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Executive Summary

Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, held 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections on September 3, 2020, to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.

The Ministry of National Security is the ministerial home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy of the security forces. The prime minister has authority over the Jamaican Defense Board and as chairman of the board has responsibility for defense-related matters including command, discipline, and administration. He is the de facto minister of defense. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is the country’s police force. It has primary responsibility for internal security and has units for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. When the prime minister and Parliament declare a state of emergency, the Jamaica Defense Force has arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; significant government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence of a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the government did not enforce the law during the year.

The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there were credible reports that some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses were not subject to full and swift accountability. The government did not effectively implement the law on corruption. There were numerous credible allegations of government corruption, and there were officials who sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports during the year that government security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, and there were hundreds of complaints of abuse and wrongful harm. The Jamaica Constabulary Force was cited in most of the reports, in its roles both as an independent agency and as part of joint military-police activity. There were several reported incidents involving the Jamaica Defense Force. Overall, the total number of fatalities involving security forces, justifiable or otherwise, increased, with 123 reports as of December 9. Police fatally shot a taxi driver in September after he failed to obey an order to stop. A passenger was wounded in the same event, which drew significant community protests. In 2020 the government reported 115 fatal shooting incidents and 92 nonfatal shooting incidents involving security forces, an increase from the number of incidents reported in 2019.

Charges against members of the security forces took years to process, primarily due to investigatory backlogs, trial delays, and appellate measures. While the country continued to reduce the court case backlog, the COVID-19 global pandemic stymied progress in some courts. Numerous cases awaited prosecution.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, although there is no definition of torture in the law. There were allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in police custody and in correctional facilities. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) investigated reports of alleged abuse committed by police and prison officials. Most reports to INDECOM described intimidation, excessive physical force in restraint, and restricted access to medical treatment. Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern regarding underreporting by victims, particularly among the vulnerable or persons with mental disabilities. Rapes were occasionally perpetrated by security forces.

INDECOM investigated actions by members of the security forces and other state agents that resulted in death, injury, or the abuse of civil rights.  As of December, INDECOM was investigating 1,002 complaints received during the year of the abuse of power by police, including wrongful deaths, assaults, and mistreatment.  INDECOM forwarded its recommendations to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which determined whether police should be charged.  INDECOM remained one of the few external and independent oversight commissions that monitored security forces.  INDECOM reported a backlog in cases due to significant delays in obtaining DNA, ballistics, and chemistry reports from other government agencies.

Cases against security forces were infrequently recommended for criminal trial and often saw substantial procedural delays. Many cases did not go to trial due to continued delays in court and plea hearings.

There were reports of unlawful arrests for which officers were not punished or disciplined. The government had procedures for investigating complaints of unlawful behavior by security forces, including investigations by INDECOM and the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau, but the government did not always use these procedures. Citizens enjoyed effective legal representation in criminal proceedings and successfully challenged unlawful arrests and detentions within the court system. Civil society organizations such as Jamaicans for Justice conducted training for police recruits in human rights protections.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, limited food, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, and poor administration. Prisoners with mental disabilities and children in juvenile correctional facilities represented the most vulnerable populations facing harsh conditions.

Physical Conditions: Correctional facilities were significantly overcrowded. At times cells in the maximum-security facility at Tower Street held twice the intended capacity. Cells were dark and dirty, with poor bathroom and toilet facilities and limited ventilation.

Prisoners sometimes did not receive required medication, including medication for HIV, according to UNAIDS. The HIV prevalence rate among incarcerated populations (more than 6.9 percent) was reportedly as much as three times that of the general population. Two full-time psychiatrists and four part-time psychiatrists, an increase from 2020, cared for at least 262 inmates diagnosed with mental disabilities in 11 different facilities.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of abuse and inhuman conditions. Investigations were infrequent, and the number of official complaints likely underrepresented the scope of the problems, according to a human rights NGO.

Independent Monitoring: Justices of the peace and representatives from the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) visited correctional centers and detention facilities (lockups) regularly. Justices of the peace reported their findings to the Ministry of Justice, while the PCOA submitted reports to the Ministry of National Security. Both entities made recommendations to improve overall conditions. Citizen groups and NGOs stated the ministries rarely acted on the recommendations.

INDECOM investigated actions by staff members of the correctional facilities and other state agents that resulted in death, injury, or the abuse of civil rights. INDECOM’s legal mandate requires it to investigate all prisoner deaths that occur at a correctional facility, including deaths reported as a result of natural causes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention but allows arrest if there is “reasonable suspicion of [a person] having committed or … about to commit a criminal offense.” The law provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. Abuses arose, however, because police regularly ignored the “reasonable suspicion” requirement, arraignment procedures were very slow, and some communities operated as zones of special operations (ZOSOs) for most of the year.

The country suffered from high levels of homicide, crime, and violence. The declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) grants the police and military the ability to search, seize, and arrest citizens without a warrant, although no SOEs were declared during the year. The prime minister may declare an SOE for 14 days or fewer; extensions require parliamentary approval. Additionally, the government may identify ZOSOs, which confer to security forces some additional detention authorities, such as are found in SOEs. During the year the prime minister declared or extended five ZOSOs, which the government viewed as necessary to reduce crime and violence. High detention rates were a concern, and arbitrary and lengthy detentions took place in ZOSOs. Very few of these detentions resulted in charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest without a warrant when a felony, treason, or breach of the peace is committed or attempted in the officer’s presence. Following an arrest, the officer is required to inform the suspect of the offense(s) for which the individual was arrested.

An officer may execute a warrant that is lawfully issued by a judge or justice of the peace without being in possession of the warrant. The officer must produce the warrant as soon as practical after the arrest if the suspect requests it. The decision to charge or release must be made within 48 hours, although a judge or justice of the peace may extend the period of custody.

Security forces did not always follow these official procedures. According to government officials and civil society, public perception was that police could make arrests regardless of judicial authorization.

There were reports of arrests and prolonged periods of detention in which police did not inform the suspect of the official charges. There were multiple reports that detainees did not have access to legal counsel and that apprehended suspects could not notify family members. Every person charged with an offense is entitled to consideration for bail, although those charged with murder, treason, or other crimes punishable by imprisonment may be denied bail on “substantial grounds” that they would fail to surrender to authorities or would commit another offense while on bail. The procedure lent itself to low-level corruption in which police would accept bribes to forgo an arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Most cases of arbitrary detention were in the parishes (counties) of St. James and St. Catherine. The government declared ZOSOs and deployed the military to these areas to support police. Under these orders, security forces carried out wide-ranging campaigns of detention and incarceration in attempts to contain violence. There were few official investigations or prosecutions of security force members involved in arbitrary arrests.

Pretrial Detention: Lockups are intended for short-term detentions of 48 hours or less, but often the government held suspects in these facilities without charge or awaiting trial for much longer periods. A lack of administrative follow-through after an arrest created situations where persons were incarcerated without any accompanying paperwork. In some cases – days, weeks, months, or years later – authorities could not ascertain the reason for the arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. A backlog of criminal cases in most courts, however, led to the denial of a fair public trial for thousands of citizens. Criminal proceedings sometimes extended for years. Cases were delayed primarily due to incomplete files and parties, witnesses, attorneys, or investigating officers failing to appear.

The criminal courts decreased the court case backlog, especially at the parish court level. The case clearance rate for the second quarter of the year was that for every 100 cases that entered the courts, 111 were cleared.

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the courts were unable to hold jury trials, contributing to the low murder conviction rate of 8.3 percent in the first quarter of the year. During the year courts continued their efforts to address the court case backlog by using virtual hearings, a new electronic case management system, and promoting alternative dispute resolution methods.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them and the right to a trial within a reasonable time. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and the right to counsel. Legal aid attorneys (public defenders) are available to indigents, except to those charged with money laundering, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, possession of large quantities of drugs, or any minor offense not punishable with imprisonment. Limited legal aid attorneys (duty counsels) are also available to everyone, regardless of charges, from the time when persons are first taken into custody up to their first appearance in court. Defendants have ample time and facilities to prepare their defense. The government provides a free interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal. The Supreme Court tries serious criminal offenses, which include all murder cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial civil judiciary process. Complainants may bring human rights abuse cases to the courts for civil remediation, but awards were difficult to collect. The government is required to undertake pretrial negotiations or mediation to settle out of court. Plea bargains offered by the prosecution, however, were rarely accepted by defendants.

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

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference, the law gives broad powers of search and seizure to security personnel. The law allows warrantless searches of a person, vehicle, ship, or boat if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. On occasion police were accused of conducting searches without warrants or reasonable suspicion.

In the areas with ZOSOs and SOEs, government security forces took biometrics from temporarily detained persons. The Office of the Public Defender and civil society organizations challenged this practice, arguing that retaining the information and failing to delete it after police released the detained person effectively criminalized persons who subsequently were not charged. Security forces detained wide swaths of the population in ZOSOs and SOEs under broad arrest authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: Media reported in July that police allegedly took St. Ann parish resident Shaquille Higgins from his home without a search warrant on larceny charges after he criticized the government-imposed curfew and insulted the prime minister on social media. Police officials subsequently apologized in the media for the arrest. Higgins later filed a lawsuit against the government.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

The Broadcasting Commission barred certain lyrics and music videos, including songs referring to violent sex; violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons; or questions of race. Such lyrics were expunged prior to broadcast.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles each potential asylum seeker administratively on an individual basis. Through registration the government may grant Jamaican citizenship to persons with citizenship in a Commonwealth country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections in September 2020, the Jamaica Labour Party won 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Observers judged the elections to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In national elections in September 2020, 18 women (29 percent of total seats) were elected to the House of Representatives out of 30 female candidates, a 50 percent increase from the 12 women elected during the 2016 general election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and corruption was a significant problem of public concern. Media and civil society organizations criticized the government for being slow and at times reluctant to prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption: In October the auditor general called for a probe into the Ministry of Education’s transfer of 124 million Jamaican dollars ($800,000) to a private entity when the ministry could not account for the intended use of the funds. The acting permanent secretary of the ministry was placed on administrative leave but was not charged.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Public Defender investigates abuses of constitutional rights and engages with claimants in a process to seek remediation from the government. The public defender is not authorized to appear in court but may retain attorneys to represent clients on the office’s behalf. The office may not investigate cases affecting national defense or actions investigable by a court of law. Parliament may ignore the findings of the Office of the Public Defender or decline to act on recommended actions. This limited the overall efficacy of the public defender.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of a woman is legally defined only as forced penile penetration of the vagina by a man; it is illegal and carries a penalty of 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Anal penetration of a woman or man is not legally defined as rape and may be punished by a maximum of 10 years in prison. This strict definition created wide discrepancies between cases that otherwise had similar elements of rape. The government enforced the law with respect to the vaginal rape of a woman but was less effective in cases involving male victims.

Married women do not have the same rights and protections as single women. The law criminalizes spousal rape only when one of the following criteria is met: the act occurs after legal separation or court proceedings to dissolve the marriage; the husband is under a court order not to molest or cohabit with his wife; or the husband knows he has a sexually transmitted disease. By law marriage always implies sexual consent between husband and wife.

