrent to further gross violations of human rights. The investigative team–which was tasked with collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by ISIS–formally began its work in 2018. In March 2019 UNITAD launched its first exhumation at the Yezidi village of Kocho, in Ninewa Province’s Sinjar district. COVID and security issues delayed much of UNITAD’s work during the year, but in October a new exhumation was launched at the Solagh Institute in Ninewa, where elderly Yezidi women deemed too old to be sold by ISIS into sexual slavery were executed and buried. In November, UNITAD also announced planned exhumations in Zagroytiya village just south of the Mosul airport, where dozens of Sunni male law enforcement personnel were killed, and Mosul’s Badoush Prison, where hundreds of Shia inmates were executed.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for the right of free expression, including for the press if such does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Baath Party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. Despite this provision, media and social activists faced various forms of pressure and intimidation from authorities, making the primary limitation on freedom of expression self-censorship due to a credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, militias, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs. A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal. Impunity in cases of violence against the press and a lack of a truly independent judiciary and press regulation body diminished the effectiveness of journalists.

Central government and KRG forces arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO representatives, and press reports.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service.

Local media was active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political figures and parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, government officials, and private individuals. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

The KRG’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaymaniya Province, Kurdsat News, and GK Television enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.

The IKR press law does not give the KRG the authority to close media outlets, but in August the KRG closed the Kurdish Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices in Erbil and Duhok over the television station’s coverage of protests. On September 9, KRG coordinator for international advocacy Dindar Zebari defended the move stating that NRT violated Article 2 of Law 12 of 2010, which bars encouraging a public disturbance or harming social harmony in accordance with IKR law.

Government forces sometimes prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services.

Violence and Harassment: Several journalists were killed throughout the year during the course of their work, some reportedly by militia or security forces. On February 11, unknown gunmen assassinated journalist and general supervisor of al-Rasheed Satellite TV, Nizar Thanoun, while he was traveling in his car in the al-Jama neighborhood of western Baghdad.

In addition to those killed, others in media reported threats, intimidation, and attacks. Istiaq Adel, a reporter for al-Sumaria satellite TV, reported she survived an attack on January 30 after receiving several threatening text messages.

HRW released a report in June that cited numerous violations of press freedom and freedom of expression amid widespread protests and during the COVID-19 outbreak. Media workers reported that politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders pressured them not to publish articles critical of them. Journalists reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment.

Amnesty International continued to receive reports of activists and journalists threatened by security forces. These forces warned them that if they continued to speak out against human rights abuses committed against protesters, they would be added to a blacklist compiled by intelligence services.

Throughout the IKR there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. In particular journalists working for NRT were frequently arrested. On August 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Kurdish security forces in Erbil briefly detained an NRT crew covering protests in the city and seized their equipment. Rebwar Kakay, head of NRT’s office in Erbil, told the CPJ that authorities held the journalists without charge for eight hours at Erbil’s Azadi police station, and that the team’s cameras, live streaming devices, press badges, and cell phones were seized.

Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent Iraqi criminal code in lawsuits involving journalists instead of the IKR’s own Press Law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression and forbids the detention of journalists. KRG officials increased their use of lawsuits against journalists critical of the KRG, including applying laws such as the Law of Misuse of Electronic Devices instead of the IKR press law. In the first nine months of the year, KRG officials from various government offices filed eight independent lawsuits against freelance journalist Hemn Mamand after he posted content on Facebook critical of the KRG’s COVID-19 response. Mamand was arrested twice, in March and again in April, and spent 34 days in detention on charges levied under the Law of Misuse of Electronic Devices.

Reporting from areas liberated from ISIS control remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government forces, militias, and ISIS remnants faced serious threats to their safety. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAA) released a report in July that detailed restrictions imposed by the Communication and Media Commission (CMC) on media outlets over the past 10 years, which included 128 closures of media outlets, suspension of operating licenses, fines, and forced job termination of selected employees. Since October 2019 the CMC ordered the closure of 19 local and Arab media outlets, most of which participated in the coverage of the October 2019 demonstrations.

HRW reported in April that the CMC suspended Reuters’ license for three months and fined it for an article it published on April 2 alleging that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was much higher than the official statistics. Authorities lifted the suspension on April 19 amid international pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: Militias and government officials used arrest warrants in defamation cases to intimidate, silence, and in some instances apparently “flush out” activists and journalists from hiding. An Iranian-backed militia, Harakat al-Nujaba, targeted Middle East Eye correspondent Suadad al-Salihi with a defamation complaint over her reporting on their activities, which resulted in Baghdad’s Karrada Investigative Court issuing an arrest warrant against her on October 22. On November 5, the Ninewa Federal Court of Appeals issued arrest warrants against four media bloggers over their critical reporting on the province’s COVID-19 response. One blogger claimed to have been directly threatened by Ninewa’s provincial health services director. In similar developments in the IKR, on September 22, police detained journalist Bahroz Jaafar in Sulaymaniya following a lawsuit filed by President Barham Salih over defamation charges.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. On July 17, dozens of journalists expressed concerns regarding a potential escalation of violence against them by outlaw militias, particularly in the wake of the Hisham al-Hashemi killing. The PFAA reported in July it had documented specific threats by unknown militias against at least 30 journalists during the year. The PFAA also said that it had become common practice to accuse journalists responsible for antimilitia reporting of being agents of foreign governments and encourage violence against them.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, organize demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms.

The government acknowledged it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country, reportedly due to the security situation and ISIS’ disruptive use of social media platforms. While Wi-Fi and 3G access was largely restored, connectivity remained weak, making social media and streaming difficult. Slow speeds, or the “throttling back” of internet access, greatly limited the ability of users to upload video and photographic content.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions. Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict with ISIS.

NGOs in the IKR reported that university president, dean, and senior professorship positions were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties. Privilege was also given to those affiliated with political parties in the pursuit of higher degrees.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” The government sometimes limited freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations. As demonstrations escalated starting in October 2019, authorities consistently failed to protect demonstrators from violence (see section 1.e.).

In February armed militias attacked protest squares in Najaf and Karbala using live bullets, batons, and knives against peaceful protesters and also burned their tents. The security forces watched the attacks unfold without intervening to protect the demonstrators or stopping the militants. In May security forces in Diwaniyah Province opened fire on protesters who had gathered to demand the release of four activists arrested earlier that day.

From October 2019 to August, the al-Nama Center for Human Rights documented 39 killings targeting protesters, 31 attempted killings, 20 cases of harassment and intimidation, seven enforced disappearances, 36 kidnappings, and 35 arbitrary detentions throughout the country. Most of these attacks were carried out by unknown gunmen who observers believed were likely linked to Iranian- or Sadrist-backed militias.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or “Zionist principles.”

The government reported it took approximately one month to process NGO registration applications. NGOs must register and periodically reregister in Baghdad. According to the NGO Directorate at the Council of Ministers Secretariat, there were 4,600 registered NGOs as of September, including 168 branches of foreign organizations. There were also 900 women-focused or -chaired NGOs registered as of September. The directorate also sanctioned 700 NGOs for committing violations, such as providing cover for political parties or suspicious operations against the NGO code.

NGOs registered in Baghdad could operate in the IKR; however, NGOs registered solely in the IKR could not operate in the rest of the country. As a result some NGOs registered only in the IKR could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories.

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 and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative. Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

In some instances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other instances local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees or comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

Despite improving security conditions in some areas, many returnees grappled with the destruction of homes, lack of services and livelihoods, and continued concerns for security due to the prevalence of PMF groups and, in Sinjar, militias aligned with the PKK. In some cases this led to secondary displacement or a return to IDP camps.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, COVID-19 curfews, and travel restrictions, as well as official and unofficial access restrictions, limited humanitarian access to IDP communities. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS, the PKK, and PMF groups hindered the movement of local and international staff of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor and implement some programs for a portion of the year.

UNAMI also reported that more than 2,460 humanitarian missions had been canceled or prevented from reaching their destinations since the beginning of December 2019. An estimated 2.4 million persons in need were affected by the restrictions imposed on humanitarian movements. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in September alone more than 287,700 individuals in need were affected by these restrictions.

Humanitarian and other organizations reported improved field access beginning in September following action by the NGO Directorate to begin processing access letter requests. According to OCHA, in October the number of individuals affected by access related restrictions fell to 37,000. Humanitarian organizations reported smoother movement in the central provinces of Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala. Access challenges continued, however, in some areas in western Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Salah al-Din provinces.

In July humanitarian partners reported 77 restrictions of access incidents across 22 districts, with Ninewa Province reporting the highest number. Across all provinces, approximately 95 percent of the incidents reported constituted administrative restrictions on humanitarian activities and movements. It was estimated that more than 231,000 persons in need were affected by access-related incidents that took place in Ninewa (71 percent), Kirkuk (27 percent), Anbar (1 percent), and Baghdad (1 percent). Most incidents reported by humanitarian organizations indicated difficulties related to lack of national-level access letter authorizations.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethnosectarian reasons, as well as criminal extortion, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and the Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and ethnic and religious minorities, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Province. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th and 50th PMF Brigades, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh. Members of the 30th Brigade also refused to implement a decision from the prime minister to remove checkpoints, and their continued obstruction led to forced demographic change in traditionally Christian areas of the Ninewa Plain.

The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered for nonresidents. Authorities required nonresidents to register with the local Asayish office to obtain a residence permit. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Province and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that entry limitations for IDPs and refugees seeking to return to their areas of origin depended upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, leaving some returnees separated from their families and agricultural land on the other side of the line of control. Closed checkpoints forced many IDPs to wait, often resulting in secondary displacement. In other instances the closure of checkpoints forced returnees to take circuitous and dangerous routes to reach their areas of origin. KRG officials also prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks reportedly were lengthy on occasion. Entry was often more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix, an estimated 1.3 million persons remained internally displaced, with more than 250,000 residing in camps and an additional 44,000 in informal settlements, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa provinces. According to IOM, more than 100,000 IDPs lived in critical shelters, including unsafe and abandoned buildings, religious buildings, and schools. Nearly five million persons returned to areas of origin across the country since liberation from ISIS.

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors continued to provide support for formal IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal, and ethnosectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements strained the capacity of local authorities in areas with higher concentrations of IDPs. Families returning to their place of origin faced a lack of shelter, access to services, and livelihood opportunities. Displaced families, especially those with perceived ties to ISIS, were often unable to obtain or replace vital civil status documents, without which they were not able to work, go to school, or move about freely.

Government assistance focused on financial grants to returnees, but payments were sporadic and there was a large backlog in responding to applications. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to some but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in areas that were among the last to be liberated. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each province. Low oil prices reduced government revenues and further limited funds available for the PDS. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could redeem PDS rations or other services only at their registered place of residence.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. KRG officials asserted that all IDPs and refugees in the Kurdistan Region benefited from access to public services and infrastructure (such as drinking water, electricity, education, health care, roads, and irrigation system) on an equal basis with the local population, which they stated was a reflection of the KRG’s commitment to safeguard fundamental human rights and human dignity under pressing circumstances.

To support humanitarian standards and serve displaced populations, KRG officials reported they had allocated land for construction of camps; contributed to the construction of camps and connecting camps to power grids and local infrastructure; introduced civil administration in the camps and provided security services; reinforced technical and legal services to combat sexual and gender-based violence in and outside the camps; opened additional shifts at local schools to make schooling in Arabic available to displaced children (58 percent of refugees’ children and 91 percent of IDPs children were enrolled in formal and informal education); facilitated reunification of children with their families; granted access for all IDPs and refugees to public health services, including mobilizing emergency mobile clinics and medical teams; introduced simplified procedures for free movement of humanitarian personnel; introduced exemption from customs duty and mechanisms to fast-track customs clearance for humanitarian supplies; and publicly called on local communities and all sections of society to welcome and assist IDPs as their guests.

The KRG was host to almost two million IDPs, including a large percentage of Christian, Yezidi, Shabak, Kaka’i, and other ethnic and religious groups from the Ninewa Plain. Despite the dire economic situation and security difficulties that occurred in the region, KRG officials reported they focused on preserving the rights of these minorities as a top priority.

Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights. Government officials frequently denied security clearances for displaced households with perceived ISIS affiliation to return to areas of origin. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced problems obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including the ability to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camps where they resided. Humanitarian organizations reported that women heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape, sexual assault, and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

IKR-based NGOs documented numerous cases of women, who, forced to marry ISIS fighters, subsequently became widows with children but lacked marriage and birth certificates required to obtain legal documentation for these children. These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters, honor killings remained a risk. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters. NGO partners reported that some Yezidi community representatives pressured women to abandon their children or place them in orphanages as a condition for being accepted back into the Yezidi community.

In October the minister of displacement and migration announced a new three-phase plan to close all of the country’s IDP camps and immediately launched a series of sudden camp closures in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Kirkuk, and Ninewa provinces, affecting more than a thousand families. By late November the ministry had closed 11 displacement sites–eight formal IDP camps and three informal sites–across federal Iraq, affecting more than 25,000 IDPs. These closures were not coordinated with relevant local authorities or with humanitarian actors, not all IDPs were able or willing to return to their place of origin, and there were reports that up to 50 percent of IDPs could end up in secondary displacement as a consequence. IDP camp managers and NGOs reported government officials did not always give IDPs at closed camps the choice of where to proceed, resulting in involuntary, unsafe, and undignified returns and movements.

There were numerous reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion when they attempted to return to areas of origin. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din provinces, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. An Interior Ministry official estimated the number of those with perceived ISIS affiliation at 250,000. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to the stigmatization of IDPs, particularly those living in camps, who were being isolated and whose movements in and out of camps were increasingly restricted. Following IDP camp closures starting in October, many IDPs with perceived ISIS affiliation reported being rejected by local communities in areas of return, forcing them either to return to their former camps or to proceed elsewhere. Tribal pacts called for punishing false accusations of ISIS affiliation, but they also prohibited legal defense for those affiliated with ISIS. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than affiliation with ISIS.

Many Christian IDPs refused to return to the town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Brigade that occupied it and the presence of the Tesferat detention center and court, which the International Committee of the Red Cross reported could hold women and minors suspected of being ISIS family members. Prior to 2002, there were between 800,000 and 1.4 million Christians in the region, but that figure had reportedly fallen to below 150,000. Only a very small number of the country’s population of 400,000 to 500,000 Yezidis had returned to their homes. Many chose to stay in camps, saying a lack of a reconstruction plans or public services, as well as insecurity, had discouraged them from returning home. In June, however, Yezidis began returning to the Sinjar district in Ninewa Province for a variety of reasons, including fear of COVID-19 in camp settings, and as of late October more than 30,000 had returned.

In October the Iraqi government and the KRG signed a comprehensive agreement that called for a new mayor and administrative committees to oversee Sinjar district, a local security force consisting of Yezidis, removal of PKK and PMF militias, and expanded reconstruction efforts to support voluntary returns of Yezidis still displaced in the IKR and abroad.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls and lack of capacity.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly susceptible to sexual exploitation and abuse of residents, further exacerbated by COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Refugees and IDPs reported frequent sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR. Local NGOs reported cases in which camp management and detention employees subjected IDPs and refugees to various forms of abuse and intimidation.

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. Syrians made up the vast majority of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR. The KRG generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.

According to the KRG Ministry of Interior, 259,496 refugees resided in the IKR as of September. More than one-half of these refugees lived outside of camps. The KRG cooperated with UNHCR in allowing these individuals to seek refuge in camps and receive basic assistance. The KRG allowed Syrian refugees with family in the IKR to live outside of camps.

Freedom of Movement: Syrian refugees continued to face restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR. KRG authorities noted IDPs and refugees had freedom of movement within the IKR. There are provisions to allow family visits to Syria. The KHRW confirmed the restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. The central government does not recognize the refugee status of Palestinians. In the KRG Palestinians are allowed to work in the private sector but are required to renew their refugee status annually. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Central government authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 89 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed in some form of livelihood activity.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR estimated there were more than 47,000 stateless individuals in the country as of August. An estimated 45,000 displaced children in camps were missing civil documentation and faced exclusion from local society, including being barred from attending school, lacking access to health care, and being deprived of basic rights. Many of these children, born under ISIS rule, were issued birth certificates that were considered invalid by the Iraqi government. They faced extreme difficulties in obtaining civil documentation due to perceived ISIS affiliation.

Absent a countrywide, consistent plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, those children were at risk of statelessness. The Yezidi community more willingly welcomed back Yezidi women who survived ISIS captivity but not children fathered through rape by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community.

International NGOs provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding homes for forcibly abandoned children. Those children that did not receive assistance were without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 Bidoon (stateless) individuals, living as nomads in the desert in or near the southern provinces of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding. Prolonged drought in the south of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani (Dom) population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Baha’i religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.

A UNHCR-funded legal initiative secured nationality for hundreds of formerly stateless families, giving them access to basic rights and services. Since 2017 lawyers worked to help Bidoons and other stateless persons acquire nationality, assisting an average of 500 individuals per year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Despite violence and other irregularities in the conduct of previously held elections, citizens were generally able to exercise this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) conducted elections for the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR)–the national parliament. The 2018 elections were notable in that IHEC chose to implement new technologies, including the automated counting and tabulation of votes and the biometric identification and verification of voters. These new technologies, adopted very late in the electoral cycle, placed considerable strain on the institution. International and local observers monitored the elections. Two hundred and seventy-five out of 329 COR members lost their seats in these elections, including the speaker. Although observers declared the elections peaceful, allegations of fraud prompted parliament to order a recount of ballots in areas of Anbar, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and the IKR. Fraud allegations included repeat voting, manipulation of electronic ballot tallies, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidation.

The COR ratified a new election law in November, which some analysts believed could provide political independents a better chance of winning seats in parliament. The new law effectively changed the country’s elections from a proportional representation system based on party lists to a single, nontransferable vote system. Electoral experts assessed the single, nontransferable system would allow voters to choose individual candidates, offering equal chances to independent candidates and large, well-organized electoral alliances. The law allows for holding early parliamentary elections in June 2021 as called for by the prime minister. In November the government submitted a formal request to the UN Security Council for expanded UN electoral monitoring to strengthen the transparency and credibility of these anticipated elections.