Advocacy groups contended that rape was significantly underreported because victims had little faith in the judicial system and were unwilling to endure lengthy criminal proceedings. Based on estimates from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 23 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

The government operated a Victim Support Unit (VSU) to provide direct support to all crime victims, including crisis intervention, counselling, and legal advocacy. The VSU managed 13 independent parish offices throughout the country, each with its own hotline and staff of trained providers. While observers stated that the VSU had well-qualified and trained staff, it lacked sufficient resources to effectively meet the needs of all crime victims. The VSU coordinated with a network of NGOs capable of providing services such as resiliency counseling and operating shelters, although overall NGO capacity was limited. Few government services sensitive to the impact of trauma on their constituents were available.

The Child Protection and Family Services Agency provided similar services for children, although the staffs of both the VSU and the child protection agency were too few and insufficiently trained to provide comprehensive care to the populations they served. There were insufficient shelters in the capital area for women and children, and even fewer were available outside the capital area, or for males. Police and first responders had limited training regarding services available to crime victims.

Sexual Harassment: The government approved the long-debated Sexual Harassment Act in November. This new law creates a legal definition of sexual harassment in private workplaces and public institutions. The law provides legal recourse for victims, including a Sexual Harassment Tribunal, which can receive complaints up to six years after an act of sexual harassment and is empowered to impose fines. According to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a regional think tank, one in four women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime.

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

Access to contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth were available, although limited in impoverished or rural communities. Social and religious pressure against contraception created significant barriers to access for women.

Women had access to emergency health care, including for the management of consequences arising from abortions. The standard of care varied widely, however, especially in rural communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

Discrimination: Although the law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including equal pay for equal work, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and women encountered discrimination in the workplace. Women often earned less than men while performing the same work. Women were restricted from working in some factory jobs. Domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination based on race and skin color, but there are no laws or regulations prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity.

There were few reports of racial discrimination. While the population was 92 percent Black, some media sources reported incidents of colorism (favoring lighter-skinned persons within an ethnic group) by employers or against patrons in upper-class restaurants. The government did not investigate these incidents.

While the public-school curriculum includes robust discussions of race, there were no government programs designed specifically to counter racial or ethnic biases.


Birth Registration: Every person born in the country after independence in 1962 is entitled to citizenship. Children outside the country born to or adopted by one or both Jamaican parents, as well as persons married to Jamaican spouses, are entitled to citizenship.

Child Abuse:  The law bans child abuse and mistreatment in all its forms, including neglect.  The penalties are a large fine, a prison sentence with hard labor for a term not exceeding five years, or both.  The National Children’s Registry received 9,229 reports of child abuse in 2020, a decrease from 2019.  The law bans corporal punishment in all children’s homes and places of safety (government-run or regulated private institutions).

The law requires anyone who knows of or suspects child abuse in any form to make a report to the registry office. There is a potential penalty of a large fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both for failure to do so.

Corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse were prevalent. Based on 2018 estimates, the NGO Jamaicans for Justice reported that 80 percent of children experienced psychological or physical violence administered as discipline, and a similar number witnessed a violent crime in their home. Physical punishment in schools remained commonplace.

Boys experienced disproportionately high levels of physical violence, including corporal punishment both at home and at school. A survey by the Planning Institute of Jamaica showed that boys were 2.7 times more likely than girls to experience malnutrition between birth and the age of five. Boys also experienced disproportionately poor education outcomes, with UNICEF reporting that 60 percent of adolescents not attending school were boys and that only 20 percent of tertiary education enrollees were boys.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but children may marry at 16 with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which applies to the production, possession, importation, exportation, and distribution of child pornography. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a large fine. The law prohibits child sex trafficking and prescribes a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. There were continued reports of the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child sex trafficking.

The law criminalizes sexual relations between an adult and a child – male or female – younger than 16 and provides for penalties ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. The risk of sexual assault reportedly was three times higher for children than adults. Cases were widespread and varied.

Also see Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

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


Approximately 500 persons in the country practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not mandate accessibility standards. The law was not fully implemented. Persons with disabilities encountered difficulties accessing education, employment, health services, public buildings, communications, transportation, and other services due to the lack of accessible facilities. The government did not provide all information in accessible formats.

There were reports of violence against persons with disabilities. In July a man was arrested for the rape of a girl with disabilities at a government-run care facility for children with special needs.

Insufficient resources were allocated for persons with disabilities. There were limitations in access to primary school education, although the constitution provides all children the right to primary education. There was also a lack of suitably trained teachers to care for and instruct students with disabilities. Postprimary and postsecondary educational services, vocational training, and life skills development opportunities were limited. Health care reportedly was at times difficult to access, especially for persons with hearing disabilities and persons with mental disabilities. Access problems were more pronounced in rural regions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Civil society groups, international organizations, and government officials cited stigma and discrimination as factors contributing to low numbers of individuals being treated for HIV. The country’s legal prohibition of sexual conduct between men disproportionately affected HIV treatment for subpopulations such as men who have sex with men and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+), where HIV infection levels were higher than average. NGOs also expressed concern about the role of sexual abuse in the transmission of HIV to girls and young women; approximately 45 percent of adolescent mothers with HIV were sexually abused as children. Some individuals with HIV reported difficulty obtaining medical care, to the extent that some delayed seeking medical attention or traveled abroad to receive treatment.

The government collaborated with international programs to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Measures included training health-care providers on human rights and medical ethics; sensitizing lawmakers and law enforcement officials; reducing discrimination against women in the context of HIV; improving legal literacy; providing legal services; and monitoring and reforming laws, regulations, and policies relating to HIV.

The law prohibits HIV-related discrimination in the workplace and provides some legal recourse to persons with HIV who experience discrimination. In rural areas or poor urban areas, there was less knowledge of the government services and programming available related to HIV.

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

The law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Attempted sexual conduct between men is criminalized, with penalties up to seven years in prison. Physical intimacy, or the solicitation of such intimacy, between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison under gross indecency laws. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.

The government generally only enforced the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. The government does not provide information as to whether the government prosecuted consensual sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and buggery (anal sex) create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act committed through anal penetration of a woman, child, or man is punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTQI+ persons.

The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that it received a similar number of cases of discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year, compared with previous years. Many of the cases reported during the year occurred in prior years. Underreporting was a problem, since many of those who made reports were reluctant to go to police due to fear of discrimination or police inaction. A local NGO reported that officials within the government, including police, had improved their response to LGBTQI+ rights violations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law does not provide for the right to strike, although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to reinstate a worker for unjustified dismissal. The law makes it a criminal offense to prevent or deter a worker from exercising the right to participate in trade union activities or to dismiss, penalize, or otherwise discriminate against a worker for exercising these rights.

Aspects of the law inhibit the ability of some workers to organize. The government defines the following 10 categories of services as essential: water, electricity, health, hospital, sanitation, transportation, firefighting, corrections, overseas telecommunication, and telephone services. Before workers in these categories may legally strike, they must take their dispute to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and attempt to settle the dispute through negotiation.

In December an International Labor Organization (ILO) representative confirmed that the ILO continued to raise concerns that the country’s definition of essential services was too broad.  The ILO reported the issue remained unresolved by the government.  The government prohibits unionizing in export-processing zones, which are industrial areas with special tax and trade incentives to attract foreign investment.  The ILO expressed concern that penalties may be imposed on workers for their membership and participation in an unregistered trade union.  The ILO also expressed concern that the government may carry out inspections and request information about trade union finances at any time.

The law mandates that in the case of doubt or dispute as to whether workers may exercise bargaining rights, the labor and social security minister must conduct a secret ballot requiring that a majority of workers vote. If two or more unions each represent less than 30 percent of workers eligible to vote, the minister grants joint bargaining rights to each of those unions.

The minister of labor and social security may apply through the Supreme Court to curtail an industrial action such as a strike or lockout when the minister determines the action may be harmful to national security or the national economy or may have the potential to endanger the lives of a substantial number of persons. The minister refers such cases to compulsory arbitration. The IDT hears cases when management and labor fail to reach agreement, including those involving nonunionized workers.

The government enforced the law in most cases, but burdensome legal procedures allowed firms and other large employers to appeal and delay resolution of their cases for years. Trial delays due to the government’s COVID-19 measures further deferred action on some cases. While cases should by law be resolved within 21 days, the IDT took several months to decide most cases. Parties could apply for judicial review by the Supreme Court. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations, but large firms allegedly used their influence on the court and government to shape decisions to suit their interests.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the formal sector, except in export-processing zones. Worker organizations operated without interference, although the government maintained the right to monitor their activities. While employers generally respected the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, some labor unions reported that private-sector workers feared management retaliation against unionization. For example, it was not uncommon for private-sector employers to dismiss union workers and rehire them as contractors with fewer worker protections.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor as well as trafficking in persons. The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons continued its outreach to sensitize citizens to forced labor and other trafficking-in-persons violations. The task force also facilitated sensitization training programs for all levels of government, from police, labor officers, and health-care officials to prosecutors. There were no arrests or convictions made for labor trafficking between April 2020 and March 2021.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on forced or compulsory labor or trafficking in persons.  Most violators were not held criminally accountable.  The country continued to be a source and destination for persons subjected to forced labor, including in domestic work, begging, and the informal sector.  Children were subjected to forced labor in domestic work, and gang members subjected boys to forced criminal activity (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the exploitation of children in prostitution, the recruitment of children into criminal organizations, and the use of a child for “purposes contrary to decency or morality,” but it does not further define these terms. The law includes occupational safety and health restrictions for children and prohibits night work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The minimum age for general employment is 15, with a strict prohibition on employing children younger than 13. The law permits children from ages 13 to 15 to engage in “light work.” While the Ministry of Labor and Social Security does not have an official definition for light work, it maintained a list of occupations acceptable for children ages 13 to 15. The government does not have a list of types of hazardous work prohibited for children. Those who legally hire children are not required to keep any records.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws. Most penalties were criminal and commensurate with those for similar crimes, but penalties for sex trafficking that allowed for a fine in lieu of imprisonment were not commensurate with similar crimes. Government surveys estimated that 38,000 children ages five to 17 years were engaged in child labor, mostly in the informal sector.

Government agencies did not inspect the informal sector, limiting the government’s ability to enforce child labor laws. Children worked in farming, fishing, and in public markets. Children also worked as domestic helpers in homes or in street work such as peddling goods, services, begging, and garbage scavenging. Some children were subjected to forced labor in these sectors. The government’s labor inspectorate conducted scheduled as well as unannounced inspections within the formal and informal sectors. These inspections were conducted across all geographical areas and all sectors. The government’s social workers are authorized to access private homes. The Youth Activity Survey revealed that 5.8 percent of children engaged in child labor. Four percent of all children were engaged in hazardous work.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. Girls, sometimes coerced by family members, were subjected to sex trafficking by men who provided monetary or material payment to the girls or their families in exchange for sex acts. Local observers reported this form of child sex trafficking may be widespread in some communities. Violent criminal gangs used children for forced begging; as lookouts, armed gunmen, and couriers of drugs and weapons; and for lottery scams.