Due to problems obtaining or replacing civil documents, as well as last-minute changes to IHEC identification requirements, many IDPs were disenfranchised during the 2018 elections. Although the IHEC made attempts to accommodate the various registration and voting challenges (special absentee voting stations and waiver of the biometric identification card requirement) facing IDPs, the IHEC did not sufficiently inform IDPs in camps about the registration process and the voting procedures for the different categories of IDPs. By the 2017 cut-off date for voter registration, only 293,000 of an estimated 800,000 IDPs of voting age were registered. IDPs are the only group singled out in the new election law who must have a biometric voter identification card to vote. NGOs expressed concern that this could further disenfranchise IDPs in future elections as IHEC struggled to rollout the biometric voter identification program due to capacity challenges and COVID-19.

The Kurdistan Independent High Electoral Commission held elections in 2018 for the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP). Most observers witnessed only minor voting day irregularities, but opposition parties alleged voter intimidation and systemic fraud, such as ballot stuffing and falsification of documents. Following the 2018 national parliamentary elections, the International Crisis Group reported on allegations in Kirkuk Province, noting that the Kurdish PUK party won in several non-Kurdish areas with historically low PUK support, and turnout in Kurdish areas was low compared both with past elections and with turnout in Turkmen and Arab areas.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and coalition blocs tended to organize along either religious or ethnic lines, although some parties crossed sectarian lines. Membership in some political parties conferred special privileges and advantages in employment and education. As of December there were 231 registered and approved parties for the anticipated 2021 national elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The constitution mandates that women constitute at least 25 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, 19 women received sufficient votes to win seats in the 329-seat COR without having to rely on the constitutional quota, compared with 22 in 2014. Sixty-five additional women were awarded seats based on the quota, raising the total number of seats women held to 84. Nonetheless, political discussions often reportedly marginalized women members of parliament.

In June, Prime Minister al-Kadhimi appointed Evan Faeq Yakoub Jabro as minister of migration and displacement. In this role she managed government policy regarding the migratory emergency and the relocation of IDPs. Prior to her confirmation, she held the role of adviser to the governor of Mosul on minority issues. She is a Christian and a member of the Chaldean Church.

Of the 329 seats in parliament, the law reserves nine seats for minorities: five for Christians from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Duhok provinces; one Yezidi; one Sabean-Mandaean; one Shabak; and, following a parliamentary decision in February 2019, one for Faili Kurds in Wasit Province.

The KRG reserves 30 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership for women. Three women held cabinet level positions as of October. The number of women who served as judges in the IKR increased during the year.

Of 111 seats in the IKP, the law reserves 11 seats for minorities along ethnic, rather than religious lines: five for (predominantly Christian) Chaldo-Assyrian candidates, five for Turkmen candidates, and one for Armenian candidates. No seats are reserved for self-described groups whom the KRG considers ethnically Kurdish or Arab, such as Yezidis, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, and Faili Kurds.

Major political parties partnered with, or in some cases created, affiliated minority political parties in both the central government and IKR elections and encouraged other Iraqis to vote for allied minority candidates for quota seats in the COR and IKP. Minority community activists complained this process disenfranchised them, and they advocated for electoral reform to limit voting for minority quota seats to voters of the relevant minority, as well as for additional quota seats in the COR and IKP.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government struggled to implement the laws effectively. The law allows some individuals convicted of corruption to receive amnesty upon repaying money they had obtained by corruption, which had the effect of allowing them to keep any profits from stolen funds. Officials in federal Iraq and the IKR frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption remained a chief obstacle to effective governance at all institutional levels. The existence of armed militias, which are directly involved in corruption and provided protection for corrupt officials, made serious and sustainable anticorruption efforts difficult to enforce.

Corruption: UK-based newspaper, The Independent, reported in June that $300 billion had been funneled to thousands of fake and inactive projects around the country. The report revealed that 85 percent of 50,000 industrial projects in the private sector were inactive, and 250 state factories were not operating despite receiving funds from the government. Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common at all levels and across all branches of government. Family, tribal, and ethnosectarian considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels and across all branches of government.

Investigations of corruption were not free from political influence. Anticorruption efforts were hampered by a lack of agreement concerning institutional roles, political will, political influence, lack of transparency, and unclear governing legislation and regulatory processes. Although anticorruption institutions increasingly collaborated with civil society groups, the effect of expanded cooperation was limited. Media and NGOs attempted to expose corruption independently, but their capacity was limited. Anticorruption, law enforcement, and judicial officials, as well as members of civil society and media, faced threats, intimidation, and abuse in their efforts to combat corrupt practices.

In August, Prime Minister al-Kadhimi issued an executive order forming a “special and permanent committee” to investigate and prosecute major corruption files and high-profile crimes within government ministries and public agencies.

In September the anticorruption committee arrested 19 high-profile individuals, including Iraqi Retirement Authority director Ahmed al-Saadi, Baghdad Investment Commission chief Shaker al-Zamili, and Qi Card CEO Bahaa Abdul-Hussein, all of whom were remanded to Counterterrorism Service custody. Following the arrests friends and family of the detainees alleged the detainees had suffered physical abuse in custody and were denied access to medical and legal services. The prime minister publicly refuted the allegations.

The Central Bank leads the government’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The Central Bank’s Office of Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing worked with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to identify and prosecute illicit financial transactions. The latest report released by the office in 2019 showed it investigated 400 potential cases of money laundering during that year, with 34 cases referred to the judiciary and 192 cases under review by the office’s analysts. In July the office issued a statement on the European Commission’s (EC) decision to keep Iraq on the revised list of high-risk countries regarding money laundering and terrorist financing. The statement expressed displeasure at Iraq’s inclusion on the list, asserting the EC’s decision was based solely on security and lacked technical bases.

The Council of Ministers Secretariat has an anticorruption advisor, and the COR has an Integrity Committee. The Council of Ministers secretary general led the Joint Anticorruption Council, which also included agency inspectors general. In October the council dismissed approximately 1,000 civil servants after convicting them of public-integrity crimes, including wasting public money, bribery, and embezzlement.

Border corruption continued to be a problem. In July the prime minister launched a campaign to secure borders with Iran and other neighboring countries. He granted extended powers to the Iraqi military and navy to control borders with Iran and Kuwait and provided the border guards with additional reserve forces. KRG officials launched an investigation in September into corruption and smuggling at the Parwez Khan border crossing with Iran.

The KRG maintained its own Commission of Integrity (COI), which issued its first report in 2017. According to the COI’s 2020 report, there were 158 corruption cases underway or completed from January to November 18, with 26 individuals convicted. The convictions came from across the IKR including Erbil (11), Duhok (7), Garmian (5), and Sulaymaniya (3).

Financial Disclosure: The law authorizes the federal COI to obtain annual financial disclosures from senior public officials, including ministers, governors, and parliamentarians, and to take legal action for nondisclosure. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment. A unified system for enforcing annual financial disclosures does not exist. The federal COI has no jurisdiction over the IKR, but Kurdish members of the central government were required to conform to the law. The law obligates the federal COI to provide public annual reports on prosecutions, transparency, accountability, and ethics of public service. The prime minister and his cabinet submitted financial disclosures for 2020. The federal COI did not issue a semiannual report during the year.

The Kurdistan COI is responsible for distributing and collecting financial disclosure forms in the IKR. There was no information available indicating that public officials faced penalties for financial nondisclosure during the year.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated, in most cases with little government restriction or interference, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Due to the ISIS-driven humanitarian crisis, many local NGOs focused on assisting refugees, IDPs, and other vulnerable communities. In some instances these NGOs worked in coordination with central government and KRG authorities. A number of NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. There were some reports of government interference with NGOs investigating human rights abuses and violations involving government actors.

There were multiple reports of international and Iraqi aid workers being harassed, threatened, arrested, and accused of false terrorism charges in some cases. The International NGO Safety Organization recorded 20 incidents against NGOs during the year. In December, Asaib Ahl al-Haq raided a community center in Mosul that belonged to the International Rescue Committee and threatened aid workers employed there, and the center remained closed.

NGOs faced capacity-related problems, did not have regular access to government officials, and, as a result, were not able to provide significant protections against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Domestic NGOs’ lack of sustainable sources of funding hindered the sector’s long-term development. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many domestic NGOs.

NGOs were prevented from operating in certain sectors (see section 6, Women). NGOs registered in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories without additional permits from Baghdad (see section 2.b.).

The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties to and funding from political parties. Government funding of NGOs is legally contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already identified KRG priority areas. The KRG NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals; however, NGOs reported the KRG had not provided funding to local NGOs since 2013.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of the United Nations and other international organizations to sensitive locations, such as Ministry of Interior-run detention facilities holding detainees suspected of terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The IHCHR is constitutionally mandated. The law governing the IHCHR’s operation provides for 12 full-time commissioners and three reserve commissioners with four-year, nonrenewable terms; new commissioners assumed duties in 2017. The law provides for the IHCHR’s financial and administrative independence and assigns it broad authority, including the right to receive and investigate human rights complaints, conduct unannounced visits to correctional facilities, and review legislation. Some observers reported the commissioners’ individual and partisan political agendas largely stalled the IHCHR’s work. The IHCHR actively documented human rights violations and abuses during the demonstrations in 2019 and 2020 and regularly spoke out against both government and militia violence against protesters.

The IHRCKR issued periodic reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and religious freedom in the IKR. The commission reported KRG police and security organizations generally had been receptive to human rights training and responsive to reports of violations. The IHRCKR and KHRW conducted human rights training for the police and Asayish, as well as police trainers in the past; however, training was put on hold during the year due to COVID-19.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but not specifically spousal rape, and permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the victim, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAMI reported a significant increase in the reports of rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, immolation and self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors, and suicide due to increased household tensions because of COVID lockdowns, as well as economic hardship due to the country’s declining economy.

Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides reduced sentences for violence or killing if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.

Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. Al-Monitor wrote in May that 10 percent of Yezidis living in the Sharya IDP camp were considering suicide. A mental health activity manager for Doctors without Borders told Voice of America in October that between April and August, her organization received 30 reports of individuals who attempted suicide.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support victims. NGOs stated that victims of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.

In the IKR, two privately operated shelters and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and NGOs reported psychological and therapeutic services were poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to victims of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaymaniya, and Kirkuk provinces, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted “honor” as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for conviction of murder to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.

In September, two young women were found dead near the town of Chamechamal, Sulaymaniya, after allegedly being killed by their father. NGOs and activists issued a statement urging IKR authorities to pursue justice for the victims who were thought to be murdered due to their father’s disapproval of their dating outside of marriage.

The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed three cases of honor killing among 26 female homicide victims in the IKR as of September. A UN source, however, observed the number of actual honor killings was likely much higher.

There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure, marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Young women, widowed or orphaned by ISIS offensives, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation. In similar cases NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them months later, sometimes pregnant.

Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern provinces. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed government institutions.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including in the workplace. Penalties for sexual harassment include fines of up to only 30 dinars (2.5 cents), imprisonment, or both, not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no publicly provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities.

Women political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns.

Reproductive Rights: Couples have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children, as well as have access to information on reproductive health, free from violence. Various methods of contraception were widely available, including in the IKR; however, women in urban areas generally had greater access than those in rural parts of the country. A married woman could not be prescribed or use contraception without the consent of her husband. Unmarried single women were also unable to obtain birth control. Divorced or widowed women, however, did not have this same restriction. Abortion is prohibited; however, a 2020 law in the IKR allows for abortion if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. In addition to consent from the mother and her husband, a committee with at least five physician must determine if the pregnancy poses a serious threat to her life.

Due to general insecurity in the country and attendant economic difficulties, many women received inadequate medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in some governorates the work of reproductive health and pregnancy care units, as well as health awareness campaigns, had ceased almost entirely because of COVID-19’s impact on the health-care system.

In the IKR the KRG Ministry of Health reported that survivors of sexual violence received treatment from provincial health departments and emergency rooms. Judges, however, rarely considered forensic evidence that was collected. The government stated it provided full services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in all governorates, as the law requires that survivors receive full health care and treatment. Emergency contraceptives were available as part of the clinical management of rape through government services and in private clinics, although advocates who worked with survivors reported many barriers to women accessing those contraceptives, as well as significant gaps in service delivery.

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

Discrimination: The Council of Ministers’ Iraqi Women Empowerment Directorate is the lead government body on women’s issues. Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

For example, in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or two years’ financial maintenance in some cases; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the children may choose with which parent they wish to live.

All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues. Discrimination toward women on personal status issues varies depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except recognized religious minorities. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document, required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing, without the consent of a male relative.

NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.

The KRG provided some additional legal protections to women, maintaining a High Council of Women’s Affairs and a Women’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination, but such protections were applied inconsistently. Other portions of KRG law continued to mirror federal law, and women faced discrimination. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law and provides a divorced wife up to five years’ alimony beyond child care.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children, although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior; such registration was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported a widespread problem of children born to members of ISIS or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate. An estimated 45,000 displaced children living in camps lacked civil documentation, including birth certificates, and the issue also affected many IDPs living outside of IDP camps.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided without cost to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a problem, particularly in rural and insecure areas. Recent, reliable statistics on enrollment, attendance, or completion were not available.

Schools continued to be closed from February onward, putting more than 10 million students out of school. UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to broadcast lessons through education television and digital platforms. Children’s access to alternative learning platforms via the internet and television, however, was hindered by limited connectivity and availability of digital devices, as well as lack of electricity. Moreover, the Ministry for Directorates of Education had not issued directives for guiding the delivery of distance learning.

Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but up-to-date, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.

UNICEF reported that during the year, at least 1.64 million children, half of them girls, were estimated to need at least one type of protective service. UNICEF and its implementing partners continued to deliver psychosocial support; case management and specialized protection services for children, including birth registration; civil documentation and legal assistance; and capacity development of national partners. UNICEF also worked with Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and NGO partners in establishing referral mechanism and alternative care arrangements for children affected by COVID-19. They purchased and distributed personal protective equipment kits for 2,511 children in detention centers and children’s homes, while continuing to advocate for the release of children from prison. A total of 440 children were released from detention since the start of the pandemic. The Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting verified 24 grave violations, affecting 23 children, compared with 16 verified grave violations affecting 16 children in the previous quarter.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding, children’s rights. Multiple reports of child abuse surfaced during the year. Activists reported sexual abuse and assault by relatives was widespread and that some victims did not report crimes due to fear of retribution by family members.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country. UNHCR reported the continued prevalence of early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, as many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households. Others gave their daughters as child brides to armed groups as a means to ensure their safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.

In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit a child as young as 16 to marry if the individual is entering into the marriage voluntarily and has received permission from a legal guardian. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but it does not automatically void, forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents. Some Kurdish men crossed over into federal Iraqi territory to acquire a child bride since those laws are not as strict.

The KRG assigned police and officials from the office to combat domestic violence to deter parents from forcing their children into marriages and to conduct awareness campaigns to combat sexual violence.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Child prostitution was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. Penalties for commercial exploitation of children range from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children. Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs were children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The federal Iraqi penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. According to the code, Jews are prohibited from joining the military and cannot hold jobs in the public sector. In practice the KRG did not apply the central government’s anti-Zionist laws and relied on IKR law number five, which provides protections for the rights of religious minorities, including Jews.

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were as few as 100 to possibly as many as 300 Jewish families in the IKR. The Jewish community did not publicly worship due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or violence by extremist actors. The KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs designated one of its seven departments to Jewish affairs. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in the country during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states the government, through law and regulations, guarantees the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although a 2016 Council of Ministers decree orders access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access.

In August, following reports of serious delays in payment of social subsides to disabled persons, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (Labor Ministry) called on the government to ensure these payments within the federal budget. Local NGOs reported that despite the government adoption of a long-term strategy for sustainable development to persons with disabilities, the implementation of the program objectives remained poor throughout the year. Persons with disabilities continued to face difficulties in accessing health, education, and employment services.

The Labor Ministry leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any Iraqi citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs leads a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry.

There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Labor operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry provided loan programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

KRG law proscribed greater protections for individuals with disabilities, including a requirement that 5 percent of persons with disabilities be employed in public-sector institutions and 3 percent with the private sector. The KRG reported 12,068 public-sector employees with disabilities during the year. The KRG provided a 100,000-dinar monthly stipend to government employees with disabilities and a 150,000-dinar stipend to those not employed by the KRG.

Disability rights advocates in the KRG reported that the IKR’s disability protections lacked implementation, including the 5 percent employment requirement. Lack of accessibility remained a problem with more than 98 percent of public buildings, parks, and transportation lacking adequate facilities to assist the more than 110,000 registered persons with disabilities in the region. Disability advocates reported employment was low among members of the community and many youth with mental and physical disabilities lacked access to educational opportunity.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabaks, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’is, Kaka’is, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani (Dom) community, as well as an estimated 1.5 to 2 million citizens of African descent who reside primarily in Basrah and adjoining provinces. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of discrimination as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

HRW released a report on July 19 stating that the KRG had prevented thousands of Arab families from returning home in Duhok, including families from five villages in Ninewa’s Rabia subdistrict who had been displaced since 2014. HRW claimed that the KRG was only allowing Kurdish families to return.

Ethnic and sectarian-based fighting continued in mixed provinces, although at lower rates than in 2019. In April, ISIS gunmen attacked a Kaka’i village in Kirkuk killing five persons, and in June ISIS perpetrated another attack on a village near Khanaqin in Diyala Province that killed six individuals and wounded six others.

In September local media reported that Arab tribesmen stormed Palkana, a Kurdish village in Kirkuk Province, to oust the village’s Kurdish residents. The tribesmen threatened to use violence against Kurdish families if they refused to leave. Local police were notified of the violations but refused to intervene.

The law does not permit some religious groups, including Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i, to register under their professed religions, which, although recognized in the IKR, remained unrecognized and illegal under federal Iraqi law. The law forbids Muslims to convert to another religion. In the IKR this law was rarely enforced, and individuals were generally allowed to convert to other religious faiths without KRG interference (see sections 2.d. and section 6, Children).

Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, and other militias targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as did remaining active ISIS fighters.

Discrimination continued to stoke ethnosectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year. Some government forces, including PMF units, forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethno-sectarian reasons.

Many persons of African descent, some stateless, lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. They were not represented in politics, and members held no senior government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct if those engaging in the conduct are younger than age 18, while it does not criminalize any same-sex activities among adults. Despite repeated threats and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

In May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned foreign embassies for offending what it called the country’s “norms and values” when the EU mission hoisted the rainbow flag, commonly associated with LGBTI persons, on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Several Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum also condemned the incident, with some calling for the EU mission to be closed. A few days later, media outlets reported that a young gay man was killed in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, and another in Babil Province, in an apparent backlash against the flag raising.

LGBTI individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination in the IKR. LGBTI individuals reported they could not live openly in the IKR without fear of violence at the hands of family members, acquaintances, or strangers. Rasan Organization for gender-based violence and LGBT awareness posted a video documentary in September 2019 about the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT individuals in the IKR. LGBTI individuals struggled to be accepted by their family members and the IKR community and disguised their identity from their families due to fear of violence, verbal abuse, and killing.

According to NGOs, Iraqis who experienced severe discrimination, torture, physical injury, and the threat of death on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics had no recourse to challenge those actions via courts or government institutions.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution states that citizens have the right to form and join unions and professional associations. The law, however, prohibits the formation of unions independent of the government-controlled General Federation of Iraqi Workers and in workplaces with fewer than 50 workers. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. The law allows workers to select representatives for collective bargaining, even if they are not members of a union, and affords workers the right to have more than one union in a workplace. In June the government ratified International Labor Organization Convention 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

The law also considers individuals employed by state-owned enterprises (who made up approximately 10 percent of the workforce) as public-sector employees. CSOs continued to lobby for a trade union law to expand union rights.

Private-sector employees in worksites employing more than 50 workers may form workers committees–subdivisions of unions with limited rights–but most private-sector businesses employed fewer than 50 workers.

Labor courts have the authority to consider labor law violations and disputes, but no information was available concerning enforcement of the applicable law, including whether procedures were prompt or efficient or whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Strikers and union leaders reported that government officials threatened and harassed them.

The law allows for collective bargaining and the right to strike in the private sector, although government authorities sometimes violated private-sector employees’ collective bargaining rights. Some unions were able to play a supportive role in labor disputes and had the right to demand government arbitration.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor–including slavery, indebtedness, and trafficking in persons–but the government did not effectively monitor or enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous, serious crimes such as kidnapping.

Employers subjected foreign migrant workers–particularly construction workers, security guards, cleaners, repair persons, and domestic workers–to forced labor; confiscation of passports, cellphones, ATM cards, and other travel and identity documents; restrictions on movement and communications; physical abuse, sexual harassment, and rape; withholding of wages; and forced overtime. There were cases of employers stopping payment on contracts and preventing foreign employees from leaving the work site.

Employers subjected women to involuntary domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of divorce, and women who fled such marriages or whose husbands divorced them were vulnerable to social stigma and increased vulnerability to further forced labor. Female IDPs, single women, and widows were particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation and discriminatory employment conditions.

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 constitution and law prohibit the worst forms of child labor. In areas under central government authority, the minimum age for employment is 15. The law limits working hours for persons younger than 18 to seven hours a day and prohibits employment in work detrimental to health, safety, or morals of anyone younger than 18. The labor code does not apply to juveniles (ages 15 to 18) who work in family-owned businesses producing goods exclusively for domestic use. Since children employed in family enterprises are exempt from some protections in the labor code with regard to employment conditions, there were reports of children performing hazardous work in family-owned businesses.

The law mandates employers bear the cost of annual medical checks for working juveniles. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are not required to attend school, but also not permitted to work. Penalties include imprisonment for a period of 30 days to six months and a fine of up to one million dinars ($880), to be doubled in the case of a repeated offense. Data on child labor was limited, particularly with regard to the worst forms of child labor, which further limited enforcement of existing legal protections. Child labor, including in its worst forms, occurred throughout the country. This included forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, according to international NGOs.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is charged with enforcing the law prohibiting child labor in the private and public sectors, and labor law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. The government lacked programs that focus on assisting children involved in the worst forms of child labor. Gaps existed within the authority and operations of the ministry that hindered labor law enforcement, including an insufficient number of labor inspectors and a lack of funding for inspections, authority to assess penalties, and labor inspector training. Inspections continued, and resumed in areas liberated from ISIS, but due to the large number of IDPs, as well as capacity constraints and the focus on maintaining security and fighting terrorism, law enforcement officials and labor inspectors’ efforts to monitor these practices were ineffective. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. In the IKR, education is mandatory until age 15, which is also the minimum age for legal employment.

The KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimated several hundred children worked in the IKR, often as street vendors or beggars, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse. The ministry operated a 24-hour hotline for reporting labor abuses, including child labor, that received approximately 200 calls per month.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, origin, color, religion, creed, belief or opinion, or economic and social status. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, religion, social origin, political opinion, language, disability, or social status. It also prohibits any forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. The government was ineffective in enforcing these provisions. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The labor law limits women from working during certain hours of the day and does not allow them to work in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous. Women must obtain permission from a male relative or guardian before being granted a Civil Status Identification Card for access to employment. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law allows employers to terminate workers’ contracts when they reach retirement age, which is lower by five years for women. The law gives migrant Arab workers the same status as citizens but does not provide the same rights for non-Arab migrant workers, who faced stricter residency and work visa requirements.

Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. The central government does not recognize the refugee status of Palestinians, but the KRG does. Palestinians are allowed to work in the private sector but are required to renew their status annually. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 89 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed.

Many persons of African descent lived in extreme poverty and were nearly 80 percent illiterate; more than 80 percent were reportedly unemployed. According to some sources, they constituted 15 to 20 percent of the Basrah region’s 2.5 million inhabitants. They were not represented in politics, held no senior government positions, and reported that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although a 2016 Council of Ministers decree orders access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation continued to limit access. There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and quotas were not met. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs maintained loan programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, foreign workers, and minorities (see section 6). Media reported in February and June that the availability of foreign workers willing to accept longer hours and lower pay in unskilled positions had increased unemployment to approximately 23 percent and led foreign workers to commandeer certain undesired industries such as janitorial services and the food industry, resulting in social stigmatization.

In July the Labor Ministry reported that COVID-19 and a drop in oil prices caused the percentage of Iraqis living in poverty to increase from 22 percent in 2019 to 34 percent in the current year. NGOs reported that women and migrants workers faced the highest rates of unemployment during the pandemic. Women fared worse than men, with 40 percent of women working in the private sector losing their jobs, compared to 12 percent for men.

There were more than 15 unions, associations, and syndicates in the IKR, all led by all-male executive boards. In response the Kurdistan United Workers Union established a separate women’s committee, reportedly supported by local NGOs, to support gender equality and advance women’s leadership in unions in the IKR.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage, set by federal labor law, was above the poverty line. The law limits the standard workday to eight hours, with one or more rest periods totaling 30 minutes to one hour, and the standard workweek to 48 hours. The law permits up to four hours of overtime work per day and requires premium pay for overtime work. For industrial work, overtime should not exceed one hour per day. The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states that for hazardous or exhausting work, employers should reduce daily working hours. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a situation endangering health and safety without prejudice to their employment but does not extend this right to civil servants or migrant workers, who together made up the majority of the country’s workforce.

The Ministry of Labor has jurisdiction over matters concerning labor law, child labor, wages, occupational safety and health topics, and labor relations. The ministry’s occupational safety and health staff worked throughout the country, but the government did not effectively enforce regulations governing wages or working conditions. In June the Iraqi Communist Party criticized the Ministry of Electricity decision to reduce day workers’ monthly wages from 330,000 dinars ($290) to 205,000 dinars ($180). The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for labor violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes such as fraud.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries. It is unclear whether responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the workers. Penalties for OSH violations were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The legal and regulatory framework, combined with the country’s high level of violence and insecurity, high unemployment, large informal sector, and lack of meaningful work standards, resulted in substandard conditions for many workers. Workplace injuries occurred frequently, especially among manual laborers; however, no data was available on the specific number of industrial accidents that resulted in death or serious injury.

In August the Iraqi Civil Defense Directorate reported on the death of a maintenance worker who fell into the drainage system of a residential building in the Basrah Province. The directorate attributed the incident to a lack of adherence to OSH guidelines.

A lack of oversight and monitoring of employment contracts left foreign and migrant workers vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and abusive treatment. Local NGOs reported that thousands of migrant workers faced poor work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including illegal layoffs, homelessness, unpaid wages, and sexual exploitation. In January the Labor Ministry announced the number of registered migrant workers was only 4,000 persons nationally but the total number of expatriate workers exceeded 750,000, highlighting the large number of persons working illegally in the country. Some observers reported these migrant workers lived in work camps, sometimes in substandard conditions.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali has a constitutional democratic system that was upended on August 18-19 when members of the military overthrew the elected government. Following a brief period of military rule, in September a civilian-led transition government was installed. The country last held presidential elections in 2018, re-electing Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in elections that met minimum acceptable standards. On March 29 and April 19, repeatedly delayed parliamentary elections were held. On April 30, the Constitutional Court overturned provisional election results of 30 parliamentary seats, sparking large-scale demonstrations and calls for then president Keita’s resignation. On August 18, military officers arrested Keita, who on August 19 resigned and dissolved the government. The military officers formed the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, which remained in control until a transition government was inaugurated September 25.

The country’s defense and security forces are composed of the Malian Armed Forces, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard, which fall administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The National Police report to the Ministry of Security and have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in urban areas, while the National Gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas, including a specialized border security unit. The National Guard and army occasionally performed these duties in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The National Penitentiary Administration falls under the Ministry of Justice. The country’s intelligence service has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general, who reports directly to the president. It usually detained persons only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over civilian and military security forces. Monitoring groups noted an increase in allegations against the defense and security forces in the year, including summary executions and forced disappearances during operations. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

The country experienced significant communal and extremist violence in addition to political upheaval. Violence between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers and hunters increased throughout the year, and the number of internally displaced persons in the country quadrupled from July 2018 to July. The UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and France’s counterterrorism Operation Barkhane continued operations in the country.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious restrictions on freedom of the press and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by government forces and nonstate armed groups, some of which received government support; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting national and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; use of laws to punish consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government made little effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish government officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s northern and central regions continued with few exceptions. Cases related to massacres, forced disappearances, or other serious human rights abuses rarely moved beyond an investigative phase, although as of October, five cases were listed as ready for trial.

Ethnic militias also committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Despite signing the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (Algiers Accord), signatory armed groups committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Terrorist groups, including affiliates of ISIS in the Greater Sahara and the al-Qa’ida coalition Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, neither of which are party to the peace process, kidnapped and killed civilians, including humanitarian workers, and military and peacekeeping forces. There were also allegations that military forces from Burkina Faso and Niger conducting counterterrorism operations in the country committed serious abuses. A Nigerien military investigation refuted the allegations involving Nigerien forces, concluding that extremists were responsible. At year’s end there was no information on investigation by Burkina Faso authorities of alleged abuses by Burkinabe forces.

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 (see section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is the body responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.

On May 11, in the city of Kayes in the central part of the country, an off-duty police officer allegedly shot and killed a teenager for a traffic infraction, prompting protests during the ensuing days that left at least two more persons dead. There were allegations that security forces killed these additional two civilians, but the Gendarmerie conducted an investigation and concluded that those killings were carried out by a protester.

Between July 10 and 13, a total of 14 persons, including two children, were killed in the course of interventions by security forces during antigovernment demonstrations in the capital, Bamako. In November the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA’s) Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) attributed the deaths to actions by the National Gendarmerie, National Police, National Guard, and the Special Anti-Terrorist Force (FORSAT); it noted furthermore that FORSAT, whose actions it concluded were responsible for two of the 14 deaths, not only used disproportionate force but also acted illegally by intervening in law enforcement operations outside of the scope of its counterterrorism mission. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also documented the use of excessive force by security forces and the role of FORSAT during the same protests. On July 15, the then prime minister’s office announced an investigation into the alleged role of FORSAT in the deaths, and on December 3, the transition government’s National Council recommended renewed investigations into the July 10-13 events.

Separately, MINUSMA’s HRPD, tasked with monitoring human rights abuses throughout the country, reported more than 700 civilians killed from January to June. Among these the Malian defense and security forces (MDSF) allegedly committed at least 195 extrajudicial killings during the first six months of the year. Among other cases of extrajudicial killings documented by Amnesty International during the year, on February 16, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) reportedly committed five killings of unarmed individuals in the village of Belidanedji in the central part of the country. A number of investigations ordered by the Ministry of Defense regarding extrajudicial killings continued.

Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias also committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. According to the same HRPD reports covering the first six months of the year, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 82 killings, while signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform) and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 18 deaths. The HRPD furthermore reported that intercommunal violence, often by ethnic militias, accounted for the deaths of at least 350 civilians during the same period. The HRPD reports also alleged instances of extrajudicial executions within the country committed by members of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (18), the Nigerien armed forces (34), and the Burkinabe armed forces (50).

Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements continued to reach beyond the northern regions to the Mopti and Segou Regions in the central part of the country, and to the Kayes Region in the West. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. For example, on June 7, a civilian transport truck traveling from Jamweli to Douentza, Mopti Region, struck an IED, killing seven persons and injuring at least 24. On March 19, in a non-IED-related attack, armed individuals attacked a military camp in Tarkint, Gao Region, killing at least 29 soldiers and wounding five others. On May 10, a Chadian MINUSMA peacekeeping convoy struck an IED in Aguelhoc, Kidal Region, killing at least three peacekeepers and wounding four others. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, such as bridges, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects–including the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo–in the disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets (members of FAMa’s 33rd Parachute Regiment) and former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. On January 28, the Appeals Court of Bamako granted Sanogo, incarcerated since 2013, conditional release on the grounds his pretrial detention period was unreasonably long.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the MDSF in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF was responsible for 40 disappearances during the first six months of the year while armed groups were responsible for 71 forced disappearances or kidnappings during the same time period. In its June report on human rights abuses by security forces in the Sahel, Amnesty International similarly reported dozens of forced disappearances and possible summary executions at the hands of the MDSF in the course of counterterrorism operations and on other occasions. In December 2019 at least 26 individuals were arrested by a FAMa patrol at the Maliemana market in Segou and never seen again. Bodies were reportedly discovered in a well in the nearby village of N’Doukala seven days later. The government issued a communique 10 days after the arrests announcing an investigation and, as of December, a military prosecution order to investigate formally the allegations was pending the assignment of an investigative judge. The United Nations launched a fact-finding mission into the allegations, but the results of that mission were not made public. In one high-profile instance of kidnapping by armed groups, on March 25, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse was abducted while campaigning for legislative elections. The kidnapping was reportedly carried out by Amadou Kouffa’s Macina Liberation Front (MLF), a Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) affiliate. On October 8, Cisse was released along with three foreign hostages in exchange for the release of nearly 200 suspected extremists.

Human rights observers continued to report they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. This might have been due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Limited capacity to keep up accurately with case management exacerbated the difficulty in locating individuals within the country’s penal system. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a contributing factor, since many organizations were either denied access or unable to visit prisons for health-safety reasons. Human rights organizations estimated that the DGSE held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities. Following advocacy from the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), at least two of these unreported detention cases were transferred to the justice system during the year: one involving a member of the 2012 junta, Seyba Diarra, and the other of civil society leader Clement Dembele.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including JNIM-affiliated member groups (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA’s HRPD reported 56 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by the MDSF during the first six months of the year. Other organizations reported extensively on torture allegations. In February, according to reports by Amnesty International and others, an elected official from Kogoni-Peulh, Oumar Diallo, was asked by his community to inquire at a gendarme base in Segou as to the whereabouts of previously arrested villagers. He was allegedly arrested and detained at the military camp in Diabaly where he was reportedly treated poorly. He died while subsequently being transferred to Segou by the military. Amnesty International reported that those who buried him stated, “On his corpse you could see traces of ill treatment.” Leaders of the opposition movement the June 5 Movement-Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), arrested in the wake of the violent July 10-12 protests, claimed they were tortured or mistreated by the gendarmerie at the Gendarmerie Camp I detention facility in Bamako. Investigations into these allegations by international organizations continued at year’s end.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there remained one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by a peacekeeper from the country deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The allegation was submitted in 2017 and allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with two adults. As of September the United Nations substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not disclosed the accountability measures taken.

Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: As of August the Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,300 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There were significant rates of overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.

By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prisons authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of August authorities held 372 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The general security situation, together with population growth and overloaded, inefficient courts, exacerbated already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.

The country’s prison administration (DNAPES) reported that, as of August, a total of 18 prisoners and detainees died in custody due to heart attacks, brain trauma, and respiratory problems. The CNDH, an independent entity that receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Additionally, inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons. On June 5, a mutiny at Bamako Central Prison left four inmates dead and eight others (including one prison guard) injured.

Prison food was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and prison medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities in order to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH regarding their detention conditions. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison and other localities. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities. On July 12, the CNDH was denied access to the Bamako Gendarmerie Camp I, where M5-RFP leaders were detained following the July 10 protest and subsequent violence. The United Nations reported that it was eventually allowed access to detained protest leaders. The CNDH frequently visited prisons outside of Bamako, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Bamako. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. During the year ICRC officials visited at least 11 prisons in the country, including in Bamako, Koulikoro, Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, and found that prisoners’ basic needs were regularly being met. The ICRC also assisted DNAPES in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by making recommendations and providing hygiene and sanitary equipment.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion CFA franc ($15.6 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Much of the structure was complete; however, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment for the intended operations. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards but as of September confined approximately 400 inmates. As a COVID-19 mitigation measure, in April at least 1,400 prisoners were pardoned and released from national prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Authorities may grant conditional release to detainees, who have limited right to bail, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation. There was also at least one incident in which a high-profile figure, Clement Dembele, was arrested and was not granted prompt access to a lawyer.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel or resources, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the state as a de facto authority in the north of the country, they also illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center. MINUSMA’s HRPD stated that on May 22, as a COVID-19 mitigation measure, the president of the CMA pardoned 21 persons who the HRPD contended were being illegally detained.