The law prohibits the recruitment of adults and children by nonstate armed groups, with a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, place of origin, social class, skin color, religion, and political opinion. The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Ministry of Labor and Social Security policy prohibits discrimination based on HIV status. There were limited numbers of cases filed for discrimination in employment or occupation during the year, but underreporting was likely due to strong stigma in the workplace against older women, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and persons with HIV or AIDS. Those persons subject to workplace discrimination had little confidence that effective legal recourse was available to them. Although the law requires equal pay for male and female employees, the law was not enforced. Salaries for women lagged behind salaries for men even in the same jobs, and women were concentrated in lower-paying occupations. Persons with disabilities often lacked access to the workplace. There is no law specifically mandating equal pay for equal work for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the nationally estimated poverty line. Most workers received more than the legal minimum wage, while some minimum-wage earners held two or more jobs.

The law provides for a standard 40-hour workweek and mandates at least one day of rest per week. Employers are required to compensate work in excess of 40 hours per week at overtime rates, a provision most employers respected. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The government did not universally apply the law that restricts workdays to 12 hours or less.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department enforced industrial health and safety standards under ILO guidelines as appropriate for each industry. The department conducted inspections, investigated accidents, warned violators, and gave them a period in which to correct violations. The department took violators to court if they did not correct violations within given time frames. The law stipulates penalties and fines, and the minister of labor and social security has the authority to increase any monetary penalty.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Insufficient staffing in the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of Finance and Public Service, and Ministry of National Security contributed to difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, and the inspections took place only in the formal sector.

Legal fines or imprisonment for workplace health and safety violations were not commensurate with similar crimes. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security gained compliance in the vast majority of cases by threatening legal action. The ability of defendants to repeatedly appeal a case dulled the effectiveness of penalties. The law has no provisions that explicitly give workers the ability to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to employment, although the IDT may reinstate workers who were unfairly dismissed.

Informal Economy: Local think tanks estimated the informal economy generated more than 40 percent of GDP. Most violations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work occurred in the informal sector. OSH Department inspections referred cases of informal work to the Ministry of Labor for further action when discovered.


Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. On November 10, Kishida Fumio, the new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, was confirmed as prime minister. International observers assessed elections to the Lower House of the Diet in October, which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won with an absolute majority, as free and fair. Domestic lawyers filed lawsuits seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts for alleged unconstitutional vote weight disparities (see Section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency, and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous peoples. There were concerns that some laws and practices, if misused, could infringe on freedom of the press. A human rights concern was criminal libel laws, although there was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses or engage in corrupt practices. There were no known reports of such action during the year.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

The government continued to deny death row inmates advance information about the date of execution until the day the sentence was to be carried out. The government notified family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die.

Authorities by law hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some prisons continued to lack adequate medical and mental health care, and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer. Prisoners in the Tokyo area presented chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity resulting from long-term exposure to cold. Meals were strictly rationed and were often considered insufficient, leading to significant weight loss, according to independent observers. Prisons and detention centers routinely held prisoners and detainees alone in their cells for extended periods. While not generally applied punitively, this resulted in what was effectively solitary confinement. Prisoners routinely spent up to 24 hours a day in their cells, with exercise periods not consistently allowed.

Long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration centers continued to be a concern. In response to COVID-19, the Ministry of Justice granted temporary release to many detainees, reducing the population in immigration facilities from more than 1,000 in April 2020 to 346 as of June 2. Of the 346, approximately 60 percent had been detained for more than six months, some for as long as eight years. Detention practices led to an increasing number of protests, including hunger strikes, among detainees. Some facilities imposed forceful control of detainees, including women, and failed to protect detainees’ privacy.

Once sentenced, convicted prisoners generally had no access to telephones.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held women separately from men, and juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons, other correctional facilities, and immigration facilities.

From April 2019 through March 2020, third-party inspection committees of prisons and immigration detention centers documented inadequate medical care as a major concern. Inspection committees also called for providing prison officers with additional human rights education, enhancing COVID-19 preventive measures, and improving heating and cooling systems. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2020 there were 292 doctors working at correctional institutions, approximately 90 percent of the required staffing level.

On March 6, 33-year-old Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, detained at an immigration facility in Nagoya for more than six months for overstaying her visa, died at a hospital from an unidentified disease, according to an Immigration Services Agency report. Wishma began complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms in January and continued applying for provisional release for hospital treatment. She requested a physical exam at a hospital outside the facility in late February, but the request was never relayed to management and was not met. Instead, the facility conducted an exam at a hospital’s psychiatric department on March 4. The Nagoya facility had only a part-time doctor who worked twice a week for two hours each shift. No medical personnel were available on Saturdays, the day on which Wishma died. The Immigration Services Agency attributed the facility’s delay in placing an emergency call to the absence of consultation with a medical professional. On August 10, the Immigration Services Agency established a 20-member team to promote reform; four officials who oversaw Wishma’s detention were given verbal warnings. The nongovernmental organizations (NGO) Arbitrary Detention Network, Human Rights Now, and Foreign Human Rights Law Liaison Committee issued a statement protesting the report, calling its study of the cause of death and its recommendations for preventive measures insufficient. They also voiced concerns about insufficient medical resources, communication failures, the facility’s staffers’ disregard for the detainee’s complaint, and lack of proper oversight their rights.

Administration: Most authorities permitted prisoners and immigration detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of alleged problems. Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, continued to raise concerns that authorities controlled the complaint process at immigration detention centers. Complainants were, for example, required to notify detention officers about complaints. Authorities provided the responses to prisoners and immigration detainees in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed scheduled visits by elected officials, NGOs, members of the media, and international organizations.

By law the Ministry of Justice appointed members to inspection committees for government-run prisons and immigration detention centers from outside of the national government. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, local citizens, and experts, to interview detainees without the presence of prison and immigration detention center officers. Prisons and immigration detention centers generally acted upon or gave serious consideration to their recommendations.

Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, raised concerns about aspects of the inspection process and the teams’ makeup. Police supervisory authorities and prefectural public safety commissions appointed the members of inspection committees for police detention facilities, albeit from outside of the police force. Authorities also accepted some recommendations by NGOs in selecting inspection committee members. Legal experts and human rights NGOs also continued to voice concern that undisclosed selection criteria and the members themselves impeded nongovernmental experts’ ability to evaluate whether the selected members were appropriately qualified. In immigration detention facilities, detention officers were also responsible for scheduling on-site inspections by the inspection committees and determining the time allowed for committees to interview detainees.

NGOs and the UN Committee against Torture also continued to raise concerns about the inspection process. For instance, they cited concerns about the requirement to submit advance notifications to facility authorities. They also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of committee members.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Police officers may stop and question any person who is suspected of having committed or whom they believe is about to commit a crime or possesses information on a crime. Civil society organizations continued to urge police to end ethnic profiling and unjustified surveillance of foreigners.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary. In urgent cases when there is sufficient basis to suspect that suspects committed specific crimes, including a crime punishable by death, the law allows police to arrest suspects without obtaining warrants beforehand, but it requires police to seek to obtain warrants immediately after arrest.

The law allows suspects, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs and legal experts stated bail was very difficult to obtain without a confession. Authorities tended to restrict access to defense counsel for detainees who did not confess. Other elements of arrest and pretrial detention practices (see below) also tended to encourage confessions. The Public Prosecutors Office reported that in 2020 approximately 67 percent of all criminal suspects who were referred to prosecutors by police did not face indictment. Prosecutors indicted the remaining approximately 33 percent, of whom nearly all were convicted. In most of these cases, suspects had confessed.

Suspects in pre-indictment detention are legally required to face interrogation. Police guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours a day and prohibit overnight interrogations. Pre-indictment detainees have access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney, if required. There is no legal right, however, for defense counsel to be present during interrogations.

The law allows police to prohibit suspects from meeting with persons other than counsel (and a consular officer in the case of foreign detainees) if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or conceal or destroy evidence (see Pretrial Detention below). Many suspects, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a suspect visits by family or others. Those held for organized crime or on charges involving other criminals, however, tended to be denied such visits because prosecutors believed that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.

Police and prosecutors must record the entire interrogation process in cases involving heinous crimes, including murder, death or injury resulting from rape, arson, and kidnapping for ransom. In such cases, an arrested suspect’s statements to police and prosecutors during an interrogation are in principle inadmissible without a recording. According to legal experts, this was intended to prevent forced confessions and false charges. Police are also required to make best efforts to record the interrogation process when arrested suspects have a mental disability. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations noted that criminal cases subject to video recording constituted 2 percent of the country’s criminal cases in 2018, and it advocated expanding the measure to include the video recording of the interrogations of pre-arrest suspects and in all criminal cases. Legal experts therefore continued to express concerns about forced confessions, especially in cases involving white-collar crimes.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were credible reports of foreigners being stopped and searched by police in suspected racial-profiling incidents. Individuals were detained, questioned, and searched. In multiple cases, Black individuals were accused of having drugs on their body, although there was no reason to believe this to be the case. In some cases, individuals were required to remove their shoes, belts, and other clothing items in public, and within view of bystanders.

In June a Muslim woman reported that police allowed an ethnic Japanese man to verbally assault her and her three-year-old daughter. The man alleged that the daughter kicked the man’s son, which the mother denied. The woman said she and her child were detained for 90 minutes before being taken to the police station where they were questioned for three hours in a small room with five officers before they were separated for additional questioning. According to the mother, police gave her name, address, and phone number to the man without her permission. The man then posted pictures of the woman and her daughter on social media with the caption “Attempted Murderers.”

Pretrial Detention: Authorities routinely held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment although, by law, such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend pre-indictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received such extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.

NGOs and legal experts reported the practice of detaining suspects in pre-indictment detention or daiyou kangoku (substitute prison) continued. Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pre-indictment detention usually lasted for 23 days for nearly all suspects, including foreigners. Moreover, the 23-day detention period may be applied on a per charge basis, so individuals facing multiple charges may be held far longer. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that for persons in daiyou kangoku, access to persons other than their attorneys was routinely denied, and they were subject to lengthy interrogation without counsel throughout this period.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to suggest that this was not the case because of the pressure on suspects to confess prior to trial. Foreign suspects with time-limited visas often confessed in exchange for a suspended sentence in order to close the case before their visas, which are not extended for trial, expire. The time between the conclusion of the trial and the rendering of the verdict and subsequent sentencing can be very long, especially in more complex cases, to allow judges to re-examine evidence.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although observers noted that trials could be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to attend their trials and may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.

Trial procedures favored the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations called for an end to the usual practice of restraining criminal defendants with handcuffs and ropes around their waists, ostensibly to prevent escape attempts, during entry into and exit from the courtroom, which they argued could undermine the presumption of innocence. The handcuffs and ropes are removed during trials.

NGOs expressed concern about the retrial process for inmates on death row because execution is not stayed for a pending petition of retrial, which the Japan Federation of Bar Associations asserted called into question the validity of executions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse with domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: There is a hate speech law designed to eliminate hate speech against persons originating from outside the country by developing government consultation systems and promoting government awareness efforts. The law, however, neither penalizes nor prohibits hate speech, so as not to impede freedom of speech. Legal and civil society experts acknowledged a continued decrease in hate speech at street demonstrations since the law, and subsequent municipal ordinances, went into effect in 2016. In contrast hate speech increased in propaganda and online, while crimes targeting members of specific ethnicities also continued, according to experts who called on the government to implement more effective deterrent measures and conduct a survey on hate speech incidents. Eight local governments have ordinances to prevent hate speech – Osaka City in Osaka Prefecture; Setagaya Ward, Kunitachi City, and Komae City in Tokyo Prefecture; Kijo Town in Miyazaki Prefecture; Kobe City, and Kawasaki City. Kawasaki is the first and only government with an ordinance imposing fines as a criminal penalty.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a substantial fine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including government ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement as a defense. There was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except for travel restrictions implemented by the government to and within the country as COVID-19 infection prevention measures.

Foreign Travel: The government’s COVID-19 infection prevention measures restricted entry to the country by nearly all foreign nationals. Re-entry by residents was subject to quarantine at government facilities and movement restrictions for 14 days. Citizens were not subject to restrictions on leaving the country or foreign travel but were subject to re-entry restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection for and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In March the Immigration Services Agency and UNHCR signed a memorandum of cooperation to improve the quality of the government’s refugee status system. As of September, activities under the memorandum had not been finalized.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The country’s refugee screening process was, however, strict; in 2020 the government granted 47 applicants refugee status out of 3,936 first-time applications, a 10-year high. NGOs and UNHCR expressed concern about the low rates of approval.

NGOs, including legal groups, expressed concern about the restrictive screening procedures that discouraged individuals from applying for refugee status and led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, specifically claiming that the government’s interpretation of “fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive and required absolute certainty of immediate danger to an applicant. UNHCR lacked access to the government’s assessments of refugee claims to evaluate how the Ministry of Justice was applying the criteria that determine refugee status. Civil society groups reported that it took an average of four years for an asylum seeker to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals lasted 10 years.

Immigration authorities administered the first round of hearings on whether to grant refugee status. Asylum seekers were not allowed to have lawyers participate in the first round of hearings, except for vulnerable cases, including minors age 15 or younger who had no guardians and applicants with disabilities.

The Refugee Examination Counselors, an outside panel appointed by the Ministry of Justice, conducted second hearings to review appeals from persons denied refugee status. All persons appearing before the counselors had the right to an attorney. The Ministry of Justice is obliged to hear, but not to accept, the opinions of the counselors. Legal experts questioned whether the review system delivered fair judgements, citing Ministry of Justice statistics showing the counselors recommended refugee status for only one of the 6,475 applicants who filed appeals in 2020.

Immigration authorities also conducted hearings to review complaints from asylum seekers about problems with the process.

As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugees and asylum seekers, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to those who could not afford it.

While asylum seekers arriving in the country irregularly or without a visa allowing for residency were subject to detention, asylum seekers increasingly had valid visas prior to asylum applications. The Ministry of Justice announced that in 2020 approximately 95 percent (3,721 of the 3,936 applicants) had valid visas, including visas for temporary visitors or designated activities.

In 2020 the government granted humanitarian-based permission to stay to 44 asylum seekers. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2019 (latest available data) there were 8,967 voluntary repatriations and 516 involuntary deportations. As of December 2019, 2,217 persons subject to deportation orders were allowed to live outside of immigration facilities; 942 persons under deportation orders were held in immigration detention facilities. There is no legal limit to the potential length of detention. In response to COVID-19, more detainees were permitted to stay outside immigration facilities, according to the Ministry of Justice (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

The Ministry of Justice, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project to provide accommodations, advice on living in the country, and legal services for individuals meeting certain criteria. Services were available to those who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports seeking refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations funded the project.

In April the Ministry of Justice for the first time granted refugee status to a Chinese national Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country, according to the Japanese Falun Dafa Association. The woman feared religious persecution if she returned to China. She had lived in the country for eight years and applied for refugee status multiple times prior to being recognized.

In August the Ministry of Justice granted refugee status to a Burmese national soccer player, Pyae Lyan Aung, who expressed concern about a risk to his life should he return to Burma after he publicly protested against the Burmese junta at a soccer match in Japan in May. His case was adjudicated with unusual speed.

Refoulement: Persons under deportation order had the right to refuse deportation and most did, often because of fear of returning home or because they had family in the country. According to Justice Ministry statistics released in December 2019, a substantial majority of those under deportation orders refused deportation. Of those who refused deportation, 60 percent in 2019 were in the process of applying for refugee status. By law the government may not deport those who are subject to deportation orders while their refugee applications are pending, however they were commonly detained during this process, which can take several years.

In September the Tokyo High Court ruled that the constitutional rights of two Sri Lankan men were violated when they were deported without the opportunity to appeal the denial of their refugee status applications. The court ruled immigration authorities “intentionally delayed notifying [the men] of the results of dismissal so that they could deport them before they filed a lawsuit.” One of the plaintiffs who was deported to Sri Lanka had been under oppression for political reasons and was forced into hiding because of his deportation.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs continued to express concern about the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers and conditions in detention facilities. Legal experts and UNHCR noted that lengthy detention led to detainee protests, including by hunger strikes, generally intended to create a health concern that would warrant medical release.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers granted a residency permit may settle anywhere and travel in the country freely with conditions, including reporting their residence to authorities. Asylum seekers in detention and under deportation orders may be granted provisional release from detention for illness, if the applicant was a trafficking victim, or in other circumstances as determined on an ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Justice. Provisional release does not provide a work permit and has several restrictions, including an obligation to appear monthly at the Immigration Bureau, report in advance any travel outside the prefecture in which she or he resides, and report any change of residence to the Immigration Office. The system of provisional release also requires a deposit that may amount to three million yen ($27,500) depending on the individual case. A refugee or asylum seeker who does not follow the conditions may be returned to detention and the deposit is subject to confiscation. Lawyers noted that in recent cases those found working illegally were punished with a minimum of three years’ detention.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have a valid visa at the time of their asylum application and whom authorities have determined may be recognized as a refugee may apply for work permits within eight months after the date they were determined to qualify potentially as refugees. An individual must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. Individuals must have a work permit to work. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.

Persons granted refugee status have full employment rights.

Access to Basic Services: Excepting those who met right-to-work conditions, asylum seekers received limited social welfare benefits, not including health care. This status rendered them dependent on overcrowded government-funded shelters, illegal employment, government financial support, or NGO assistance.

Persons granted refugee status faced the same discrimination patterns often seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment.

Durable Solutions: In addition to the regular asylum application system, the government may accept refugees under a third-country refugee resettlement program. In April 2020 the government increased the cap on refugees accepted under this program from 30 to 60. NGOs noted the increase but continued to voice concern about the low overall numbers of refugees accepted. COVID-19 related concerns delayed implementing the increase.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 44 individuals in 2020 who may not qualify as refugees. Twenty-five of the 44 were married to Japanese citizens or their children were citizens. The remaining 19 were granted permission to stay based on situations in their home countries, including 10 individuals from Syria. They may live and work in the community.

The Immigration Services Agency announced in August that it would not deport Afghans against their will.

In response to the military coup in Burma in February, the government implemented an emergency measure in May to grant approximately 35,000 Burmese citizens in Japan quasi-amnesty status. Under the measure Burmese citizens in the country were eligible to have their visas extended for six months to one year, depending on their profession. The approximately 2,900 Burmese citizens who requested refugee status were given a six-month visa extension, even if the government had previously rejected their applications.

Approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims were also living in the country under special stay permits on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas based on ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. Fewer than 20 Rohingya have been granted refugee status; approximately the same number of Rohingya asylum seekers were out of detention centers on temporary release but were not permitted to work and could be detained again.

g. Stateless Persons

The Ministry of Justice announced that 627 individuals were stateless in 2019 based on immigration provisions. Legal experts argued, however, that stateless persons potentially exceeded the official count because the figure was limited to stateless persons with legitimate residence permits.

By law a stateless person age 20 or older is qualified for naturalization when she or he has met certain criteria, including having lived in the country for at least five consecutive years, good conduct, and financial stability.

Japan-born children of ethnic Koreans who had their Japanese citizenship revoked following the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea at the end of World War II were deemed foreign nationals, as are their parents. They do not have suffrage rights and may not hold positions in government service. Persons who have not pledged allegiance to either South or North Korea following the division of the Korean Peninsula fall under the special category of “citizens of the Korean Peninsula (Korea or Chosen).” These Koreans, regarded as de facto stateless by legal experts, may opt to claim South Korean citizenship or to pursue Japanese citizenship. Although they hold no passports, these ethnic Koreans may travel overseas with temporary travel documents issued by the government and were considered special permanent residents.

The Immigration Services Agency conducted the first-ever survey on stateless children in July. There were 217 stateless children younger than age four in the country as of June. The justice minister announced in July that the lack of documents substantiating their nationality and the requirement for formal action by authorities in their home countries resulted in their statelessness. The Justice Ministry also acknowledged that it had no official, comprehensive data on stateless children in the country.

In February a child born in Japan of Ghanaian parents spoke during a study session of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on being born in the country yet being effectively stateless. The justice minister also acknowledged that “it is a serious problem if these children, who were born in Japan, are deprived of the basis of their rights because of [lack of citizenship].”

Children born to Rohingya living in the country remained effectively stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An election for the Lower House of the Diet in October was free and fair according to international observers. Upper House elections in 2019 were also considered free and fair.

On November 1, lawyers filed lawsuits in 14 high courts and their branches around the country seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts. The lawyers stated that the disparity in the weight of a single vote between the most and least populated electoral districts was unconstitutionally wide. In a similar lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the 2019 Upper House elections were constitutional while expressing concern that the Diet made little progress to rectify the vote weight disparity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process if they are citizens, and they did participate. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men. Women, however, have not been elected to any level of office at rates reflecting this.

The number of the elected women in both the national parliament and local assemblies remained low. At a national level, female Lower House members accounted for 9.7 percent of the total following the October Lower House election. In the Upper House, the percentage of elected female members was 22.6 percent. The percentages of women’s representation in both houses dropped from the previous elections, down from 10.1 percent in the Lower House and 23.1 percent in the Upper House. In local assemblies, the average percentage of the elected women in 2020 was 14.5 percent, according to the Cabinet Offices’ Gender Equality Bureau.

The number of female candidates was low as well. Women made up 17 percent of the candidates for the October Lower House elections, down from 17.8 percent from the previous election. A law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Separately, a government plan encourages political parties to make their best efforts to raise the number of female candidates to 35 percent of all candidates in national and local elections by 2025. Neither the law or the government plan imposes mandatory quotas for the female candidates, nor do they punish failure to meet these goals.

In an April by-election, a female candidate reported numerous instances of gender discrimination during her campaign, including when the ruling LDP accused her of being too arrogant by assuming she could run for a Diet seat as an untested, “ignorant” female candidate. There were also reports of voters inappropriately touching and sexually harassing female candidates while they were campaigning.