On June 23, the Fulani organization, Tabital Pulaaku, denounced the arbitrary arrest of civilians in the town of Niaouro in the circle of Djenne. Fulani organizations also denounced the unlawful arrest of approximately 20 persons in the village of Nema in the circle of Bankass on July 5, following attacks on the Dogon villages of Gouari, Diimto, Diallaye, and Pangabougou which killed at least 32 civilians. The organization alleged these individuals were arrested based solely on their ethnic origin. While many were subsequently released, others were transferred to Bamako.

On August 18, in the wake of the military overthrow of the government, more than a dozen military and government officials, including the president and the prime minister, were arrested and held at the military base at Kati. Following repeated interventions and demands for their release by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the diplomatic community, and human rights organizations, on August 27, the president was released and placed under house arrest. Following hospitalization in Bamako, on September 5, he was permitted to leave the country to seek medical attention. At least 13 members of the former government, including the prime minister, the president of the National Assembly, and military leadership, remained in custody until their release without charge on October 7, following the September 25 swearing in of the president and vice president of the transition government. While some human rights organizations were never permitted access to them, others reported delays before eventually being granted access to the detainees while in custody. One such organization reported that some of the detainees referred to themselves as “hostages” and that the detainees stated their right to information and visits were not respected.

According to local press, on August 18, Boubacar Keita, the son of the deposed former president, was also detained and as of December continued to be held under house arrest at his father’s family home. In a letter attributed to Boubacar Keita, he lamented his conditions, noting, “I would like to remind you that since the confiscation of [my] phones, I have not been able to hear from my wife, my children and the family in general, only orally, sporadically, and only through an intermediary.”

Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trial to occur within prescribed periods of time, depending on sentencing tied to conviction of the offense charged. For the contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a monetary fine, there is no pretrial detention, since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years of incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two years to five years or serious felonies with potential sentencing ranging from five years to life (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years. Despite these legal restrictions, excessive pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of September, 69 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.

On January 28, the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, was ordered released by the Appeals Court of Bamako. Authorities cited the fact that his detention period exceeded legal limits on pretrial detention as one of the reasons for his release, although many saw his conditional release as politically motivated.

In April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, convicted felons were granted early release to minimize the spread of the virus, but such measures were not taken for pretrial detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups. There were problems enforcing court orders. One judicial employee noted military interference and noncompliance with summons for military members, alleging members of the Gendarmerie refused to support the judiciary in carrying out arrest warrants when requested. Judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally tried to enforce this right, inadequate staffing, logistical support (such as translators), infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), as well as undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, and in many cases, beyond legal pretrial detention limits before having their case heard. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties to the case, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense for felony cases and cases involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of private attorneys, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. For example, on May 9, security forces arrested Clement Dembele, chairman of the Platform against Corruption and Unemployment, shortly after he released a Bambara language video on social media advocating for large-scale civil disobedience. On May 25, following his release, Dembele recounted in a media interview having a hood placed on his head before being taken into custody. He stated he was held by the DGSE and detained with terrorist suspects before being placed in an underground isolation cell. Following the intervention of the CNDH, Dembele was eventually presented to the Bamako Commune I prosecutor who charged him with using the press to incite the disobedience of the security forces. On September 2, his case was heard, and on September 30, it was dismissed by the tribunal.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of August authorities detained 372 persons charged with terrorism in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained complained they were political prisoners. Persons found to be fighting for independence or for the creation of an Islamic state were charged with terrorism and claimed this as political detention. At year’s end, however, there was no clear indication they were detained for political reasons or as opponents of the government. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. They may appeal their cases to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of hereditary slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The military; formerly separatist forces, including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA); northern militias aligned with the government, including the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (MSA and GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations, including the ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), JNIM, MLF, and al-Murabitoun, committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either in reprisal for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or as a result of increased counterterrorism operations.

Government and French troops targeted terrorist organizations–including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, MLF, al-Murabitoun, JNIM, and ISGS–that were not party to the peace talks or the resulting accord. These terrorist organizations often maintained links to armed groups participating in the peace process.

The government failed to pursue and investigate human rights abuses in the North, which was widely controlled by CMA. Despite international assistance with investigating some human rights cases in the center, there is no evidence any were prosecuted there. Human rights organizations maintained that insufficient resources, insecurity, and a lack of political will were the largest obstacles to fighting impunity.

Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations killed persons throughout the country, but especially in the central and (to a lesser extent) northern regions. The HRPD reported more than 700 civilian deaths during the first six months of the year. It stated that from January 1 to March 31, 82 percent of conflict-related civilian deaths occurred in Mopti and Segou Regions. The report noted similar trends from April 1 to June 30.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou Regions reported abuses by government security forces. According to the HRPD first quarterly report, on February 16, a total of 19 individuals suspected of terrorist activities were allegedly arrested by FAMa soldiers in the Circle of Niono, Segou Region. The HRPD went on to report that 13 of the suspects were killed and six forcibly disappeared. As of August the Gendarmerie was conducting an investigation into these extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, and the Ministry of Defense directed a military prosecution of members of the detachment, including the lieutenant who commanded the detachment.

According to MINUSMA, on June 5, a military convoy of approximately 30 vehicles entered the village of Binedama in Mopti, allegedly accompanied by a group of traditional Dozo hunters, and indiscriminately opened fire on the villagers, killing 37 (including three women and children). MINUSMA’s HRPD report alleged at least three victims were burned to death when their homes were set ablaze; granaries were also set on fire during the attack.

HRPD’s quarterly report, covering the period April to June, alleged that between June 3 and June 6, the FAMa killed or summarily executed at least 61 individuals during the course of three separate raids in the villages of Yangassadiou, Binedama, and Massabougou in the central area of the country. In some cases (specifically with respect to the attacks in Yangassadiou and Binedama but not Massabougou), the FAMa were reportedly accompanied by traditional Dozo hunters. Regarding the attack in Massabougou, the report stated, “On June 6, around 11 a.m., FAMa elements in several military vehicles raided the village of Massabougou (Dogofry Commune, Niono Circle) during which they searched houses and arrested nine villagers whom they summarily executed near the village cemetery. According to credible sources, the raid was carried out by FAMa elements sent on patrol following an armed attack on a military post in the village of Sarakala (located 20 miles northeast of the city of Segou) by unidentified armed elements at approximately 3 a.m. on the same day.” The Gendarmerie conducted an investigation into the allegations in Massabougou, and the Ministry of Defense directed a military prosecutor in Mopti to prepare legal proceedings against the detachment including its commander.

Terrorist groups and unidentified individuals or groups carried out many attacks resulting in the deaths of members of the security forces and signatory armed groups, peacekeepers, and civilians. For example, on October 13, JNIM attacked a FAMa outpost in Soukoura town in the central Mopti Region that left nine soldiers dead; shortly thereafter, JNIM killed at least two more soldiers who had been sent as reinforcements to the base. On October 15, one peacekeeper was killed and others injured when the convoy in which he was travelling struck an IED near Kidal. Amnesty International reported that on July 1, unidentified armed individuals in a convoy of at least 60 motorbikes and armed vehicles killed community, civil society, and religious leaders as they attacked the villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari, and Dialakanda in the communes of Tori and Diallassagou in the Bankass Circle of Mopti Region. They first attacked Panga Dougou, killing at least one person, before continuing to Djimdo where an additional 15 persons were killed, and then on to Gouari, killing at least 16 others and injuring four more. The attackers also reportedly stole cattle and motorbikes, and the insecurity prevented farmers from cultivating crops.

Intercommunal violence related to disputes regarding transhumance (seasonal migration) cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani communities in the Mopti Region, between Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and between various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

Several international and human rights organizations expressed concern regarding increased intercommunal violence in Mopti Region, mainly between pastoralist Fulani and agriculturalist Dogon ethnic groups. According to the HRPD, intercommunal violence resulted in more than 350 civilian deaths as a result of 98 separate attacks in the first six months of the year. The data further revealed that Fulani self-defense groups were responsible for 81 attacks that resulted in the deaths of at least 250 Dogons, while Dogon and Dozo self-defense groups were responsible for 17 attacks resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 Fulanis.

On February 14, more than 35 villagers were killed in the village of Ogossagou by an ethnic militia. According to reports the attack occurred hours after the country’s military abruptly vacated their nearby post without replacement. The military post was established following an attack on the same village in March 2019 that left more than 150 villagers dead. According to several reports, for many hours prior to the attack, local villagers alerted the military, MINUSMA, and local government to their fear that an attack was imminent. The attack ended only after Malian and MINUSMA troops eventually returned to the village. A MINUSMA human rights fact-finding mission concluded that armed men from the Dogon community planned, organized, and conducted the attack, resulting in the death of at least 35 Fulani villagers, three injured, and 19 more missing. According to Human Rights Watch reporting, the government noted that disciplinary actions would be taken in response to what it called a “tactical error,” pending an investigation. Army Chief of Staff Keba Sangare was relieved of his post following the attack. Sangare remained in the military, however, and was later appointed a governor. MINUSMA also announced an investigation into the attack, which occurred one hour after peacekeepers passed through the village. Two individuals were arrested and detained, and arrest warrants were also issued against three other individuals in connection with the February 14 attack. Of the 10 suspects who were arrested following the March 2019 attack against the same village, seven remained in detention, while three were released due to a lack of evidence. The case, which was being investigated by the Specialized Judicial Unit that has jurisdiction over terrorism and transitional crime, continued at year’s end.

In June and July, there were several reports of peace agreements between Fulani and Dogon communities in several parts of Koro Circle, Mopti Region, which allowed the latter to cultivate their farms and the former to go to local markets. The government was reportedly not part of brokering these peace agreements; rather, local contacts reported they were brokered by community leaders, sometimes with the assistance of NGOs. Violent extremist organizations were also rumored to have aided in brokering some agreements.

Abductions: Jihadist groups; the CMA alliance of the MNLA, HCUA, and MAA; and militias in the Platform, such as GATIA, reportedly held hostages.

A Colombian national Roman Catholic missionary Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, captured in 2017 in Koutiala, in the southern part of the country, remained in captivity with terrorist groups. On October 8, the transition government announced the release of French humanitarian Sophie Petronin along with local political opposition leader Soumaila Cisse and Italian citizens Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio as part of a prisoner exchange. On March 25, Cisse was captured while campaigning for legislative elections in the Timbuktu Region, reportedly by the MLF, a JNIM affiliate. Edith Blais of Canada and Luca Tacchetto of Italy, abducted in Burkina Faso in 2018, escaped terrorist custody, according to a UN spokesperson on March 13.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights NGOs reported a number of instances of conflict-related physical abuse, torture, and punishment perpetrated by the MDSF, armed groups, ethnic self-defense groups, and terrorist organizations.

Child Soldiers: For the first time since 2014, the UN’s annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict alleged that FAMa recruited and used children in domestic capacities. As of October all children known to have been recruited and used by FAMa had been released.

CMA and some armed groups in the Platform, including GATIA, reportedly recruited and used child soldiers in combatant and noncombatant roles.

The United Nations documented the recruitment and use of children between ages nine and 17, by armed groups–including by some that received support from and collaborated with the government–and in some cases also by the MDSF. According to two reports of the UN secretary-general to the Security Council covering the first five months of the year, the United Nations documented 164 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers, which included 127 by signatory armed groups in the North, 21 by the MDSF, 14 by Katiba Macina in Segou and Mopti, and two by Dan Na Ambassagou in Mopti. According to those reports, many of the children–including all of those known to be recruited and used by FAMa–were released back to their families following UN intervention. The HRPD also reported it collected information regarding the exploitation of children in the gold mines controlled by the CMA in Kidal and that within the framework of the “Tagaste” operation to strengthen security in Kidal, children were used to manage checkpoints. Other organizations reported on the recruitment and use of child soldiers, including the National Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families, which reported that as of October 6, it had identified 70 such cases during the year, among 290 cases since 2013.

In June the United Nations also published its annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict covering January 2019-December 2019, a period during which it verified the recruitment and use of 215 children (189 boys, 26 girls) between ages nine and 17 in most cases by armed groups, but also by the MDSF, for the first time since 2014. In 140 of these cases, the children had been recruited and exploited in previous years. The United Nations identified CMA, MNLA, MAA, HCUA, and Platform members, including GATIA, among armed groups responsible. The MDSF reportedly recruited and used 24 children from the Gao Region in support roles as couriers and domestic help; in November 2019 these 24 children were released to their families or an international organization for care.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for any child-soldiering offenses during the year.

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: There were attacks on the MDSF, peacekeepers, international forces, and international humanitarian organizations. Lethal attacks targeted local, French, and international forces in the central and northern regions of the country and resulted in the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of the country’s soldiers (the government does not provide aggregate data related to MDSF deaths) as well as deaths of peacekeeping and international forces. For example, among numerous other attacks, on March 19, a total of 30 soldiers were killed and 20 injured in an attack in Gao, and on April 6, another 25 soldiers were killed and 12 injured in another attack in Gao. On May 10, three Chadian peacekeepers were killed and four others wounded in an IED blast in Aguelhoc, in the North. In September, two French soldiers associated with France’s Operation Barkhane were killed and one was wounded in the northern region of Tessalit when their armored vehicle struck an IED. The United Nations also reported an increase in attacks against peacekeepers and humanitarians in the North. Several nongovernmental organizations reportedly suspended operations in various regions of the country periodically due to insecurity.

As of November 30, MINUSMA suffered at least 231 fatalities since the beginning of MINUSMA’s mission in 2013. According to MINUSMA, as of October authorities tried no cases related to peacekeeper deaths.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. In July, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, state-owned media coverage was minimal; however, coverage by private media was ample. On December 18, the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, this state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and all nature of publications, including radio and television broadcasts (see also section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, a reporter for the newspaper LIndependant was briefly arrested after reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations due to the security situation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority empowered to issue legal rulings on media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ami Maiga filed a complaint against two journalists of Ouverture Media who alleged Maiga knowingly boarded a plane from France to the country while “infected with COVID-19.” On September 30, the two defendants were convicted of defamation. They received substantial monetary fines and were ordered to pay damages to Maiga of six million CFA ($10,400).

National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In late December, five prominent figures were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. On December 31, the public prosecutor’s office announced that six individuals were under investigation for “plotting against the government” and “offending the head of state.” Those facing charges included the five who were arrested, including a popular radio presenter, as well as Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister, whose whereabouts were unknown, according to the public prosecutor.

Internet Freedom

During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.

There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no censorship-related government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Nevertheless, COVID-19 mitigation measures imposed by the government in some instances restricted cultural and educational events. Some artists and students expressed concerns regarding the possible long-term impact of these restrictions.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. From June to August, antigovernment protesters organized several demonstrations demanding increased government transparency and the resignation of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following the Constitutional Court’s announcement of final legislative election results, which overturned the provisional results of at least 30 seats. According to several reports, state security forces were deployed to disperse protesters and, in some instances, looters. Several media outlets, human rights organizations, and MINUSMA’s HRPD reported the use of live ammunition as well as tear gas by security forces and accused them of using excessive and deadly force (see section 1.a.).

In conjunction with the protests and calls for civil disobedience, several leaders of the M5-RFP movement were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I for at least 48 hours. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that during the July 10-13 protests, at least 200 persons were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I and at several police stations in Bamako. Protests in Kayes also led to arrests in that city. Although large numbers of protesters were arrested, judicial records indicated only 21 were prosecuted. Protesters arrested and prosecuted were charged with disturbing the peace and inciting violence. Two were found not guilty while the remaining 19 were sentenced to a range of 45 days’ to 12 months’ imprisonment. By decision of the Appeals Court, they were released in September.

In March the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings as part of the COVID-19 response.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, except for that of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, flooding, poor road conditions, and armed groups’ purposeful targeting of infrastructure, such as bridges, also limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions as a result of impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as the Dan Na Ambassagou and CMA.

Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country.

Foreign Travel: As a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures, on March 17, the government issued a decree closing all airspace and land borders. On July 25 and July 31, it was lifted for airspace and land borders, respectively. On March 26, the government also implemented a curfew, which it lifted on May 9.

On August 19, following the August 18 overthrow of the government by the military, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) closed airports and imposed a curfew. On August 21, the CNSP reopened the airport and borders; however, land and airspace borders with ECOWAS states remained closed until October 6, as a result of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in response to the overthrow of the government. On September 6, the CNSP lifted the curfew.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The security conditions in the North and central part of the country, including frequent intercommunal violence, forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Furthermore, regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, also led to the return of Malian refugees and the arrival of Nigerien and Burkinabe refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 287,496 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of October 31, and 143,301 Malian refugees in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania) as of September 30. Approximately 100,000 IDPs were registered during the previous 12 months, and an estimated 40 percent of all IDPs were registered in Mopti Region. Insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country. Intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict in the central part of the country continued to cause insecurity and displacement concerns. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children constituted 58 percent of IDPs in the country.

The Ministry of Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty registered IDPs, and the government assisted them. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country as access permitted.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

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. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.

Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that right, but with some difficulty.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Originally scheduled for October 2018, after repeated delays, on March 29, legislative elections were held nearly 18 months late. On April 19, runoff elections took place. The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, allegations of voter intimidation and elections tampering, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the central and northern parts of the country. On March 25, opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was captured–reportedly by the MLF (a JNIM affiliate) while campaigning for legislative elections in the Timbuktu Region. On October 8, he was released.