Very few individuals with disabilities ran as candidates.

Some ethnic minority group members of mixed heritage served in the Diet, but their numbers were difficult to ascertain because they did not always self-identify.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were documented cases of corruption by officials.

Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. There were investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving government officials.

Corruption: Among cases of corruption by officials, on February 5, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Kawai Anri, former member of the House of Councilors, to imprisonment for one year and four months with a five-year suspension of the jail sentence. On October 21, the court finalized a sentence given to Kawai Katsuyuki, the spouse of Kawai Anri and a former member of the House of Representatives, of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.3 million yen ($11,900). In 2020 the Kawais were arrested and indicted on charges of paying cash for votes in Kawai Anri’s election. The couple lost their Diet seats February 3 (Anri) and April 1 (Katsuyuki).

Thirteen officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were found on June 4 to have violated the government’s National Public Service Ethics Code, which prohibits receiving favors from stakeholders. Suga Seigo, son of former prime minister Suga Yoshihide, and other members of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, a satellite broadcasting company, gave the 13 officials thousands of dollars’ worth of favors on 39 occasions between 2016 and 2020. Of the 13 officials, 11 were administratively reprimanded; none were prosecuted. The light penalty reflected the fact that the process was an internal, administrative one rather than a criminal prosecution.

In September the Tokyo District Court found former LDP Diet member Akimoto Tsukasa guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.6 million yen ($69,700) between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator bidding to enter Japan’s casino market. He was also found guilty of offering money to two advisors to the company in exchange for giving false testimony. Akimoto was the senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office in 2017 and 2018 responsible for the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos. He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 7.6 million yen ($69,700). He appealed the decision to a higher court. As of October, his appeal was still pending.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Counseling Office has more than 300 offices across the country. Approximately 14,000 volunteers fielded questions in person, by telephone, or on the internet, and provided confidential consultations. Counselling in 10 foreign languages was available in 50 offices. These consultative offices field queries, but they do not have authority to investigate human rights abuses by individuals or public organizations without consent from parties concerned. They provided counsel and mediation, and collaborated with other government agencies, including child consultation centers and police. Municipal governments have human rights offices that deal with a range of human rights problems.

According to the Ministry of Justice, regional legal affairs bureaus nationwide initiated relief procedures in 9,589 cases of human rights abuses in 2020. Of those, 1,693 were committed online, and 256 were cases of sexual harassment. There were 175 cases of human rights violations related to COVID-19. In one such case an individual found to be positive for COVID-19 was denied medical care when their local health authority learned their partner was a health-care provider. The health authority recommended the individual seek care from their partner rather than in an outside setting.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not prohibited.


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a survivor and defines the crime as vaginal, anal, or oral penile penetration by force or through intimidation. Only men can be charged with rape, and the law does not recognize anything other than the use of male genitalia as rape. Forcible penetration with any other body part or object is considered forcible indecency, not rape. The age of consent is 13, which made prosecution for child rape difficult. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny the possibility of spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for rape convictions. Prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the survivor was incapable of resistance. The penalty for forcible indecency is imprisonment for not less than six months or more than 10 years. Domestic violence is also a crime and survivors may seek restraining orders against their abusers. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine. The National Police Agency received 82,643 reports of domestic violence in 2020, a record high after consecutive annual increases since 2003.

In October the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau reported a decrease in domestic violence inquiries compared with the same period in 2020. From April to September, it reported receiving 90,843 inquiries compared with 96,132 inquiries in the same period in 2020. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare allowed survivors fleeing domestic or sexual violence to receive public services from their municipality of actual residence rather than from that of their residence of record.

Rape and domestic violence were significantly underreported crimes. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including fear of being blamed, fear of public shaming, a lack of support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lack empathy for rape survivors.

In March a 43-year-old female company board official was arrested on suspicion of indecent behavior with a 17-year-old boy. Police said the woman and the survivor met on social media.

Survivors of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters run by either the government or NGOs.

Sexual Harassment: The law requires employers to make efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace; however, such sexual harassment persisted (see section 7.d.).

Sexual harassment also persisted in society. Men groping women and girls on trains continued to be a problem. The NGO Japan National Assembly of Disabled People’s International reported continued sexual harassment and stalking of women in wheelchairs or with visual impairment on trains and at stations, calling on some railway companies to stop announcing that persons with physical disabilities were boarding trains; such announcements sometimes also included the car or station involved. Some railway companies reportedly used such announcements so that train station attendants and train crew could prevent accidents. The assembly noted the announcement, however, helped would-be offenders locate female passengers with physical disabilities. On the request of the NGO, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in July issued a request that railway companies consider using alternative communication means. In August the ministry hosted a virtual meeting where representatives of more than 60 railway companies learned from assembly representatives about the harassment and stalking of women with disabilities on trains and at stations. As of the end of August, the assembly reported continued announcements by some railway companies, primarily in the greater Tokyo area.

In August the gender council of a youth group consisting mainly of high school and university students held an online petition campaign “NoMoreChikan,” demanding that the government take more fundamental and serious steps to prevent chikan (groping). At a press conference in late August, the group called on the government to conduct an in-depth survey of chikan, to increase awareness and education in schools including teaching students how to react when they are victimized, and to set up correctional programs for offenders. The group collected more than 27,000 signatures on a petition with its requests sent to the Ministry of Education, political parties, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in September.

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

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons to have their gender identity legally recognized. (See subsection “Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” below for more information.)

The law requires spousal consent to terminate a pregnancy.

In March the Ministry of Health issued new guidelines to allow survivors of domestic violence to terminate a pregnancy without spousal consent. There were reports that rape survivors were denied abortions without consent of the perpetrator. The Japan Medical Association instructed gynecologists to request documentation like a bill of indictment or a court sentence from sexual assault survivors seeking an abortion.

The government subsidized sexual or reproductive health-care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. These services included medical examinations and emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sex and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite the law and related policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in elected bodies.

Calls for the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames continued. The civil code requires married couples to share a single surname. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled that the legal provision requiring married couples to use the same surname is constitutional. The ruling upheld a 2015 decision and recommended the issue be discussed in the Diet.

In February Mori Yoshiro, chairperson of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics organizing committees and a former prime minister, was forced to resign after saying that meetings with women take too long because women talk too much.

Three high school students collected more than 7,500 signatures on a petition urging a major convenience store to change the name of its readymade food line from Okaasan Shokudo (Mom’s Diner). They argued there is an inherent gender bias in the name, implying that a wife’s job is to do the cooking and housework, possibly deepening social biases.

According to National Police Agency statistics, 7,026 women committed suicide in 2020, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. In February the prime minister elevated the issue to the cabinet level, assigning it to the minister for regional revitalization. A member of the ruling LDP’s “loneliness and isolation” taskforce attributed the increase to stresses arising from the pandemic, including the increased presence tin the home of spouses and children; record levels of domestic violence; and multiple high-profile celebrity suicides. The government also reported the number of working women who committed suicide rose to 1,698 in 2020 compared with an annual average of 1,323 from 2015 to 2019. The government attributed the more than 28 percent increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which women were disproportionally dismissed from their employment. The number of men and nonworking or self-employed women committing suicide declined. In response the bureau continued 24-hour hotline services and consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There is no comprehensive law prohibiting racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and non-ethnic Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals and “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry – sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only” – to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against Koreans in public and on social networking sites persisted.

According to legal experts, hate speech or hate crimes against transgender women and ethnic Koreans, especially against Korean women and students, were numerous, but there were also incidents directed at other racial and ethnic minorities. Legal experts pointed out that hate speech against Chinese and Ainu also increased after the COVID-19 outbreak and the opening of the government-run National Ainu Museum in July 2020, respectively.

In May the Tokyo High Court ordered an Oita man to pay 1.3 million yen ($11,900) in damages for discriminatory comments he made on his blog about Koreans living in the country. The ruling determined the comments constituted racial discrimination. The plaintiff identified the defendant by using identifying information obtained from the internet service provider.

Students at Korea University (operated by an organization with close links to the North Korean regime) in Tokyo were excluded from government-issued financial aid designed to mitigate financial difficulties among students resulting from COVID-19. The government denied the exclusion of Korea University, which the government does not recognize as a higher education institution, constituted discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or nationality.

There were reports that kindergartners at an ethnically Korean school in Saitama were excluded from a government initiative to distribute face masks to schoolchildren and preschool workers.

In July the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit to compel the government to provide Chosen schools subsidies for tuition. Chosen schools offer education to resident ethnic Koreans; the national government does not recognize them. All private high schools, except for the 64 Chosen schools, received tuition subsidies from the government. Local prefectures may recognize them and independently provide subsidies.

The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.

Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that despite socioeconomic improvements in their communities, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. Although the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system can be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.

Indigenous Peoples

The law recognizes Ainu as indigenous people, protects and promotes their culture, and prohibits discrimination against them. The law requires the national and local governments to take measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism. The law does not provide for self-determination or other tribal rights, nor does it stipulate rights to education for Ainu.

There were widespread reports of continued discrimination against Ainu. In March a Nippon Television program broadcast content that used an anti-Ainu slur, in April graffiti with the same derogatory language was found in Tokyo, and throughout the year there were reports of hate speech online.

Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.


Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law relieves individuals from some conditions for naturalization to a person born in the country with no nationality at the time of birth but who has resided in the country for three consecutive years or more since his or her birth, but it does not grant citizenship without further conditions. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a nominal fine.

The law requires individuals to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock on the birth registration form. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.

Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse increased. Experts attributed the rise to increased social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to official data, police investigated a record 2,133 child abuse cases in 2020, an 8.2 percent increase from the previous year. Of the cases, 1,756 involved physical violence; 299 involved sexual abuse; 46, psychological abuse; and 32, neglect. Police took custody of 5,527 children whose lives were threatened and notified child consultation centers of suspected abuse against a record 106,991 children. Also in 2020, child abuse deaths totaled 57, of which half (28) were of children younger than age one. There were concerns that more cases went undetected as COVID-19 reduced the frequency with which children interacted with persons outside the family.

Reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers declined by more than half, largely because of increased public awareness and disciplinary dismissal of those teachers, according to a Ministry of Education official. Local education boards around the nation imposed disciplinary actions on 126 public school teachers for sexual misconduct with children from April 2019 through March 2020 according to the Ministry of Education. The ministry dismissed 96 percent of the disciplined teachers from their teaching posts. By law their teaching licenses were invalidated, but they may obtain teaching licenses again after three years. Children were also subject to human rights abuses via the internet. Abuses included publishing photographs and videos of elementary school students in public places without their consent. The government requested site operators to remove such images, and many reportedly complied.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. A law creating gender parity in the legal age to marry, 18 for both sexes, comes into force in April 2022.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or moderate fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is a sentence of not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor. The law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography is a crime. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal with the penalty of imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a moderate fine. Police continued to crack down on this crime and noted that instances of sexual exploitation via social networking services continued to rise. NGOs continued to express concern that preventive efforts more frequently targeted victims rather than perpetrators. NGOs reported the low age of consent complicated efforts to formally identify children exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims.