According to MINUSMA, an estimated 5,000 election monitors deployed throughout the country reported incidents of voter suppression and intimidation, election material destruction, and kidnapping in the central and northern parts of the country. COVID-19, insecurity, and allegations of election tampering and intimidation led to low voter turnout (reported by the United Nations at 35 percent for the first round and 36 percent for the second round) and contested results. On April 30, the Constitutional Court changed the provisional results for 30 seats that had been announced by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which oversees elections. The final results were widely contested across the country, sparking a political crisis and sometimes violent demonstrations from June to August, drawing to the streets tens of thousands of protesters demanding the president’s resignation, the dismissal of the National Assembly, and the resignation of the members of the Constitutional Court (see also section 1.a.).

Following a military mutiny on the morning of August 18, which resulted in the arrest of several members of the government and military, then president Keita, was arrested the evening of that same day. Shortly after midnight on August 19, Keita gave a short televised address in which he resigned as president and dissolved the government and the National Assembly. Later on the morning of August 19, the leaders of the mutiny announced the formation of the CNSP, a military junta. ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions on the country, initially demanding an immediate return to constitutional order and eventually agreeing to an 18-month civilian transition government. On September 24, a former minister of defense, retired Colonel Major Bah N’Daw, was sworn in as president of a transition government, and CNSP president Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as transition government vice president. On September 27, N’Daw named former minister of foreign affairs (2007-09) Moctar Ouane as prime minister of the transition government. On October 1, the transition charter was published; however, it does not specifically elucidate the line of succession in the event of the president’s incapacitation (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest).

Participation of Women and Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural or religious factors, however, sometimes limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles due to a perception that it was taboo or improper to have women in such roles. A 2015 law requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in former president Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. In his second cabinet formed in April 2019, however, eight of the 38 ministers were women. Four of the 25 ministers of the transition government were women.

Compliance with the law mandating female candidate participation was nearly achieved for the March and April legislative elections, with 41 seats of the 147-member National Assembly going to women, representing 28 percent of the National Assembly. This represented an increase from the previous National Assembly, in which 14 seats were held by women. The National Assembly was ultimately dissolved by former president Keita, following the overthrow of the government on August 18 and his resignation and dissolution of the government on August 19.

Before it was dissolved on August 19, the National Assembly had at least eight members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The cabinet of former prime minister Boubou Cisse included one nomadic ethnic minority member.

Three Tuareg members of the dissolved National Assembly elected during the March and April elections were members of northern armed groups, including one member from Gao representing MAA, one member from Kidal representing HCUA, and one member from Ansongo representing CMA. A member of the Dogon ethnic self-defense group, Dan Na Ambassagou, was also elected from the circle of Koro.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes.

In 2019 and July, the general auditor released reports on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The country’s embassies in Abidjan, Cairo, and Addis Ababa were investigated for financial irregularities amounting to 1.16 billion CFA ($2.01 million), 2.6 billion CFA ($4.51 million), and 15.6 million CFA ($27,000), respectively. The irregularities were reportedly related to exchange rate manipulation, unauthorized obligations of funds, and undue financial gains provided to certain personnel at these Embassies. As of October the case continued. In October 2019 the former mayor of Bamako was prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for alleged corruption related to a 2010 contract regarding the electrification of Bamako valued at 1.4 billion CFA ($2.4 million). On May 22, he was released on bail.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all their assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The Central Office to Fight Illicit Enrichment (OCLEI), the agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures, remained operational, and reported approximately 1,500 officials had filed disclosures since OCLEI became responsible for receiving such disclosures. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be made public, this did not generally occur. While the transition charter does not specifically require disclosures, it is understood that the constitution still applies where it is not in contradiction with the transition charter.

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 cases. According to human rights organizations, government and military officials were generally not found to be transparent, cooperative, or sufficiently responsive to calls for investigations and prosecutions of allegations of human rights abuses by the MDSF.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution that receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the CNDH with headquarters and staff. The adoption of the 2016 law pertaining to the CNDH and its subsequent implementation, allowed the CNDH to make strides toward fulfilling its mandate. The CNDH became more effective and autonomous. The Ministry of Justice gave more control of the CNDH’s budget to the organization, and the commission’s large membership included civil society representatives. With improved funding and capacity, the CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights abuses including the second Ogossagou massacre and the Diandioume antislavery activist killings.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry during the year to investigate allegations of forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in Yangassadiou, Binedama, and Massabougou in the Mopti and Segou Regions. The commissions released sealed reports to the Ministry of Defense, which resulted in the opening of judicial investigations in at least two cases; the third allegation was not found to be credible. According to MINUSMA, prosecution orders were signed for military personnel suspected of involvement in serious crimes in the central regions; however, arrest warrants for suspects were not issued as of December. Several earlier cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

In December 2019 the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights abuses stemming from the 2012 crisis, held its first public hearing at which 13 victims of conflict recounted mistreatment they had suffered. The commission was established in 2014 with a three-year mandate, which was extended through 2021. As of December 18, the commission had heard testimony from 19,198 persons.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men and provides a penalty for conviction of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing their cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where victims might be pressured by family to accept monetary “compensation” for the crime committed against them instead of seeking justice through the legal system. There were several convictions related to rape and domestic violence during an extended Court of Assizes session that began in August. The court convicted one suspect of pedophilia; he received a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. Two suspects convicted of rape and pedophilia each received five-year prison sentences; including a Guinean national convicted of raping a minor. On September 30, an individual convicted of murder and attempted rape was sentenced to death.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012/2013 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence and concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse; the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men still believed this behavior was justified. The same survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual); 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence; and one in every eight women (13 percent) experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.

Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported as a result of both cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Nonetheless, police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Additionally, many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Ministry of Justice Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

On September 21, following a complaint from his girlfriend, prominent singer Sidiki Diabate was arrested by the Bamako police judicial investigations unit for allegations of domestic violence and sequestration. A robust social media campaign denouncing the artist also resulted in him being dropped from concert appearances. On September 24, he was formally charged and imprisoned. On September 26, the Platform Against Gender-Based Violence held a march in support of victims of gender-based violence. On October 2, supporters of the artist announced a demonstration in his honor, but it was cancelled. Local media reported Diabate was provisionally released on bail on December 29; his trial was pending at year’s end.

According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were also responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by imposing the veil on women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil. The United Nations also reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country.

In the March 20 report of the UN secretary-general to the Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least eight cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, “The cases included the forced marriage of four girls by alleged extremist elements in Timbuktu Region; the rape of two women, reportedly by Mouvement pour le salut de l’Azawad members in Menaka; the gang rape of a girl, imputed to elements of the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad et Front patriotique de reisistance in Gao; and the sexual assault of a five-year-old girl, perpetrated by a member of the MDSF in Gao.”

According to MINUSMA, following a January 21 workshop discussing the role of the High Islamic Council in countering conflict-related sexual violence, the president of the High Islamic Council signed a declaration, making commitments to prevent gender-based violence, including the issuance of a fatwa to denounce conflict-related sexual violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15-49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location with rates as low as less than 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked the information and means to enjoy these rights.

While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.

Distance to health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to access adequate healthcare easily.

In accessing information about their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.

While government sexual and reproductive health services were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized. In instances of gender-based violence such as sexual violence, survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union and the UNFPA and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral health center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.

The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in a health center assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to the UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 per 1,000.

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries held by men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population is younger than age 18. As of June the United Nations estimated 2.42 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF’s data regarding children, repeated attacks led to death; gunshot or burn injuries; displacement and separation from families; and exposure to violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; arrests and detention; and psychological trauma. Hundreds of children were estimated to be recruited by armed groups annually.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country, and the law requires registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations indicated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a December 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and ignorance of the importance of birth certificates by parents were among challenges for birth registration. According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown. Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which is critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also plays an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. 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, a protracted teachers’ strike from December 2019 to September 13, shortages of 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. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15-49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men.

On March 19, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced the closure of schools. Compounded with a simultaneous teachers’ strike, schools effectively remained closed until September 13, when a salary increase agreement was reached between the teachers’ union and the CNSP (the de facto authority following the overthrow of the government). In December schools were again closed in an effort to stymie a second wave of COVID-19 cases. It was estimated that nearly 3.8 million children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.

In June the United Nations reported that conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,261 schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou since the beginning of the year. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations also reported the government security forces also sometimes used school compounds as bases. MINUSMA reported that during the first half of the year, at least seven schools were attacked or targeted. Jihadist groups often threatened teachers and communities to close schools that did not offer solely religious instruction. The conflict-related closure of more than 1,261 schools during the year was an increase from approximately 900 closures during the 2018-19 school year, and nearly doubled the number of school closures in the same period in 2017-18. The majority of closed schools were located in the Mopti Region.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. According to MINUSMA’s HRPD reports detailing the first six months of the year, 39 children were killed, less than a one-quarter the number reported during the same period of 2019. The United Nations documented 402 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 254 children between January and June. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g, Child Soldiers).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was a problem throughout the country. Girls were also taken as ‘wives’ for combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.

In some regions of the country, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months’ to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for conviction of indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge of contraception.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that, as of March, 79 unaccompanied and separated children had received interim care and protection services since the beginning of the year. According to the OCHA, children made up 58 percent of IDPs in the country.

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 fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on a doctor’s recommendation–medical doctors sometimes lacked training in psychology–the court would either send the individual to a mental institution in Bamako or proceed with a trial.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal discrimination continued against black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in the Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. More than 2,000 families who were displaced in 2019 due to their refusal to be subjected to slavery practices remained displaced and continued to be prevented from farming and accessing social services in the areas of Diema, Nioro du Sahel, and Yelimane in the Kayes Region. In addition despite government negotiations that allowed for the return of 213 families to Kerouane in Kayes Region, villagers prevented the families from accessing basic needs.

In September human rights organizations reported that four persons in Diandioume, circle of Nioro du Sahel, were bound, beaten, and drowned for refusing the practice of hereditary slavery. At least 95 of their family members fled or were displaced. The CNDH and other human rights organizations condemned the situation and called on the government to take action. At least 30 persons were reportedly arrested as a result.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani or Peuhl ethnic groups and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities for their alleged support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension has given rise to ethnic “self-defense groups” and driven thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Such groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.

In the center, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see section 1.g, Killings).

In another example, over the course of several hours on July 1, unidentified gunmen attacked the Dogon villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari, and Dialakanda, in the circle of Bankass, Mopti region, killing at least 32 civilians and wounding several others, and burning and looting several houses.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggested there was an upsurge in targeting of LGBTI individuals and their full protection remained in question. In January, reportedly in response to allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, 15 young men were arrested at a social event. The defendants were apparently targeted for their perceived sexual orientation and were accused of indecency, trafficking in persons, corruption of minors, and rape. Following their arrest, clinics where some of them were receiving HIV care were ransacked and temporarily closed. Observers believed the clinics were targeted for their work serving key populations at risk of HIV. It was difficult to obtain information regarding the specific sequence of events and the young men’s treatment while in police custody. According to the government, their detention was intended to protect this vulnerable group. As of December three of the 15 remained in pretrial detention pending a continuing investigation.

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTI. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. For example, in October 2019 a group of persons, including the victim’s husband, killed an albino pregnant woman in Kita on the orders of a traditional spiritual leader. Two of the perpetrators were arrested. As of December, the victim’s husband remained under arrest and the case remained pending. Singer-songwriter and albino activist Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition continued and impeded such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer. Keita founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation in 2006, which continued to provide free health care to persons with albinism, advocated for their protection, and provided education to help end their abuse.

On October 3, the Malian Association for the Protection of People with Albinism hosted a press conference in Bamako to demand authorities apply the 2017-21 regional action plan on albinism in Africa. While the plan aims to promote the rights of albinos in the country and across Africa, the association contended that since its adoption, authorities have struggled to apply it.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers, except members of the armed forces, have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process is cumbersome and time consuming, and the government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectoral collective bargaining and to approve sectoral collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code in order to strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor may order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike. During the year teachers went on strike, calling for higher wages, while health professionals in Bamako and Kayes also called for increased resources and personal protective equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. Officials had not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and conviction includes fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties may be doubled if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Government officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating community members in an effort to have charges dismissed.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation, and in artisanal gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers compelled boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the North subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Girls between ages six and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The government prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. This law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards regarding the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared among the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor; the Ministry of Justice through different courts; the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police; the National Social Security Institute through its health service; and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate. The penalties for violations were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes but were not applied in all sectors.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy.

Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the northern and central parts of the country (see section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as garibouts or talibes, to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes were also used as domestic workers without receiving compensation.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

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 labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks considered dangerous, and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women are also legally prohibited from working on the creation or sale of writing and images considered contrary to good morals. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wage allows one to live above the World Bank’s poverty line. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In 2018 the government increased the salaries of public-sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In 2018 banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries. In September teachers received a pay increase following strikes in 2019 and during the year.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 93 percent of workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization report.

The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations due to fear of losing their jobs.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors, and the few inspectors it did employ lacked resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. No government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to worksites only after labor unions filed complaints.

Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. A government commission conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines; mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso; and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

Mozambique is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected republican form of government. In October 2019 voters re-elected as president Filipe Jacinto Nyusi of the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique Party with 73 percent of the vote in an election with many irregularities reported by observers. In the run-up to elections, several incidents of serious violence and intimidation contributed to public doubts that the elections would be safe and fair. On election day national and international observers considered voting generally orderly but reported systemic vulnerabilities, such as inconsistent application of election procedures and lack of transparency during vote tabulation. A number of foreign observers–including from the EU and European Commonwealth–and domestic civil society organizations expressed concerns regarding election irregularities. These included delays in observer credentialing, nonregistration of large numbers of independent and opposition observers, the arrest and intimidation of some opposition observers, late release of campaign funding to political parties, intentional spoiling of ballots, vote falsification, and inordinately high voter turnout in some districts that indicated ballot-box stuffing.

The National Police, the National Criminal Investigation Service, and the Rapid Intervention Unit are responsible for law enforcement and internal security. They report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Border Security Force–responsible for protecting the country’s international borders and for carrying out police duties within 24 miles of borders–also reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The State Intelligence and Security Service reports directly to the president and is responsible for intelligence operations. The Presidential Guard provides security for the president, and the Force for the Protection of High-level Individuals provides security for senior-level officials at the national and provincial levels. The Armed Defense Forces of Mozambique, consisting of the air force, army, and navy, are responsible for external security, cooperate with police on internal security, and have natural disaster and emergency response functions. The president is commander in chief of all these forces. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; widespread acts of official corruption; and violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed abuses; however, impunity remained a problem at all levels.

During the year violent attacks against government forces and civilian populations that began in 2017 escalated dramatically in frequency, intensity, and complexity in the northeastern districts of Cabo Delgado Province, where ISIS-Mozambique made significant advances. From January to November, there were an estimated 1,484 fatalities in Cabo Delgado Province, of which 602 resulted from targeted extremist violence against civilians and 109 resulted from security force violence against civilians according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Human rights organizations and the government stated violent extremists committed human rights abuses against civilians that included beheadings, kidnappings, and the use of child soldiers. Abductions and forced displacement by extremists of civilians increased, sometimes including burning entire communities. Security force responses to this violence were sometimes heavy handed, including arbitrary arrest and detention and alleged extrajudicial killings of both suspected violent extremists and civilians.

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 credible reports by media and international human rights organizations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Most reports named security forces, particularly the Armed Forces of Mozambique (FADM) operating in Cabo Delgado Province, while others identified National Police (PRM) and the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) members as perpetrators. The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of security force killings deemed unjustifiable; however, the government failed to investigate many reports of abuses.

There were numerous abuses similar to the following examples. Although a lack of access to Cabo Delgado Province impeded verification by media and human rights organizations, media reported security forces shot and killed between 18 and 48 civilians on small boats in the vicinity of Ibo Island between April 12 and 21. On April 12, individuals wearing FADM uniforms reportedly shot and killed 12 fishermen and merchants and looted their ships’ cargo. On April 23, the president stated security forces in Cabo Delgado Province might have “unintentionally” violated human rights in combatting violent extremists. On September 14, a video emerged on social media showing armed, uniformed men walking on a paved road in a rural area following a naked woman and yelling “Shabaab,” the local name for ISIS-Mozambique. She was beaten with a stick and shot several times. The president and senior officials claimed that the terrorist groups in Cabo Delgado Province had created the video as part of a misinformation campaign and that an investigation had been opened. No details or results of an investigation had been released by year’s end.

Police were accused of arbitrary and sometimes violent enforcement of the COVID-19 state of emergency orders issued by the president on April 1. For example, on April 21, in Sofala Province, media reported that two PRM officers beat a resident to death for threatening to film them playing soccer after they broke up a match in which players had violated social distancing rules. On April 23, the officers involved were arrested, and the PRM announced it would investigate the incident and apply disciplinary measures if warranted. The PRM had not released further information on the case by year’s end.

On June 17, six police officers of the Gaza Province UIR and the Gaza Special Operations Unit were convicted of murder for the October 2019 killing of civil society leader Anastacio and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 24 years.

Human rights organizations and the government stated violent extremists in Cabo Delgado Province committed human rights abuses against civilians that included beheadings, kidnappings, and use of child soldiers. From January to November, there were an estimated 1,484 fatalities in Cabo Delgado Province, of which 602 resulted from targeted extremist violence against civilians and 109 resulted from security force violence against civilians. Extremists also abducted civilians during village raids. Security force responses to this violence was often heavy handed, including arbitrary arrest and detention and extrajudicial killings of suspected violent extremists and civilians.

There were numerous abuses reported by media similar to the following example. On September 30, extremists beheaded seven persons, shot and killed another seven, and tortured others during a two-week period. Extremists also posted videos depicting the mutilation of corpses of security force members.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of civilian or military authorities.

According to media, in March activist Roberto Abdala, who worked for the land rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Centro Terra Viva (the Living Earth Center) disappeared in the northern city of Palma. Abdala remained missing at year’s end.

On April 9, independent online newspaper Carta de Mocambique reported that military members abducted independent journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco in Cabo Delgado Province. On April 7, Mbaruco’s last communication was a text message stating he was surrounded by military members. On April 27, Augusto Guta, police public relations head in Cabo Delgado Province, stated police were searching for Mbaruco and requested the public’s help locating him. Mbaruco’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but international and domestic human rights groups reported mistreatment of detainees, specifically those detained in Cabo Delgado Province as a result of counterterrorism operations. At least two videos surfaced that showed security forces physically abusing terrorist suspects. For example, in August a video appeared showing alleged government security force members caning three terrorist suspects; one suspect appeared to have been caned to death. In September the government stated it had opened an investigation into the matter. No additional information was available by year’s end.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, particularly forces operating in Cabo Delgado Province. A weak judicial system contributed to impunity, including a lack of capacity to investigate cases of abuse and to prosecute and try perpetrators. The Human Rights Commission is mandated to investigate allegations of abuses. The government did not provide widespread or systemic training increase respect for human rights and prevent abuses by security force members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening in most areas due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and limited medical care.

Physical Conditions: Government officials and civil society organizations cited as serious problems overcrowding, poor nutrition, poor hygiene and medical care, the inclusion of juvenile prisoners in adult facilities, and convicted and untried prisoners sharing cells. Almost all prisons dated from the pre-1975 colonial era, and many were in an advanced state of dilapidation. The attorney general’s annual report to parliament issued in May cited overcrowding and degradation of infrastructure as threats to the security, rehabilitation, and human rights of prisoners. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) acknowledged an acute shortage of prison facilities and that lack of adequate facilities contributed to the abuse of detainees. According to the PGR, prisons were 232 percent above capacity with 19,789 prisoners occupying space for only 8,498.

On April 6, parliament approved an amnesty law in response to COVID-19 that provided for the release of prisoners convicted of minor offenses to ease overcrowding in the National Penitentiary Service. Media reported the release of approximately 5,000 detainees.

Juvenile detainees were held in preventive detention with adult prisoners. Inmates with disabilities often shared cells with other prisoners. No information was available on deaths in prison, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions, including on whether authorities took remedial action.

Administration: Although no formal system specific to prisons existed for receiving or tracking complaints, prisoners were free to contact the PGR, the national ombudsman, or NGOs with complaints.

Independent Monitoring: International and domestic human rights groups had access to prisoners at the discretion of the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, and permission to visit prisoners was generally granted. The Mozambican Human Rights League and the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) had a high degree of access to prisons run by the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; however, civil society groups reported security forces repeatedly arrested and detained persons, including journalists and civil society activists in northern Cabo Delgado Province on unsubstantiated charges of involvement in extremist violence or property destruction.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Apart from operations countering extremist violence in northern Cabo Delgado Province, authorities generally did not detain suspects without judicial authorization. By law judges or prosecutors must first issue an arrest warrant unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The maximum length of investigative detention is 48 hours without a warrant or six months with a warrant, during which time a detainee has the right to judicial review of the case. A detainee may be held another 90 days if the National Criminal Investigation Service continues its investigation. A person accused of a crime carrying a potential maximum sentence if convicted of more than eight years’ imprisonment may be detained up to an additional 84 days without being formally charged. A court may approve two additional 84-day periods of detention without charge while police complete their investigation. The detainee must be released if no charges are brought within the prescribed period for investigation. Authorities, however, did not always respect these legal requirements.

The law provides for citizens’ right to access the courts and the right to legal representation, regardless of ability to pay for such services. Indigent defendants, however, frequently received no legal representation due to a shortage of legal professionals willing to work without charge. There were no reports of suspects held incommunicado or under house arrest.

The bail system remained poorly defined.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem due to a lack of judges and prosecutors and poor communication among authorities.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some civil society groups asserted, however, that the executive branch and ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique Party (Frelimo) exerted influence on an understaffed and inadequately trained judiciary, especially in politically sensitive national security cases where extremist suspects were accused of violent crimes in Cabo Delgado Province.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Courts presume accused persons innocent, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. By law defendants are entitled to a fair, timely, and public trial, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and the law specifically provides for public defenders for all defendants, although this did not always happen. While defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense, they often do not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants also have the right to free interpretation as necessary, and authorities generally did not deny persons these rights. Convicted persons may appeal lower court decisions to a higher court.

By law only judges or lawyers may confront or question witnesses. A defendant may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The government generally upheld such rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Persons accused of crimes against the government, including treason or threatening national security, are tried in open civilian courts according to standard criminal judicial procedures. Members of media and the general public attended trials throughout the year; however, a judge may order a trial closed to media in the interest of national security, to protect the privacy of the plaintiff in a sexual assault case, or to prevent interested parties outside the court from destroying evidence.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. By law citizens may file lawsuits through the Office of the Ombudsman, the CNDH, and the Mozambican Bar Association seeking cessation of human rights abuses, damages for abuses, or both. The country is a signatory to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Office of the Ombudsman is constitutionally designated as guarantor of citizens’ legal rights in dealings with the government. Citizens may file complaints with the Ombudsman’s Office. Each complaint is reviewed and an investigation initiated if the Ombudsman’s Office judges it legitimate.

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

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; however, there were reports the government at times failed to respect the privacy of personal communications, particularly those of civil society activists and journalists. There were no reports authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. Some civil society activists stated government intelligence services and operatives of the ruling party monitored telephone calls and emails without warrants, conducted surveillance of their offices, followed opposition members, used informants, and disrupted opposition party activities in certain areas.

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. The government did not always effectively protect or respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that restricted freedom of speech and press. Journalists expressed concern regarding government intimidation by security forces.

Freedom of Speech: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society members complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media outlets and individual journalists regularly reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government, the ruling party, and prominent political figures. The vast majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation from the government or the ruling party. Civil society organizations and journalists, however, stated the government and ruling party exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media and took retaliatory action when unspecified limits were crossed, particularly related to reporting on the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province. In early December the government withdrew the credentials of a foreign correspondent who had reported on Cabo Delgado Province and sensitive issues related to the ruling party. On December 13, the National Bar Association and Human Rights Commission called for greater media freedom to cover events in Cabo Delgado Province.

In August 2019 parliament passed a law criminalizing photographing or recording video and audio of individuals without their consent. Conviction of violating this law is punishable by up to one year in prison.

On August 23, an apparent arson attack decimated the offices of the weekly newspaper Canal de Mocambique and its online sibling CanalMoz, which published articles critical of the government’s operations in Cabo Delgado Province. On August 25, the president issued a statement condemning the attack, asserting the importance of a free press, and pledging to open an investigation. As of October authorities had not made any arrests or stated whether an investigation was being conducted.

In December 2019 unknown assailants attacked Executive Editor Matias Guente of Canal de Mocambique with baseball bats and golf clubs during a failed kidnapping attempt in Maputo. As of October authorities had not arrested anyone in connection with the attack.

As of October the Cabo Delgado Provincial Court had yet to try journalist Amade Abubacar, who was charged in September 2019 with “public instigation through the use of electronic media, slander against forces of public order, (and) instigation or provocation to public disorder.” In January 2019 soldiers arrested Abubacar in Cabo Delgado Province as he was interviewing residents who were fleeing insurgent attacks. He was held incommunicado in a military detention facility until his lawyers succeeded in obtaining his transfer to a civilian prison. Amnesty International stated mistreatment of Abubacar while in detention included “physical aggression, forcing him to sleep handcuffed,” and food deprivation. It concluded that this amounted “to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” In April 2019 Abubacar was released under terms that restricted him to Cabo Delgado Province.

National Security: Authorities cited violation of antiterrorism and national security laws to arrest journalists who reported on violence in Cabo Delgado Province and COVID-19. For example, on June 25, independent journalist with Carta de Mocambique Omardine Omar was arrested while investigating a complaint of police harassment and extortion of street vendors; he was jailed for three nights and fined for violating state of emergency measures related to COVID-19. Despite the prosecution’s motion to dismiss charges, on June 30, Judge Francisca Antonio of the Ka Mpfumo Court in Maputo convicted him of civil disobedience and sentenced him to 15 days’ imprisonment.

In June the public prosecutor charged Matias Guente (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment) and Canal de Mocambique editorial director Fernando Veloso with violating “state secrets” for their March 11 publication of confidential government documents that detailed questionable Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior contracting arrangements with gas companies operating in Cabo Delgado Province. During a July 10 hearing in Maputo, Guente (Veloso was reportedly in Portugal) refused to divulge the sources for their reporting. As of October, Guente’s case had yet to be tried, and Veloso reportedly remained in Portugal. The NGO Center for Democracy and Development described the case as an act of “persecution” and “absurd,” noting that media “are not privy to classified information from the state.”

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. For example, members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups, and internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, some academics reported self-censorship due to concerns they were under government surveillance.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law protest organizers do not require government authorization to protest peacefully; however, they must notify local authorities of their intent in writing at least four business days in advance. Unlike in 2019, there were no incidents in which authorities prevented protest gatherings.

Freedom of Association

The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs by year’s end had not acted on the request for registration of the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA)–the country’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy NGO. Although the registration process usually takes less than two months, LAMBDA’s request has been pending since 2008 despite resubmissions of its application. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge the ministry to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. In 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled LAMBDA and other groups could not be precluded from registration based on “morality” but did not direct the government to grant official recognition to LAMBDA. The organization continued to pursue a previously filed case with the Administrative Tribunal–the highest jurisdiction for administrative matters–specifically seeking to compel the government to respond to its registration request.

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The International Organization for Migration estimated there were more than 320,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country in September, due to the violence in Cabo Delgado Province and cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019. Since 2017 the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province has displaced more than 250,000 residents in the six northern districts of the province.

The government subscribes to the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs, and its policies are in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Authorities did not always closely follow government policy, and there were incidents of the movement or relocation of IDPs inconsistent with the UN guiding principles. Authorities limited access to some areas of Cabo Delgado Province.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

Durable Solutions: The government worked closely with UNHCR to implement a local integration program for refugees in communities in Maputo and nearby Matola and at the Maratane Camp in Nampula Province. UNHCR referred a limited number of refugees for third-country resettlement.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

In August 2019 the government and the main opposition party, Renamo, signed cessation of hostilities and a peace agreement that the National Assembly enacted into law, formally ending four years of sporadic conflict. As provided for by the peace agreement, with oversight and assistance from an international contact group composed of resident diplomatic representatives from seven countries, as of November approximately 1,300 of 5,221 Renamo soldiers had been disarmed, demobilized, and reintegrated, and six of 16 Renamo bases dismantled.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2019 the country held national elections for president, parliament, and provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers noted voting-day procedures were generally orderly but lacked transparency and accountability during vote tabulation. The EU, European Commonwealth, and civil society organizations reported significant irregularities. These included discrepancies between the number of voters registered and the number of eligible voters, particularly in Gaza and Zambezia Provinces; delays in observer credentialing; nonregistration of more than 3,000 independent and opposition observers; the arrest and intimidation of some opposition observers; late release of campaign funding to political parties; intentional spoiling of ballots; vote falsification; and inordinately high voter turnout in some districts that indicated ballot-box stuffing. During vote tabulation, civil society and international observers noted that election authorities did not exercise systematic control of ballots, which created opportunities for tampering or altering voting results.

The two major opposition parties, Renamo and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique, did not recognize the election results as legitimate, and opposition-party members of the National Election Commission (CNE) voted unanimously to reject certification of the provisional results. The president of the CNE acknowledged irregularities occurred and stated the Constitutional Council would determine whether the elections were free, fair, and transparent. In December 2019 the Constitutional Council acknowledged irregularities but stated that they did not substantially alter the election outcome. The council certified the re-election of President Nyusi with 73 percent of the vote and that Frelimo won in every district of the country, including more than two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, the vast majority of the provincial assembly seats, and all 10 provincial governorships.

The EU Election Observation Mission stated the electoral process occurred on an “uneven playing field” in favor of Frelimo because it benefitted from the advantages of incumbency and may have exercised political influence on electoral administration. Some observers and local press reported that Frelimo party operatives collected voters’ names and their voting card numbers as a means of intimidating them into voting for Frelimo.

Election-related violence occurred throughout the pre-election campaign period, including shootings, stabbings, and beatings. Opposition parties and civil society complained of increased acts of violence, intimidation, and bias by the government and Frelimo operatives. For example, in October 2019 five off-duty police officers shot and killed human rights activist Anastacio Matavele, executive director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, as he was leaving domestic observer electoral training. On June 17, six police officers of the Gaza Province UIR and the Gaza Special Operations Unit were convicted of his murder and sentenced to terms of two to 24 years’ imprisonment.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Frelimo has dominated the political process since the country’s independence in 1975. Opposition political parties could operate, yet there were occasional restrictions on meetings, unlawful arrests, and other forms of interference and harassment by the government. The opposition contended Frelimo manipulated voter registration numbers. In the 2018 municipal elections, some opposition candidates were prevented from competing due to inconsistent application of eligibility rules. In addition inconsistent application of the law that prohibits campaign activity outside of designated time periods favored Frelimo candidates. Renamo and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique claimed the government banned meetings and that Frelimo militants attacked opposition party members in Inhambane Province.

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. Women and members of many ethnic groups held key political positions. Frelimo used quotas to provide for female representation on its central committee.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corrupt acts by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was a problem in all branches and at all levels of government.

Corruption: Corruption, including extortion by police, remained widespread, and impunity remained a serious problem. Police regularly demanded identification documents for alleged vehicular infractions solely to extort bribes. Public prosecutors faced threats for their role in efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption.

There were several cases of public corruption involving active and former government officials arrested and charged with crimes. In March former general manager of the National Social Security Institute Baptista Machaieie was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for abuse of office and embezzlement. In May the Courts of Appeal upheld the indictment of former labor minister Maria Helena Taipo for misuse of public funds and embezzlement. Taipo remained incarcerated pending trial at year’s end.

In what became known as the Hidden Debt Scheme, in 2013 the government began guaranteeing a series of loans from two investment banks–Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB (Vneshtorgbank) Bank–for three security- and defense-related state-owned enterprises. The loans were signed by then finance minister Manuel Chang, and their existence was not disclosed to the public or parliament until 2016. In 2018 Chang was arrested in South Africa pursuant to a U.S. Government arrest warrant related to his alleged involvement in the scheme. In June 2019 Mozambique’s Constitutional Council declared the loans illegal. On February 15, a South African court denied Chang’s bail request, and he remained in custody as of October. In connection with the scheme, 19 additional suspects have been charged–including the son of former president Armando Guebuza and the former president’s personal secretary–and were awaiting trial as of October. In November the government sought the extradition from the United States of three Credit Suisse officials implicated in the scandal.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires annual income and assets disclosure by appointed and elected members of the government and high-ranking civil servants to the Ministry of State Administration. The law provides for fines for those who do not file declarations; however, the declarations are not made public. The Center for Public Integrity reported incomplete compliance because the process of requiring public servants to file financial disclosures was not effective.

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 cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. The government had yet to act on the registration request pending since 2008 of a local LGBTI rights advocacy organization. The government frequently denied or delayed NGO access to areas where credible allegations of abuses by security forces occurred, particularly in Cabo Delgado Province.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is mandated to promote and defend the human rights provisions of the constitution. Its stated priorities include cases of law enforcement violence and torture, judicial corruption, and abuses of prisoner rights. The CNDH lacks authority to prosecute abuses and must refer cases to the judiciary. Commission members are chosen by political parties, civil society, the prime minister, and the Mozambican Bar Association. Although the CNDH was an active human rights advocate, its lack of resources and formal staff training in human rights hindered its effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of adults and children, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Penalties for conviction range from two to eight years’ imprisonment if the victim is age 12 or older and 20 to 24 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than age 12.

Conviction of abuse of a spouse or unmarried partner–regardless of gender–is punishable by one to two years’ imprisonment or longer if another crime is also applicable. The government did not effectively enforce domestic abuse law. Victims often decided not to file charges or perpetrators fled arrest. NGOs stated domestic violence against women remained widespread and increased during the COVID-19 state of emergency due to restricted movement and confinement in place with male partners. The April 6 COVID-19-related release of approximately 5,000 prisoners to reduce overcrowding excluded those convicted of domestic violence (see section 2.c., Physical Conditions).

Many cases of domestic violence were not reported to authorities. In addition according to NGO and media reports, many families preferred to settle rape allegations through informal community courts or privately through financial remuneration rather than through the formal judicial system.

Government agencies and NGOs implemented public outreach campaigns to combat violence against women nationwide. Police and NGOs worked together to combat domestic violence. The PRM operated special women and children’s units within police precincts that dealt with high numbers of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and violence against children cases.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. NGOs and the government stated the incidence of FGM/C was low, but there were no reliable estimates of the numbers of girls and women subjected to FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of “purification,” whereby a widow is obligated to have unprotected sex with a member of her deceased husband’s family, occurred, particularly in rural areas, despite campaigns against it.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained pervasive in business, government, schools, and broadly in society. There is no legislation on sexual harassment in public places outside of schools. By law a teacher who abuses or sexually harasses a student through orders, threats, or coercion may be fined up to 20 times the teacher’s monthly salary.

In August media reported male instructors were accused of impregnating female trainees in the Matalana Police Training School in Maputo Province. Media reported all instructors suspected of involvement were suspended and the pregnant trainees sent home on administrative leave with assurances they would be allowed to complete their training following their pregnancies.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Limited access to information hindered their ability to do so.

Social and cultural barriers affected access to family planning services. These barriers included early marriage and childbearing, families with many children, and stigmatization of discussion of sexual topics with adolescents.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The government’s Health Sector Gender Inclusion Strategy 2018-2023 provides for policies, standards, and multisectoral coordination with partners and civil society to address gender-based violence.