The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. NGOs reported that unemployment and stay-at-home orders established because of the COVID-19 crisis fueled online sexual exploitation of children. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses) – dating services connecting adult men with underage girls – and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. Ordinances in seven prefectures ban JK businesses, prohibiting girls younger than age 18 from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring JK business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. NGOs helping girls in the JK business reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.

In May, Honda Hiranao, a Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Lower House Diet member from Hokkaido, reportedly said that it would be “wrong” for a man in his 50s like himself to be arrested for having consensual sex with a 14-year-old child. The remark came as the party discussed raising the age of consent from 13 to 16. In June, Honda publicly apologized and asked to withdraw his remarks, for which the party gave him a “severe verbal warning.” In July he resigned from the party and the Diet.

The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.

No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

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


The total Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

A law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts, nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Accessibility laws mandate that construction projects for public-use buildings must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced physical barriers to accessing some public services.

Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities experienced abuse, including sexual abuse of women with disabilities, by family members, care-facility employees, and employers. Some persons with disabilities reported increased verbal abuse of persons with disabilities on the street.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS; nonbinding health ministry guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to their HIV status.

Concerns about discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV or AIDS status.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are no penalties associated with such discrimination. In April, however, Mie became the country’s first prefecture to implement an ordinance to prohibit forcing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity and to ban disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. The ordinance, however, has no penalties nor a remedy mechanism for abuses. LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations reported instances of discrimination, outing, bullying, harassment, and violence.

The LDP failed to advance a bill to promote greater understanding of the LGBTQI+ community due to strong opposition from influential party members to including the phrase “discrimination is unacceptable.” In May, LDP Lower House Member Yana Kazuo reportedly claimed that sexual minorities were “resisting the preservation of the species that occurs naturally in biological terms.”

All new textbooks included extensive information about LGBTQI+ and gender issues across nine subjects.

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons to have their gender identity legally recognized. They also must meet additional conditions, including undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and receiving a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” a disorder not recognized in the International Classification of Diseases; being unmarried and older than age 20; and not having any children younger than age 20. If the conditions are met, pending approval by a family court, their gender can be recognized.

In 2019 (most recent available data), 948 individuals officially registered a new gender, the highest number since it was allowed in 2004, according to the Supreme Court. Advocates, however, continued to voice concern about discrimination and the strict conditions required for persons to change their sex in family registries.

In May the Tokyo High Court ruled that it was acceptable for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to restrict the use of women’s bathrooms by a transgender official, overturning a lower court ruling. The official has been diagnosed with gender-identity disorder but was still registered as male in her family registry. The official also claimed the ministry told persons at her workplace about her gender-identity disorder without her approval. The court ordered the state to pay 110,000 yen ($1,010) in damages for psychological pain caused by inappropriate remarks made by the person’s superiors.

In November 2020 the Tokyo High Court dismissed an appeal for damages from the parents of a student who fell from a school building in 2015 after his classmates disclosed he was gay; however, the court ruled that revealing the student’s sexual orientation was illegal.

According to a survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQI+ individuals, 38 percent reported being sexually harassed or assaulted. One respondent, a transgender man, reported that after being sexually assaulted by a man, he was subsequently refused help by a sexual violence counseling center and turned away by police when trying to file a report. The Ministry of Justice received 15 inquiries about potential human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2020, providing the inquirers with legal advice.

Stigma surrounding LGBTQI+ persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse.

There is one openly LGBTQI+ national legislator, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law restricts the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns that the law restricts some public-sector employees’ labor rights. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service, must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before conducting a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for legal union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector.

In the case of a rights violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order requiring action by the employer. If the employer fails to act, a plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If a court upholds a relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law, however, does not expressly define what would constitute forced or compulsory labor, allowing for prosecutorial discretion when pursuing such cases.

Although the government generally effectively enforced the law, enforcement was lacking in some sectors, especially those in which foreign workers were commonly employed. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law used to prosecute such offenses. Some were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for moderate fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Indications of forced labor persisted in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, primarily in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest-worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in the TITP experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debt to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents, despite government prohibitions on these practices. The Organization for Technical Intern Training oversees the TITP, including conducting on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. The organization maintained its increased workforce, including inspectors, but labor organizations continued to cite concerns that it was understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at identifying labor rights violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation. They are also prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, and age, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with similar laws related to civil rights, such as the Public Offices Election Act.

The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in certain circumstances, including recruitment, promotion, training, and renewal of contracts. It does not address mandatory dress codes. The law imposes some restrictions on women’s employment. The law restricts women from performing certain tasks in underground mining as well as work that requires lifting very heavy objects or spraying 26 specified hazardous materials such as polychlorinated biphenyls. Additional restrictions apply to pregnant women and those who gave birth within the prior year.

The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization viewed the law as too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” A private-sector survey of more than 24,000 companies in July showed the proportion of women in corporate managerial posts rose to a high of 8.9 percent. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 74 percent that of men in 2020. The equal employment opportunity law includes prohibitions against policies or practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if unintended (called “indirect discrimination” in law), for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type.

Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce, including sexual and pregnancy harassment. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but the equal employment opportunity law requires companies to take measures to prevent it; asks companies to report incidents if they occur; and offers administrative advice, instructions, or guidance.

When a violation of equal employment opportunity law is alleged, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare may request the employer to report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible. The Labor Ministry portal regarding harassment in the workplace showed, for example, that there were 87,670 cases of power harassment, 7,323 cases of sexual harassment, and 2,131 cases of maternity harassment reported to the prefectural labor consultation centers in 2019.

In June, a year after the implementation of a revised law requiring companies to take measures to prevent power harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation conducted a survey of 1,000 working men and women between the ages of 20 to 59 (not including corporate executives, entrepreneurs, or the self-employed) that showed limited progress. According to the survey, approximately one-third of workers had experienced some type of harassment in the workplace. Approximately 40 percent said their employer took no action when harassment occurred, and 43 percent of that group told no one because they thought it would not help.

In October 2020 the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare released a survey of 1,000 male and female graduates from universities or vocational schools during fiscal years 2017-19 on sexual harassment during their job search and internship. Overall, 25 percent of the respondents experienced sexual harassment; 9 percent reported being forced to have sexual relations. When asked what they did after the sexual harassment, 25 percent said they did nothing, and almost 8 percent said they gave up on the job search process.

The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). The government hiring rate is 2.5 percent; for private companies it is 2.2 percent. By law companies with more than 100 employees that do not hire the legal minimum percentage of persons with disabilities must pay a moderate fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities. There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes a minimum wage, which varies by prefecture but in all cases allows for earnings above the official poverty line. The government effectively enforces the minimum wage.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. Violators may face penalties including fines and imprisonment commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours; workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.

The Ministry of Labor conducted 24,042 on-site workplace inspections of workplaces they had reason to suspect excessive overtime was taking place during fiscal year 2020 (April 2020 to May 2021). It found violations at 8,904, or 37 percent of workplaces. The Ministry of Labor provided the violators with guidance for correction and improvement.

Workers employed on term-limited contracts, known as “nonregular” workers, continued to receive lower pay, fewer benefits, and less job security than their “regular” colleagues performing the same work. Most women in the workforce were employed as nonregular workers. The law requires employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when the job contents and the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. This law went into effect in April 2020 for large companies and in April 2021 for small- and medium-size enterprises.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and OSH standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers OSH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for OSH standards in the maritime industry.

The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding guidance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Government officials acknowledged their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms and that the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Reports of OSH and wage violations in the TITP are common; they included injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.).

There were 131,156 major industrial accidents in 2020 resulting in the death or injury of workers requiring them to be absent from work for more than four days (802 deaths). Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The Ministry of Heath, Labor, and Welfare also continued to grant formal recognition to victims of karoshi (death by overwork). Their former employers and the government paid compensation to family members when conditions were met.

Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare initiatives to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace include checklists, educational materials, leaflets, and videos on the proper handling of equipment and use of safety gear, and promoting workspaces organized to minimize accidents.


Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution grants the king ultimate executive and legislative authority. The multiparty parliament consists of a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab) and a Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king. Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place in November 2020. Local nongovernmental organizations reported some COVID-19-related disruptions during the election process but assessed voting was generally free and fair.

The Public Security Directorate has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Public Security Directorate and the General Intelligence Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The General Intelligence Directorate reports directly to the king. The armed forces report administratively to the minister of defense and have a support role for internal security. There is no separate Ministry of Defense; the prime minister also serves as defense minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment in government facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceable assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other harmful practices; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association (such as threats against labor activists).

Government impunity for human rights abuses remained, although the government took some limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes of these actions was not publicly available for all cases. The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials engaged in public corruption. A former cabinet minister and agency head were separately convicted on corruption-related offenses, but limited transparency during investigations and trials contributed to popular perceptions of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were developments regarding custodial death cases from previous years.

Following the August death in an Irbid hospital of an unnamed individual who had been detained, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) expressed concern there was insufficient information publicly available to rule out arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life by security forces. Also in August, following the reported suicide of an individual held by security services, family members claimed the individual had been killed in custody.

As of October there was no indication authorities had further investigated NGO allegations related to the November 2020 death in custody of a 15-year-old boy identified as Fawwaz in a juvenile detention center in Madaba. An earlier investigation resulted in the suspension of juvenile prisoner transfers between certain detention centers but did not examine the circumstances of Fawwaz’s death.

The case of three medical examiners referred to the Zarqa felony magistrate court in 2019 in connection with the 2018 death of Bilal Emoush, allegedly from torture following his arrest by the Public Security Directorate (PSD), remained pending with the Ministry of Justice.

Police officers are tried in police courts when facing either criminal penalties or administrative punishment. The quasi-governmental watchdog National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) and NGOs repeated calls for police officers accused of gross violations of human rights to be tried in independent civil courts instead of police courts, which fall under the Ministry of Interior and are considered less independent, according to many NGOs. NGOs frequently complained they were unable to access information on the results of cases.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution bans torture, including psychological harm, by public officials and provides penalties up to three years’ imprisonment for its use, with a penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurs. While the law prohibits such practices, international and local NGOs reported incidents of torture and mistreatment in police and security detention centers. Human rights lawyers found the penal code ambiguous and supported amendments to define “torture” more clearly and strengthen sentencing guidelines. According to government officials, all reported allegations of abuse in custody were thoroughly investigated, but human rights NGOs questioned the impartiality and comprehensive nature of these investigations. Authorities on trial for torture and mistreatment were most often convicted on charges of excessive use of force rather than torture.

In contrast with previous years, local and international NGOs did not report that Anti-Narcotics Division personnel routinely subjected detainees to severe physical abuse, but NGOs reported some instances of abuse. There were complaints of mistreatment by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) during the year. Local NGOs said abuse still occurred, but citizens did not report it due to fear of reprisals. Authorities restricted access to information regarding the results of torture or mistreatment cases.

From October 2020 until September, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office received 81 complaints with allegations of harm (a lesser charge than torture that does not require a demonstration of intent) against officers; 64 complaints were referred to the courts. Most alleged abuse occurred in pretrial detention. The Human Rights and Transparency Office reported receiving 12 allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons and rehabilitation centers between October 2020 and September, a drop of nearly 70 percent from the previous 12-month period. As of October, one case resulted in an internal disciplinary action, another was under investigation, two cases were administrative complaints, and eight did not go to trial for insufficient evidence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 18 prisons varied: old facilities had poor conditions while new prisons met international standards. Authorities held foreigners without legal work or residency permits in the same facilities as citizens. (For information on asylum seekers and refugees, see section 2.f.)

Physical Conditions: International NGOs and legal aid organizations identified problems including overcrowding, limited health care, inadequate legal assistance for inmates, and limited social care for inmates and their families. The PSD reopened Qafqafa Prison in 2020, with a capacity of 1,050 inmates, to receive detainees from overcrowded prison facilities. In October an NGO reported this prison was over capacity.

The PSD continued to monitor detention facilities and to promote compliance with detention policies and used electronic records to log every case and detainee in all detention centers.

Officials reported overcrowding at some prisons, especially those in and around Amman.  According to the PSD, 63,222 inmates in detention were released between October 2020 and September to ease overcrowding and mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading in prisons.  NGOs, however, noted that the number of arrests made for violating COVID-19 defense orders (emergency measures the government established in 2020 and that remained in place as of mid-December), combined with governors’ orders to rearrest some of those released, reduced the impact of these releases.

According to the PSD, authorities designated some facilities to hold only pretrial detainees. The GID held some persons detained on national security charges in a separate detention facility. During the year the NCHR made one visit to the GID facility. The GID allowed the NCHR to conduct unsupervised meetings with some prisoners in prior years. Detainees complained of solitary confinement, isolation, and prolonged pretrial detentions of up to six months. Local and international NGOs received reports of mistreatment, abuse, and torture in GID detention facilities.

Although basic medical care was available in all correctional facilities, medical staff complained that correctional facilities throughout the country lacked adequate medical facilities, supplies, and staff. Most facilities were unable to conduct blood tests and had limited X-ray capabilities, forcing doctors to rely largely on self-reporting by patients for certain conditions.

Conditions in the women’s prison were generally better than conditions in most men’s prisons. The capacity of the Juweideh detention center was 450 female detainees; 523 women were detained there as of September 21, according to the PSD.

Some police stations had separate holding areas for juveniles. Authorities held juveniles in special facilities supervised by the Ministry of Social Development.

Administration: The Ministry of Justice exercised oversight regarding the condition of detainees and was authorized to conduct investigations into allegations of human rights abuses. From October 2020 to September, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office made a total of 11 visits to detention centers accompanied by observers from both local and international organizations. Karamah (a team of government officials and NGOs) and the NCHR also monitored prison conditions, with the NCHR conducting approximately 30 prison visits. In some cases, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities severely restricted the access of detainees to visitors.

Authorities sometimes did not inform families regarding the whereabouts of detainees or delayed notification of families between 24 hours and 10 days. Although the PSD had a system of electronic recordkeeping to address this problem, NGOs reported families did not always know the whereabouts of detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some local and international human rights observers and lawyers to visit prisons and conduct private interviews. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had wide access to visit prisoners and detainees in all prisons, including facilities operated by the GID. Authorities approved some requests by local human rights observers to conduct announced monitoring visits independently of Karamah and the NCHR.

Improvements: The PSD renovated eight prison facilities to improve sanitary facilities, access to water, ventilation, and heating systems and equipped facilities with fire-safety equipment, outdoor lighting systems, and small-scale supermarkets for detainees. Authorities took steps to construct additional wings and floors in existing centers to fix infrastructure and accommodate additional detainees.

The PSD rehabilitated the health units in the Muwaqqar, Tafilah, and Juweideh detention centers. The PSD had a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Health and the ICRC to update the health units in the Swaqa and Juweideh detention centers and to establish a referral system to transfer patients outside prisons if an inmate’s condition required treatment not available at the prison clinic.

The PSD and the Ministry of Justice expanded their distanced court hearings program, building additional video conference rooms in detention centers for a total of 18 rooms that served 12 detention centers. As of the end of October, more than 20,000 detainees had attended court hearings via conference calls since the outbreak of the pandemic, representing approximately 47 percent of all hearings during that period. Authorities also took steps to use alternatives to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. The Ministry of Justice processed 264 criminals into alternative sentencing as of October.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides a person in custody with the right to appear promptly before a judge or other judicial officer for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention. The law allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 24 hours without a warrant in all cases. It requires that police notify authorities within 24 hours of an arrest and that authorities file formal charges within 15 days of an arrest. Authorities can extend the period to file formal charges to as long as six months for a felony and two months for a misdemeanor. According to local NGOs, prosecutors routinely requested extensions, which judges granted. The State Security Court (SSC) can authorize Judicial Police (part of the PSD) to arrest and keep persons in custody for seven days prior to notification of arrest while conducting criminal investigations. This authority includes arrests for alleged misdemeanors. NGOs alleged that authorities transferred suspects to the SSC to extend the legal time from 24 hours to seven days for investigation prior to notification. NGOs also alleged that authorities transferred suspects from one police station to another to extend the investigation period. During the year the Ministry of Justice operated an electronic notification system for judicial action to help lawyers remain up to date on their cases and reduce the length of pretrial detention.

The penal code allows bail, and authorities used it in some cases. In many instances the accused remained in detention without bail during legal proceedings. The PSD regulations exempt persons from pretrial detention if they have no criminal record and the crime is not a felony. NGOs reported cases of arbitrary administrative detention during the year. Many detainees reported not having timely access to a lawyer, despite the law’s guarantee of access to legal counsel upon referral to public prosecutors. Courts appointed lawyers to represent indigent defendants charged with felonies carrying possible life sentences (often interpreted by the judiciary as 20 years) or the death penalty, although for lesser crimes legal aid services remained minimal.

At times authorities held suspects incommunicado for up to one week or placed them under house arrest. Several human rights activists alleged that authorities held arrestees incommunicado to hide evidence of physical abuse by security forces. Courts did not always offer adequate interpreter services for defendants who could not speak Arabic.

According to an NGO, male guardians occasionally requested virginity testing for female relatives detained by authorities for being “absent” from the home. By law medical professionals cannot perform virginity testing on a woman without her consent; however, women and girls reportedly often felt pressured to undergo the test to avoid attracting suspicion from family members. NGOs continued to urge authorities to reject virginity testing requests, arguing these tests violate women’s rights and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law requires that authorities inform individuals of charges upon arrest. In cases purportedly involving state security, however, security forces at times arrested and detained individuals without informing them of the charges against them and either did not allow defendants to meet with their lawyers or did not permit meetings until shortly before trial.

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge; others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander. Most detentions lasted for days, but some lasted several months. Approximately a dozen detainees held a hunger strike from January through October to protest their arrest and arbitrary detention. As of October more than 20 individuals remained in detention for reasons connected to freedom of expression, according to media reports and local NGOs. Throughout the year 589 individuals were detained for violating defense orders, a 23 percent increase from 2020, according to the PSD.

Security services arbitrarily arrested, intimidated, and physically assaulted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals. Authorities shut down at least two events associated with the LGBTQI+ community and arrested guests under public decency and public order laws (see section 6).

The law empowers provincial governors to detain individuals administratively as they deem necessary for investigation purposes or to protect that individual; governors also may set bail amounts. Authorities held some individuals in prison or under house arrest without due process and often despite a finding of not guilty in legal proceedings. According to NGOs some governors abused their detention power to intimidate political activists and individuals, imprison individuals without sufficient evidence, prolong the detentions of prisoners whose sentences had been completed, or set excessive bail.

According to the Ministry of Interior, from January through September more than 25,000 persons were held under administrative detention at least temporarily, a significant increase from 2020.

According to local and international NGOs, authorities routinely engaged in “protective” detention of women (a type of informal detention without trial) to deal with cases ranging from sex outside of marriage to absence from home to being the victim of sexual violence, all of which could put women at risk of so-called honor crimes. NGOs reported that some women were administratively detained at Juweideh Prison for “absence” from home without permission of a male guardian or for having sex outside of marriage. Juweideh Correctional Center held 523 women as of September. From October 2020 to September, 103 women were detained administratively (see section 6). Some detained women told a local NGO that self-defense from domestic violence and economic exploitation led to their detention. Most detained women were kept in prison due to a determination by authorities that a family member must provide a guarantee to protect them from attack prior to their release.

Since 2018, women at risk of gender-based violence and “honor” crimes have been referred to Ministry of Social Development shelters.

According to the Ministry of Social Development, since October 2020 approximately 103 women had been transferred to its shelter for varying periods of time.

During the year local NGOs said that officials detained some foreign laborers; those whose employers did not secure their release were held for working without authorization, being absent from their authorized workplace, or lacking proper residency permits. PSD representatives continued to meet in a committee to follow up on and find solutions to the detentions of foreign workers. Most foreign workers were exempted from paying fines for overstaying their visas and subsequently were repatriated if they chose to return to their home country. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of October, 291 foreigners were administratively detained.

Pretrial Detention: The law criminalizes detaining any person for more than 24 hours without a prosecutor’s authorization. Rights activists said authorities routinely ignored this limit and that impunity was very common. An NGO reported pretrial detentions decreased, while arrests overall increased, largely due to violations of COVID-related government public health measures. Governors continued to issue thousands of administrative detention orders under a law that allows pretrial detention from three days to one year without charge or trial or any means of legal remedy. NGOs reported pretrial detentions could extend further than one year. According to the Ministry of Interior, of the 63,222 persons released from detention, a total of 23,322 individuals under administrative detention by governors were released between January and September to reduce overcrowding in detention centers.

The GID continued to subject individuals to prolonged pretrial detention (in some cases without charges), solitary confinement, and mistreatment, according to the NCHR and other organizations. According to NGOs, pretrial detainees were occasionally placed with convicted individuals.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not have an explicit provision that entitles victims of arbitrary or unlawful detention to restitution. The law does not provide for routine judicial review of administrative detentions ordered by governors. Detainees can bring civil lawsuits for restitution for arbitrary or unlawful detention or bring criminal lawsuits for illegal incarceration; however, the legal community reported such lawsuits seldom occurred. Detainees must hire a lawyer with at least five years’ experience, must pay their own fees, and must present a copy of the order of detention. There were no cases of restitution during the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Criminal prosecutors report to the Judicial Council, while the Ministry of Justice provides courts with administrative support.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest.

Authorities occasionally tried defendants in absentia. The law allows this practice but requires a retrial upon the accused’s return to the country. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. The Ministry of Justice established a committee to investigate the eligibility criteria and challenges facing legal aid programs. Access to legal aid remained limited, especially for women in rural areas. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently, defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began.