According to the 2011 Mozambique Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 408 deaths per 100,000 births. The main factors were the lack of access to and availability of quality prenatal health care and emergency care of complications, such as hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and sepsis during childbirth. The adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19) in 2018 was 146.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men; however, the government did not enforce the law effectively. The law does not specifically require equal pay for equal work, nor does it prohibit discrimination based on gender in hiring. The law contains provisions that limit excessive physical work or night shift requirements during pregnancy. The law contains special provisions to protect women against abuse, although these provisions were rarely enforced.

Women experienced economic discrimination. Gaps in education and income between men and women remained high. In some regions, particularly in the north, women had limited access to the formal judicial system for enforcement of rights provided by the civil code and instead relied on customary law to settle disputes. Enforcement of laws that protect women’s rights to land ownership in the formal economy remained poor. Women typically could not inherit land under customary law.

The parliament had a women’s caucus composed of members from the three parties with parliamentary seats that sought to promote women’s rights, including women’s representation in decision-making bodies.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained by birth within the country or birth to at least one Mozambican citizen parent outside the country. Failure to register a child’s birth may result in the child’s inability to attend school and may prevent a person from obtaining public documents, such as identity cards, passports, or “poverty certificates” that enable access to free health care and free secondary education. Birth registration was often delayed in rural areas. Cultural practice prevented a woman, especially in rural areas, from exercising her legal right to register her child without the presence of the child’s father.

Education: By law education is compulsory, universal, and free of tuition through primary school and grades seven through nine of secondary school. Nevertheless, school costs for supplies and uniforms remained beyond the means of many families, especially in rural areas. According to the Education Sector Development Plan, in 2018 only 49 percent of children completed primary school education.

Child Abuse: The Child Protection Law provides for protection against physical and sexual abuse; removal of children from parents who are unable to protect, assist, and educate them; and juvenile courts to deal with matters of adoption, maintenance, and regulating parental power. Juvenile courts have wide discretion with regard to sentencing, but the law requires a minimum of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of trafficking in persons.

Most child-abuse cases involved sexual or physical abuse. Sexual abuse in schools and in homes was a problem. NGOs remained concerned that certain male teachers used their authority to coerce female students into sex. Orphans and other vulnerable children remained at high risk of abuse.

While the government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, significant problems remained; the government had yet to implement any programs to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law the minimum age of marriage for men and women is 18. In July 2019 parliament outlawed marriage for children younger than age 18; the minimum age was previously 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 for boys and girls. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Authorities partially enforced the law, but exploitation of children and child prostitution remained a problem. Girls were exploited in prostitution in bars, roadside clubs, and restaurants. Child prostitution appeared to be most prevalent in Maputo Province and the provinces of Nampula, Beira, and Manica, in border towns, and at overnight stopping points along key transportation routes. The United Nations reported that violent extremists in Cabo Delgado Province kidnapped girls and subjected them to forced marriages. Some NGOs provided health care, counseling, and vocational training to children, primarily girls, engaged in prostitution. The United Nations reported that violent extremists in Cabo Delgado Province kidnapped girls and women and forced them into marriages.

Displaced Children: Children from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Eswatini, many of whom entered the country alone, remained vulnerable to labor exploitation and discrimination (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement). They lacked protection and had limited access to schools and other social welfare institutions, largely due to lack of resources. Coercion, both physical and economic, of girls into the sex industry was common, particularly in Manica Province.

Several government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action, conducted programs to provide health-care assistance and vocational education for HIV/AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country has a small 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 constitution and law prohibit discrimination against citizens with disabilities; however, the law does not differentiate among physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities regarding access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There were no reports of official action to investigate and punish abuses against persons with disabilities. The 2012-19 National Action Plan in the Area of Disabilities provides for funding, monitoring, and assessment of implementation by various organizations that support persons with disabilities. Electoral law provides for access and assistance to voters with disabilities in polling booths, including the right for them to vote first.

The city of Maputo offered free bus passes to persons with disabilities. Buses in Maputo, however, did not have specific accessibility features.

The government did not effectively implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. Discrimination in private-sector and government employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other services was common. Observers often cited unequal access to employment as one of the biggest problems. The government did not effectively implement programs to provide access to information and communication for persons with disabilities. Educational opportunities for children with disabilities were generally poor, especially for those with developmental disabilities. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children. The government sometimes referred parents of children with disabilities to private schools with more resources to provide for their children. The Mozambican Association for the Disabled Persons (ADEMO) reported teacher-training programs did not address the needs of students with disabilities. ADEMO also stated school buildings did not meet international standards for accessibility, and public tenders did not include provisions for the accessibility of persons with disabilities.

Doctors reported many families abandoned family members with disabilities at the country’s only psychiatric hospital. ADEMO reported access to equipment, such as wheelchairs, was a challenge due to lengthy and complicated bureaucratic procedures.

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

There were no media or other reports of bias-motivated attacks on LGBTI persons; however, discrimination in public medical facilities was reported. Medical staff sometimes chastised LGBTI individuals for their LGBTI status when they sought treatment. Intimidation was not a factor in preventing incidents of abuse from being reported.

There were reports of societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination, social exclusion, and abuse were prevalent, including in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Reports continued of many women expelled from their homes and abandoned by their husbands and relatives because they were HIV-positive. Family or community members accused some women widowed by HIV/AIDS of being witches who purposely killed their husbands to acquire belongings; as retribution, they deprived the women of all possessions.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

AlbiMoz and Amor a Vida–local NGOs that advocate for persons with albinism–documented cases in which assailants kidnapped, maimed, or killed persons with albinism. Criminals attacked them, often with the assistance of a family member, and sold their body parts to traditional healers purportedly from other countries, who, according to government officials, sought their body parts because of their alleged “magical” properties.

The government denounced violence against persons with albinism. Courts tended to sentence those convicted of the murder and kidnapping of persons with albinism more harshly than those convicted of similar crimes that did not involve persons with albinism. On June 13, the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs sponsored an Albinism Awareness Day ceremony in partnership with UNESCO to address the developmental and human rights challenges faced by persons with albinism. Representative Paul Gomis of the UNESCO Office in Mozambique stated the government’s COVID-19 state of emergency had aggravated discrimination and violations of human rights faced by persons with albinism–particularly women and children–because their physical appearance exposed them to myths, exclusion, various degrees of stigmatization, and human rights abuse.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for workers, with limited exceptions, to form and join independent trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law requires government approval to establish a union. By law the government may take up to 45 days to register unions, a delay the International Labor Organization has deemed excessive. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Workers in defense and security services, tax administration, and the fire brigade, along with prison workers, judges and prosecutors, and the President’s Office staff members are prohibited from unionizing. Other public-sector workers may form and join unions, but they are prohibited from striking.

The law does not allow strike action until complex conciliation, mediation, and arbitration procedures are exhausted, which typically takes two to three weeks. Sectors deemed essential must provide a “minimum level” of service during a strike. Workers’ ability to conduct union activities in workplaces was strictly limited. The law provides for voluntary arbitration for “essential services” personnel monitoring the weather and fuel supply, postal service workers, export-processing-zone workers, and those loading and unloading animals and perishable foodstuffs. The law requires that strikes be announced at least five days in advance, and the announcement must include the expected duration of the strike, although the government interprets this to allow indefinite strikes. Mediation and arbitration bodies, in addition to the unions and workers themselves, may end strikes. The government respected the legal prohibition of antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, it does not explicitly provide for reinstatement of workers terminated for union activities. An employee fired with cause does not have a right to severance, but employees terminated without cause do. Unemployment insurance does not exist, and there is no social safety net program for workers laid off for economic reasons.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers were only able to exercise a few of these rights. Collective bargaining contracts covered less than 5 percent of the workforce.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws. Government efforts included fining companies that violated labor laws and the expulsion of foreign supervisors who allegedly did not follow the law. Fines were not sufficient to deter violators. Penalties for conviction were not commensurate with those for similar denials of civil rights.

The largest trade union organization, the Organization of Mozambican Workers, was perceived as biased in favor of the government and ruling party Frelimo. There were no independent unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced or compulsory labor was among legal penalties for conviction of crimes. The penalties for conviction of violations were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties if convicted were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

The government did not enforce these laws effectively. There was limited evidence of forced labor and forced child labor in the mining, domestic service, and agricultural sectors. Girls and women from rural areas, as well as migrant workers from bordering countries, were lured to cities with false promises of employment or education and exploited in domestic servitude and sex trafficking.

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 has established laws and regulations that prohibit the worst forms of child labor; however, gaps exist in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor. Labor law and regulations on domestic work allow children ages 12 to 15 to engage in domestic work with the permission of their legal guardian and according to certain conditions defined by the Council of Ministers. A minimum age of 12 is not in compliance with international standards.

Children are not permitted to work in occupations that are unhealthy, dangerous, or require significant physical effort. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 14 occupational categories, including domestic service, mining, and production of tobacco. The minimum working age without restrictions is 18. The law permits children between ages 15 and 17 to work with a Ministry of Labor permit. The employer is required to provide for their training and provide conditions of work that are not damaging to their physical and moral development. Children between ages 15 and 18 may work up to seven hours a day for a total of 38 hours a week.

The Ministry of Labor regulates child labor in the formal sector, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Labor inspectors may obtain court orders and have police enforce compliance with child labor provisions. Law enforcement officers work with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action (MGCAS) and the National Reference Group for the Protection of Children and Combating Trafficking in Persons to coordinate referrals of children to social service providers. Furthermore, MGCAS has a standard operating procedure for handling human trafficking victims, which incorporates an intake form used nationwide by law enforcement officers, including border officials, to collect the necessary data from victims and to provide for professional care and referrals to appropriate services. There were no mechanisms in place for submitting complaints regarding hazardous and forced child labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties for conviction were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement mechanisms generally were inadequate in the formal sector and nonexistent in the informal sector.

The labor inspectorate and police lacked adequate staff, funds, and training to investigate child labor cases, especially in areas outside the capital, where a majority of the abuses occurred. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors. Inspectors earned low wages (like many government employees) making them vulnerable to, and often inclined to seek, bribes. Inspectors often did not have the means to travel to sites and therefore relied on the company they were investigating to provide transportation to the site of an alleged violation. The government provided training on child prostitution and abuse prevention to police officers, training to judges regarding legislation pertinent to child labor, and training to labor inspectors on trafficking identification and prevention.

Child labor remained a problem. NGOs reported some girls who migrated from rural areas to urban centers to work as domestic help for extended family or acquaintances to settle debts were vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Mothers who did not complete secondary school were more likely to have children involved in child labor. Due to economic necessity, especially in rural areas, children worked in agriculture, as domestic employees, or in prostitution.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced applicable law. Penalties (such as fines) were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for conviction were not commensurate with laws relating to other civil rights issues.

Discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities was common, and access to employment was one of the biggest problems facing persons with disabilities.

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against workers because of HIV/AIDS status, and the Ministry of Labor generally intervened in cases of perceived discrimination by employers. With an increased public awareness of this law, there were no public reports of individuals dismissed because of their HIV status.

There were multiple media reports of the Ministry of Labor suspending the contracts of irregular foreign workers. Some foreign workers reported harassment by Ministry of Labor inspectors after disputes with Mozambican coworkers and being forced to pay bribes for work permits or leave the country. In 2017, however, the Constitutional Council ruled it was unconstitutional for the government to expel foreign workers without judicial approval.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The lowest government-mandated minimum wage, based on industry, was above the official poverty line. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours but may be extended to 48 hours. Overtime must be paid for hours worked in excess of 48 hours at 50 percent above the base hourly salary. These legal protections also apply to foreign workers holding work permits.

The government sets occupational health and safety (OSH) standards that were up to date and appropriate for the main industries. Health and environmental laws protect workers in the formal sector; however, they do not apply to the informal economy, which comprised an estimated 95 percent of the workforce. Workers have the right to clean and safe workplaces including good physical, environmental, and moral conditions. Workers have the right to be informed of safety risks and instruction on how to follow the regulations and improve safety, including the right to protective clothing and equipment, first aid, health exams, and compensation for workplace injuries or sickness. OSH officers are responsible for identifying unsafe working conditions, but workers may file complaints regarding unsafe situations.

On July 27 and August 4, according to local reports, two miners died while digging a shaft illegally within a privately owned mining concession in Cabo Delgado Province. A Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy official stated the illegal mining and deaths occurred within a concession owned by the Montepuez Ruby Mining Company and that the illegal mining operation was likely part of an international smuggling ring led by foreigners who paid low wages to both citizens and foreigners to extract gemstones under dangerous conditions. In June authorities disrupted a gemstone-trafficking network involving 10 persons, several of whom were foreigners illegally present in the country.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage rates in the private sector, and the Ministry of Finance does so in the public sector. The ministries usually investigated violations of minimum wage rates only after workers submitted a complaint.

The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards in the informal economy, since the Ministry of Labor only regulates the formal sector. Penalties for conviction were not commensurate with those for similar offenses. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Agricultural workers were among the most vulnerable to poor work conditions and wage theft. The lack of frequent and enforced sanctions for violations created little deterrence for violations. Despite the relatively low number of inspectors, some businesses reported frequent visits by labor inspectors citing capricious violations and threats of fines in order to receive bribes.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. In the first round of the presidential elections on December 27, Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Mahamadou Issoufou, who won a second term in 2016, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office. International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election to be peaceful, free, and fair. In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; forced disappearances by government and armed groups; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. Wary of increasing attacks on its borders as well as spillover from insecurity in Libya, the government participated in campaigns against terrorist groups with the governments of Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

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 unconfirmed reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of executing persons believed to be fighting for extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received complaints regarding multiple arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces as well as killings by militias. The CNDH had limited ability to investigate the complaints. Human Rights Watch reported a video showed security forces in vehicles running over and killing apparently unarmed and wounded Boko Haram fighters during a May 11 action in Diffa.

Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).

In 2019 Malian militia groups such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, Self-Defense Group Imghad Tuareg and Allies were accused of committing human rights abuses in the country, including kidnapping and arbitrary killing of persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups. These abuses appeared to cease in May 2019.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both the Tillabery and Diffa Regions. According to Amnesty International, between March 27 and April 2, security forces allegedly arrested and forcibly disappeared 102 persons in the Tillabery Region as part of Operation Almahou.

There were also multiple instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g.). For example, in 2019 Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped dozens of local chiefs in the Diffa Region.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports by domestic civil society organizations that security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government stated it would investigate.

There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region harassed or detained citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.

In September the CNDH implicated security forces in human rights abuses in the Tillabery Region in March and April.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nigerien peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, with seven cases from 2018, 2016, and 2015. In five cases the United Nations substantiated the allegations and repatriated the perpetrators, and in the other two cases, the United Nations had completed the investigations and was waiting for additional information from the government. As of September the government had not explained what actions if any it had taken regarding the cases. These cases allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, an exploitative relationship with an adult, and rape of children.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among the army and police. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of police, national guard, and fire department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of civil protection personnel. The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the gendarmerie and military forces. The armed forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. The CNDH investigated some allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and attacks by violent extremist organizations.

Physical Conditions: Human rights observers stated overcrowding remained a widespread problem. The government reported in December 2019 there were 10,723 prisoners in 41 prisons designed to hold 10,555 persons, perhaps indicating significant underreporting by the government, according to observers. The prisons of Niamey and Diffa were respectively designed to hold 445 and 100 persons but towards year’s end held 1,451 and 432 inmates, respectively. Other observers found several prisons to be 300 percent above capacity. In Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards.

Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters, which were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes. Terrorist and high-threat offenders were separated from other criminal offenders. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis, and COVID-19, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Observers noted judicial slowness in assessing conditions, dilapidated prison premises (except at the Tillabery prison), an insufficiency of prison staff, poor food, health care, and maintenance, and inadequacy of post release reintegration systems.

The government operated a detention facility in Goudoumaria that holds defectors from violent extremist organizations while they undergo rehabilitation. Families were kept together and separated from single men. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided the majority of services to the facility, including potable water, food, and medical care. Children in the camp suffered from malaria, and pregnant women lacked adequate access to emergency care.

National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. The law creates a specialized cadre of prison guards, and the penitentiary administration reportedly launched a first round of training in 2019 but did not fully implement the law.

Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of mistreatment. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted monitoring visits during the year. The ICRC worked with the local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.

Improvements: As a response to the COVID-19 health crisis, authorities released 1,967 prisoners between March and April by presidential decree.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits arbitrary detention without charge for more than 48 hours and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention, with some exceptions. If the prosecutor receives a case in which an individual was not charged within 48 hours, the case must be dismissed. An investigator can request a waiver for an additional 48 hours before charging an individual. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for 15 days, which can be extended only once, for an additional 15 days.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. Reports indicated, however, that authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. The 15-day detention period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (SCLCT/CTO); terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region at times spent days or weeks in either regional civilian or military custody before officials transported them to Niamey.

Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours of being transferred to SCLCT/CTO. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and an insufficient number of lawyers prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members on occasion rounded up persons accused of being members of or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 48 months for terrorism offenses where the sentence could be 10 years or more in prison and 24 months for less serious offenses. The vast majority of prisoners were awaiting trial and, according to statistics provided by the government, approximately 80 percent of prisoners facing terrorism charges were in pretrial detention. The NGO World Prison brief, citing 2017 data, reported that 53.8 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Reports indicated judicial inefficiency, limited investigative capacity, and staff shortages contributed to lengthy pretrial detention periods for terrorism offenses. Regarding other offenses, civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to abuse of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast, some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Defectors who meet the government’s legal criteria for conditional amnesty are supposed to be released after receiving three to six months of deradicalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The chief prosecutor is responsible for reviewing defector case files and working with the Ministry of Interior to make decisions regarding the defectors’ eligibility for reintegration. Due to bureaucratic and logistical challenges associated with establishing and implementing this program, defectors and family members remained in the facility for prolonged periods–some up to three years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports that family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections. Authorities generally respected court orders.

Traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil topics. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of Islamic traditions, heads these courts. The law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf either at the investigative judge or at the trial stage of proceedings. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of courts and staff shortages were common.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated; observers estimated their number to be three. They generally received the same protections as other prisoners. Saidou Bakari, a member of the leading opposition party, remained jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. According to the chief investigative judge of the Niamey court, the case remained under investigation by the office for financial crimes.

On September 29, following months of criticism from local human rights organizations, the Ministry of Justice released pending trial three civil society activists, Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi, held in detention without trial since March. The men were arrested for allegedly participating in an unauthorized public protest and other charges.

In November 2019 a judge released Sadat Illiya Dan Malam, the last of the 29 persons detained in connection with antitax demonstrations during 2018. Sadat believed his lengthy pretrial detention was political revenge for his activism against government corruption.

Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state of emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason. On May 29, the country adopted a law that allows the presidency to monitor telephone calls, ostensibly for fighting terrorism.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and media members.

Freedom of Speech: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views with some restrictions. The government owned and operated television, radio, and major print publications, and provided funding to independent media publications through the Supreme Council of Communications, which ostensibly monitored content for factual accuracy and unbiased coverage.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally arrested journalists and civil society activists linked to factual inaccuracies in reporting on government corruption, specifically on allegations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of National Defense.

On March 5, police arrested journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni for publishing false statements after he posted a report online concerning a suspected case of COVID-19 at a Niamey hospital. On March 26, he received a three-month suspended sentence, and a court ordered him to pay a token fine to the hospital.

On March 18, police arrested journalist Moudi Moussa and two activists and released them in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

On June 10, authorities arrested and detained blogger-journalist Samira Sabou on charges of defamation filed by the son of the president after she alleged in a May 26 blogpost that he was involved in a major military procurement corruption scandal. A Niamey court acquitted Sabou and released her on July 28. On July 12, police detained Ali Soumana, the editor of the newspaper Le Courrier, a day after Soumana published an article regarding the same procurement scandal. On July 14, he was provisionally released pending trial.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists sometimes encountered pressure from authorities concerning reporting critical of the government. State-owned and -operated media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency in these regions on a rolling three-month basis through parliamentary approval.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, authorities arrested Ali Tera in 2019 based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention and under investigation.

The law to counter cybercriminality also regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders face from six months to three years in prison and fines. Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom. The government planned to appoint university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff in previous years. After a months-long strike by academic personnel, the government accepted peer-elected chancellors but appointed the university president, who presides over the chancellors. The Ministry of Higher Education returned payroll deductions to the striking teachers and paid backlogged salaries for researchers.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice. At a protest against corruption in March, police made arrests and fired tear gas, and a resulting marketplace fire killed three persons.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices. The government continued its ban on motorcycles in Tillabery Region and parts of Dosso Region.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were approximately 257,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) nationally, including 103,000 in the Diffa Region, and approximately 34,000 returned citizens from Nigeria displaced by Boko and ISIS-WA-instigated violence. IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the Diffa Region. The government worked with foreign donors and the humanitarian community, including international aid organizations and NGOs, to supply displaced populations and hosting communities with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. The law provides for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.

Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. As of September UNHCR reported approximately 84,000 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and more than 55,000 in the Tahoua Region. Insecurity in the Maradi Region also caused a sharp increase in IDPs, rising to 17,000 newly displaced persons in September.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

UNHCR closed the three refugee camps it managed in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) as part of an urbanization strategy for the region. The refugees received shelter and plots of land near the villages of Ayerou, Ouallam, and Abala. UNHCR also managed one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane) and one refugee camp in the Diffa Region, and it assisted refugees in the urban centers of Niamey and Ayorou.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions were vulnerable to armed attacks. In the Diffa Region, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued unlawful recruitment of child soldiers among refugees. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they might harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.

Following a violent attack on Intikane in June by unidentified armed men on motorbikes, approximately 25 percent of the refugee population fled to Telemces.

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

Durable Solutions: A tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the government, and the Mali government provides a legal framework for voluntary refugee repatriation when conditions in Mali are conducive for sustainable returns. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive for large-scale returns in safety and dignity, and return was not promoted.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing the country to return to their countries of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law centralizes authority for organizing elections in a permanent independent national election commission (CENI) but defines its voting board in a way that leaves it dominated by the ruling coalition. Several parties from the opposition and some ruling coalition party members objected to limitations on the ability of smaller parties to participate in election planning, believing these limitations diminished the legitimacy of election planning and the inclusivity of the electoral process.

International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election on December 27 to be peaceful, free, and fair. Nearly 70 percent of registered voters participated. Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman of the Democratic and Republic Renewal party finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Issoufou, who won his second and constitutionally final mandate in the 2016 presidential election, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office.

In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided at year’s end. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media.

Authorities released opposition leader Hama Amadou early from his one-year prison sentence for adoption fraud due to a COVID-19 related effort to ease prison populations (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). His conviction prevented him from running for public office, and on November 13, the Constitutional Court declared him ineligible to run for the presidency. Critics alleged his conviction was politically motivated to prevent Hama Amadou from challenging President Issoufou or the ruling coalition.

The law requires the creation of biometric voter lists. Because only approximately 20 percent of citizens have birth documents, observers noted that creating a biometric voter list was problematic. CENI began organizing workshops in 2019 during which witnesses could declare birth information before a judge, resulting in identity documents that could be used to build the voter list. Also in 2019, CENI also began enrolling eligible voters within the new biometric voter system. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized these efforts, noting that ruling party control of the process might skew the selection of communities or regions for enrollment workshops.

Participation of Women and Members of Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 28 of 171 National Assembly seats (16 percent). Major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” including ethnic minorities and pastoral populations.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education. Data from a World Justice Project survey published in March showed that citizens in general viewed executive and legislative officials as using public office for private gain.

The High Authority for the Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HALCIA) actively investigated official corruption and made several official reports, some of which led to punitive action by the government, including arrests. HALCIA also stopped several public procurement tenders due to concerns of improprieties. Presidential control of its budget, however, limited HALCIA’s independence and ability to investigate allegations.

Government prosecutors began investigations into $137 million lost due to corruption in military procurement contracts from 2017 to 2019. A March release of Ministry of National Defense audits noted the involvement of suspected criminal conspirators.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and while the president complied, other senior office holders did not. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. Copies of the statements are to be forwarded to the government’s fiscal services with filers explaining discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions.

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 cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights topics, including prison and detention center conditions and allegations of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as the government ombudsman, including on some human rights topics. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often failed to carry out their work effectively.

For the third consecutive year, the government increased funding for organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specify the gender of victims. The law was rarely enforced. Rape is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of victims continued.

The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support.

The law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was reportedly widespread. Husbands commonly beat their wives.

A woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a token fine to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints.

Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of the law and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization.

SOS Women and Children Victims of Violence (SOS-FEVVF) reported receiving several rape and sexual abuse declarations from girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. In February, UNICEF estimated the prevalence of the practice to be approximately 2 percent among girls and women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines. If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is doubled.

Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes limited women’s perception of what is harassment and encouraged acceptance. Cases were rarely reported, but when they were, courts enforced applicable laws. In previous years SOS-FEVVF estimated that eight of 10 young female workers in small shops faced sexual harassment, and only two in 10 reported it. Poverty made women especially vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so. Barriers to contraception included weak demand from the population and lack of education in contraceptive methods.

Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals, unequal distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas, and distance to health centers, many women used traditional midwives during childbirth and were referred to hospitals only when the mother or child suffered health complications. With limited antenatal care visits, women frequently did not understand the potential for complicated labor and so came late to clinics for assisted deliveries. Reports of deaths and serious complications from these clinic deliveries further dissuaded families from using clinics. It was unclear whether the government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The World Health Organization reported the maternal mortality ratio in 2017 was 509 per 100,000 live births. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included lack of prenatal care, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, diseases during pregnancy, hemorrhage and severe postpartum infections, malnutrition, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. The UN Population Division estimated 21 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

According to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey, 30 percent of births took place in health centers, and skilled personnel attended 29 percent of births. The United Nations reported in 2017 that the adolescent birth rate was 185 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.

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

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of sex, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law, legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household.

Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a daughter’s share of a deceased parent’s property is half the size of a son’s share.

Women had low access to education and high rates of early marriage. They were underrepresented in school and employment. According to the UN 2019 Human Development Index Report, only 4.3 percent of adult women had reached at least a secondary level of education, compared with 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market, compared with almost 10 out of 10 men. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, if one parent is a citizen. Birth registration, especially in remote rural areas and in nomadic communities, did not take place promptly due to parental poverty, lack of awareness, and distance from government services. The government’s failure to register births at times, although not done on a discriminatory basis, resulted in citizens’ reduced access to some services.

Education: Although the law provides for education for all children from ages four to 18, compulsory education for children of specific ages was not enforced. Many parents kept young girls at home to work, and girls rarely attended school for more than a few years. Access to education for children nationwide was a problem, due to a shortage of teachers, classrooms, and supplies, especially in rural areas. The low quality of public education undermined parents’ estimation of the value of sending their children to school and contributed to low attendance rates. For those that were in school, boys’ completion rate for primary school was 87.4 percent, while the completion rate for girls was 69.5 percent.

Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were common. The law prescribes penalties for child abuse. For example, parents of minors who usually engage in begging, or any person who encourages children to beg or profits from their begging, may be sentenced to six months to one year of imprisonment. The abduction of a minor younger than 18 is punishable by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for abduction for ransom is life imprisonment. Authorities made efforts to enforce these laws and combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows a girl deemed to be “sufficiently mature” to marry at age 15. Some families entered into marriage agreements under which they sent rural girls who were age 12 or even younger to their “husband’s” families to be under the “supervision” of their mothers-in-law. According to UNICEF, 76 percent of girls married by age 18 and 28 percent of girls married by age 15.

Working with civil society organizations, in 2019 the government prohibited wahaya, a practice whereby some men were able to buy or to be gifted with a “fifth wife.” These unofficial wives (Islam allows a maximum of four wives) were the daughters of hereditary slaves, often sold at ages seven to 12 (see section 7.b.). They were intended to perform manual labor for the household and provide sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available.

The Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection cooperated with women’s associations to sensitize traditional chiefs and religious leaders in rural communities to the problem of early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The law criminalizes the procurement, sale, or offering of a minor for the purpose of prostitution, with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines. The minimum age for consensual sex is 13 for both boys and girls.

The law provides that “exploitation shall include, at minimum, slavery or practices similar to slavery” and adds that the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receiving of a minor younger than 18 for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered trafficking in persons. The penalty for violators is five to 10 years in prison and fines. If the victim is younger than 18, the penalty is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. If the victim dies, the penalty is life imprisonment.

The law prohibits “indecent” acts against victims younger than 18. It leaves to judges to determine what constitutes an indecent act. The law addresses practices related to pornography.

Girls reportedly were trafficked for forced prostitution along the main east-west highway, particularly between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder along the border with Nigeria.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide occurred, and a sizeable proportion of the female prison population was incarcerated for this crime, which was often committed to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.

Displaced Children: Many displaced boys from rural areas were indentured to Islamic schools, where they were forced to beg on the streets of larger cities. Displaced children had access to government services, but services were limited. Unaccompanied migrant children transited the country en route to Libya, Algeria, and Europe. Some unaccompanied migrant children travelled to the Djado gold fields of the country’s northeast to find work in unregulated gold mines.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no 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 constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law defined a person with disabilities as one “unable to meet all or part of his needs for a normal life due to a physical, sensory, or mental deficiency.” The government made efforts to enforce these provisions. For example, regulations require that 5 percent of civil servants be persons with disabilities; the government in 2017 employed slightly less than 1 percent. There were no specific regulations in place mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and education for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that new government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the law was not enforced. Authorities sometimes investigated or punished those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.

The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than five, gives life-long free medical care to persons with disabilities.

Social stigma regarding disabilities resulted in neglect and even infanticide, according to the Federation for Handicapped Persons. A high percentage of persons with disabilities were forced by their families to spend their lives begging.

Children with disabilities were legally able to attend school but faced difficulties, including a lack of adapted instruction and materials, a shortage of specialists for working with children with special needs, and a lack of flexibility in the evaluation system. For example, the lack of professional sign language interpreters prevented deaf children from continuing their education past high school.

The law does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillabery Region faced governmental and societal discrimination due to a widespread perception that the two groups supported or facilitated terrorist activities. Concerns regarding escalation of anti-Fulani prejudice continued. There were also some unconfirmed reports of security forces targeting Fulani in raids and intentionally avoiding Fulani areas during recruitment efforts.

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

There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual conduct, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law states an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex is punishable by six months to three years in prison and fines.

Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights associations reportedly conducted their activities secretly, in part because they were not officially registered. There were no reports of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no documented cases of discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation. Observers believed stigma or intimidation impeded individuals from reporting such abuse.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV or AIDS experienced societal discrimination, although strong government efforts discouraged such discrimination. In conjunction with several other organizations working on HIV/AIDS topics, the government continued its antidiscrimination campaign. The law provides for protection against discrimination for persons suffering from diseases such as HIV or AIDS and sickle cell anemia.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave. One NGO reported in 2019 that in Denkila village a court decision reportedly prevented a group of 274 families from farming their land for the previous six years. A person with a competing claim to the land had obtained a court injunction against the defendants’ use of the land based on an outdated law that forbids former slaves from owning or farming land, in contradiction with the 2003 law banning slavery. With the support of an antislavery NGO, the descendants appealed the decision to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and were awaiting a response at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14 to 15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions.

The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for penalties but does not require reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.

Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally commensurate with those for other laws involving violations of civil rights.

The law applies to the large informal sector, which accounted for most economic activity, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in informal workplaces, particularly in rural areas. The informal sector featured some unions. For example, Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, however. The law establishes penalties for forced labor that are commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, but the penalties were largely unenforced.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. In February the High Court reaffirmed the illegality of wahaya, the traditional practice of selling girls as young as seven into forced marriages, which also perpetuates hereditary slavery. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.

Forced labor remained a problem, especially in domestic work and agriculture. A 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.

The Tuareg, Zarma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.

Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as four and largely from poor, rural families were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Zarma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with their right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics.

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 use of child labor and the employment of children younger than 14. The law, however, does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment or in the informal sector. Children age 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but these were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial and informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.

Child labor was prevalent, with children as young as five engaged in labor. Most rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or beg. Children were also forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, artisanal mining, and forced criminality.

There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.

The practice of forced begging by talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.

Child labor occurred in hereditary slavery and largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide in these mines further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern regarding poisoning, but the practice remained widespread. Children also performed dangerous tasks in cattle herding. Children, especially boys and girls in the Arab, Zarma, Fulani, Tuareg, and Toubou ethnic minorities, continued to be exploited as slaves and endure conditions of bonded labor, particularly in distant western and northern regions and along the border with Nigeria.

Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry.

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 provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and requires firms to provide hiring preferences to persons with disabilities under certain circumstances. The law restricts women from working in occupations deemed dangerous to their health, although these restrictions are not clearly defined.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted regulations to implement the law nor took actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate staff to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was above the official poverty income level.

The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate; employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such fraud.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law all workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect workers in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applies but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws and only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance and monetary sanctions were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions.

Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the artisanal gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector. The vast majority, however, were employed by large, international firms; labor advocates complained these firms were not transparent regarding work conditions.

Union workers in many cases did not receive information concerning the risks posed by their jobs. The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service responded to reports of work-related accidents and required affected employees be compensated as required by law, the government reported. The ministry does not release data on fatal accidents. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In February 2019 citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.

The Nigeria Police Force is the primary law enforcement agency, along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. The Nigerian Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities. Consistent with the constitution, the government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. There were reports that members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and the external displacement of somewhat more than an estimated 300,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of December 14.

Significant human rights abuses included: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government and nonstate actors; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; severe restrictions on religious freedom; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; inadequate investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses by police, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and military forces, but impunity remained a significant problem. There were reports of further progress in formally separating and reintegrating child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force, a nongovernmental self-defense militia, which received limited state government funding.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued attacks on civilians, military, and police; recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device attacks–many by coerced young women and girls–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa and took steps to prosecute their members.

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, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities sought to investigate, and when found culpable, held police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody, but impunity in such cases remained a significant problem. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public.

The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force.

On October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end. Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate.

In August a military court-martial convicted a soldier and sentenced him to 55 years in prison after he committed a homicide while deployed in Zamfara State.

There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).

Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year. On January 25, criminals abducted Bola Ataga, the wife of a prominent doctor, and her two children from their residence in the Juji community of Kaduna State. The criminals demanded a ransom of $320,000 in exchange for their return. They killed Ataga several days later after the family was unable to pay the ransom. On February 6, the criminals released the children to their relatives.

b. Disappearance

In August 2019, to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the government to release immediately hundreds of persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial.

Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta, the Southeast, and the Northwest, often to collect ransom payments. For example, on the evening of December 11, criminals on motorbikes stormed the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, abducting 344 schoolboys and killing one security guard. On December 17, the Katsina State government, in conjunction with federal government authorities, secured the release of the boys.

Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. For example, in July, Nigerian pirates attacked a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel near Rivers State, kidnapping 11 crew members.

Other parts of the country also experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, regional government leaders, police officers, students, and laborers, amongst others. In January the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, and his convoy were attacked on the Kaduna-Zaria Highway. The emir was abducted, and several of his bodyguards were killed. The Abuja-Kaduna road axis was a major target for kidnappers, forcing most travelers to use the train.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) conducted large-scale abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States (see section 1.g.).

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. Two-thirds of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.

The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture. Lack of legal and operational independence and limited funding hindered the committee from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not always respect this prohibition. According to credible international organizations, prior to their dissolution, SARS units sometimes used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. President Buhari disbanded SARS units in October following nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality. Of the states, 28 and the FCT established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS units. The panels were made up of a diverse group of civil society representatives, government officials, lawyers, youth, and protesters with the task of reviewing complaints submitted by the public and making recommendations to their respective state government on sanctions for human rights violations and proposed compensation for victims. The work of