The PSD and the Jordanian Bar Association have a memorandum of understanding allowing lawyers access to all detention centers and prison facilities and permitting private meetings with their clients in dedicated rooms. To respond to complaints that authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers, with free translation and defense, the Ministry of Justice established a directorate to hire additional translators. The Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Jordanian Bar Association and a human rights NGO, maintained a designated unit to provide legal aid services to witnesses and defendants, as mandated by law. Through October, 1,184 individuals received legal aid through this program.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment. The SSC occasionally declines to hear testimony from witnesses they consider add no value to cases.

Court verdicts are announced in open hearings. Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

The SSC is designed to handle sensitive national security, terrorism, narcotics, and counterfeiting cases and consists of military and civilian judges appointed by the prime minister. All SSC court verdicts are automatically appealed to the country’s highest court, the civilian Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review matters of both fact and law. NGOs and activists argue the government should stop trying civilians, including activists, before a nonindependent court such as the SSC, contending that such a step would strengthen the independence of the civilian judicial system.

The government usually allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the military and police courts to observe court proceedings.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have civil jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women, with exceptions in certain cases. As a response to local and international human rights recommendations, the Sharia Judicial Institute continued to provide human rights training sessions for all its judges and prosecutors. The Institute resorted to online sessions during the pandemic.

The law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years and stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons, including criticizing the government, its foreign policy, government officials and official bodies, or foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government used administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

A court acquitted the Islamic Action Front’s election campaign director Badi al-Rafai’aa of “impudent/offensive speech against a sisterly country” in September. Authorities detained Rafai’aa in 2020 after he made statements critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Some exiled activists and political commentators alleged that security services harassed and intimidated their Jordan-based family members to pressure them to end their activism.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights abuses through domestic courts.

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

The constitution protects the right to privacy but allows for surveillance “by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” The law permits the prosecutor general to order surveillance upon receiving “reliable information” that “a person or group of persons is connected to any terrorist activity.” Although the law prohibits it, individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance including monitoring online comments by cataloging them by date, internet protocol (IP) address, and location without court orders.

According to Freedom House, in April the government instituted a two-day internet shutdown in specific Amman neighborhoods following the purported coup attempt linked to Prince Hamzah. Freedom House also reported virtual private networks (VPN) sometimes were inaccessible.

Some tribes continued to employ the custom of jalwa, where the relatives of a person accused of homicide are displaced to a different geographic area pending resolution between the involved families to prevent further bloodshed and revenge killings. Even though jalwa and tribal law were abolished from the legal system in 1976, security officials sporadically continued to facilitate banishment and other tribal dispute resolution customs. As of October the Ministry of Interior indicated there were 413 cases of jalwa.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides, “the State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of expression and press, and used the antiterrorism law, cybercrimes law, press and publications law, and penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or fomenting sectarian strife and sedition. The government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting several activists for political expression. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.

Convicted lawyer Firas al-Rousan began a hunger strike in Qafqafa prison on February 17 to demand a retrial. A court convicted al-Rousan of “offensive speech against the king and defaming a government body” in 2020. He refused to take his prescribed medication and said he would strike until “either death or release” from prison. Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the prison on March 7 in solidarity after his son reported to human rights organizations that al-Rousan’s health had deteriorated. On March 10, the minister of justice approved al-Rousan’s request to appeal his sentence before the Court of Cassation. The appeal remained pending at year’s end.

In late April the judiciary rejected the appeals of Layla Hadidoun, Mohammad Seriwa, and Bakr al-Qatawneh for alternative sentencing. The three were charged in connection with posts they published on social media in solidarity with the Teachers’ Union (TU), which the government shut down in July 2020.

On August 31, police officers arrested activist Moaz Wahsha after Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hanifat filed charges against him for social media posts criticizing the agriculture ministry’s failure to provide sufficient help to farmers. Wahsha was administratively detained by the governor of Ajloun and was released on September 12.

Authorities arrested Ahmad Tabanja al-Kinani, an activist in the tribal movement known as hirak, in August 2020 on several charges, including “incitement,” under the antiterrorism and cybercrimes laws. Al-Kinani’s charges stemmed from comments he made in support of the TU and his documentation of police use of force during TU protests. Al-Kinani spent almost one year in solitary confinement, six months of which were prior to his being officially charged. The NCHR visited al-Kinani in prison multiple times and was unable to ascertain why his treatment had been disproportionally harsh compared with others arrested under the cybercrimes law. Authorities also refused the NCHR’s request to end al-Kinani’s solitary confinement. Al-Kinani was released on bail on July 4 after his attorney told the media that 13 prior bail requests had been denied.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. Observers considered several to be independent of the government, including al-Sabeel, regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party).

Observers also judged several daily newspapers to be close to the government.

The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions. Media observers reported government pressure on media, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers. Defense orders mandated to combat the spread of the pandemic required previously independent journalists to register with the Press Syndicate for permits to cover events in person. The Press Syndicate is legally independent from the government; however, some members alleged government interference in its activities.

Local and foreign journalists operating in the country continued to experience increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. On January 11, authorities deported Salim Akash, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist residing in Jordan. Akash’s residency permit for a nonjournalism-related job in Jordan expired in April 2020, the same month he was taken into custody. According to Reporters Without Borders, Akash was arrested following the publication of an article critical of conditions for Bangladeshi workers in Jordan and was informed only that he had “broken an important law.”

The law grants authority to the head of the Media Commission to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. The commission continued granting broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. The commission must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license.

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The commission banned the distribution of 39 books for religious and moral reasons, including sexual content or promotion of violence and extremism, as of October.

The government has a majority of seats on the board of the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for the ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation. A high-level press official said media professionals were less likely to cover sensitive topics due to fear of arrest, which significantly reduced the quality of journalism. The Center for Defending the Freedoms of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 111 violations against journalists and reported a decline in media freedom attributed primarily to the application of the defense law and associated defense orders. In May an alGhad journalist was forcibly expelled from the airport after attempting to livestream the arrival of Jordanian students who had been stranded abroad during the pandemic.

According to the CDFJ, abuses against journalists were generally characterized as minor, with few exceptions. Grave abuses (physical attacks) tended to occur when journalists attempt to cover protests. Some political commentators attributed this phenomenon to the lack of policies regulating law enforcement’s interactions with civilians during crises. The CDFJ attributed the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists, as well as self-censorship.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists. In 2020, authorities arrested Roya TV’s general manager, Fares Sayegh, and news director Mohammad Alkhalidi following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints concerning the economic impact of the COVID-19 curfew. Prosecutors charged Sayegh and Alkhalidi under the anti-terrorism law. Both were released on bail three days later. As of October, one of their three cases remained pending with the SSC.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  The government directly and indirectly censored the media and online activists, reducing the variety of information available on the internet.  The government’s efforts to influence journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

The CDFJ report and journalists noted widespread self-censorship among journalists. Fearing arrest and prosecution, journalists avoided reporting on certain topics, including political opposition based abroad and the LGBTQI+ community. NCHR representative Nahla al-Momani said in 2020 that the defense orders increased self-censorship by journalists and made it nearly impossible for journalists to cover major events since the start of the pandemic.

Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Journalists cited the weak financial condition of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered fines of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000) as factors influencing media content.

During the year the Media Commission circulated official gag orders restricting discussion in all media, including social media. Gag orders are often used in politically or socially sensitive cases that have caught public attention. Public prosecutors can issue these orders under the pretext of not “affecting the course of justice” or disclosing investigation information. One gag order covered the closure of the TU and detention of its leadership in July 2020, which continued throughout the year. A second gag order involved the Prince Hamzah-related sedition case in April, and a third was issued in November on news publications regarding the prime minister’s family (see libel/slander section below). For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. The prosecutor handling the case of a 16-year-old boy whose hands were cut off and eyes were gouged out (see section 6) issued a gag order restricting the publication of any news related to the attack and court procedures, although television networks nevertheless interviewed the victim. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports concerning the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.

On April 8, the state-owned Jordan Radio and Television Corporation (JRTC) cancelled a Jordan TV comedy series, Um al-Darahem (Mother of Dirhams), reportedly due to its inclusion of politically sensitive topics. The show, which had been scheduled for broadcast during Ramadan, portrayed a corrupt village head who manipulated villagers to seize their money and lands. The show’s lead actor and crew criticized JRTC’s decision as censorship. Separately, member of parliament Mohammad al-Fayez filed a criminal complaint against the Watan Ala Watar (Homeland on a Tendon) series on privately owned Roya TV, claiming an episode broadcast by the station mocked Bedouin appearance and hospitality customs.

Libel/Slander Laws: The cybercrimes law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Internet users face at least three months in jail and a maximum fine of JD 2,000 ($2,800) if they are found guilty of defamation on social or online media. Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. The law places the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant. Defamation is also a criminal offense. The law forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, or foreign states, as well as “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.”

In April a court sentenced Athar al-Dabbas to one year in prison for saying her father was better than the king. Dabbas’s sentencing sparked backlash on social media and stimulated public debate on freedom of expression. Authorities withdrew the prison sentence after the king personally called Dabbas to pardon her.

After activist Kamil al-Zoubi posted claims in late October that the wife of Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh received a large salary from the government, police officers arrested al-Zoubi, and prosecutors charged him with defaming a state entity and spreading false news. Al-Zoubi supporters held demonstrations and vigils to call for his release. In November officials announced a media gag order. Khasawneh dropped the complaint on November 18.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security in addition to counterterrorism laws to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. Human Rights Watch argued activists were often charged with terrorism-related crimes that had definitions so vague they could be applied to nearly any political speech or behavior the government dislikes.

In December 2020 a State Security Court (SSC) prosecutor ordered alwakaai news site editor Jamal Haddad detained for 15 days. Prosecutors charged Haddad with publishing false information and causing public disorder under the terrorism prevention law by suggesting government officials secretly received COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the public. The Jordan Press Association called for Haddad’s immediate release, objected to the case’s referral to the SSC, and demanded the case be sent to the civilian judiciary under the press and publications law. Haddad was released on bail in December 2020. At year’s end his case was still pending.

Prosecutors dropped in January a 2020 case against political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, whom authorities detained for publishing in a United Kingdom periodical a caricature critical of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Abraham Accords the UAE signed with Israel.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: In mid-November the royal court issued a decree approving a special pardon for 155 individuals convicted of lese-majeste between December 2018 and November 2021. The law does not allow special pardons for cases pending a final verdict.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In addition the defense orders enacted in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 provided the prime minister with temporarily expanded civil powers that were used to curtail the rights of activists and journalists.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. Several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training courses, private meetings, or public conferences. There were some reported cases of the governor denying approval requests without explanation, according to local and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption. NGOs were able to conduct their activities more freely when using videoconferencing software due to authorities’ inability to censor these online platforms.

Protests regarding economic policies; corruption; Israeli actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. Protests by activists were few and quickly shut down by security forces, following the imposition of public health-related government emergency defense orders and restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Small-scale, peaceful demonstrations took place on March 24 in Amman, Madaba, Irbid, Ramtha, and Mafraq to mark the 10th anniversary of the Arab Awakening and to protest corruption and the defense law. Although protests ended prior to the 7 p.m. curfew, authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters in some areas. A press freedom advocate noted security personnel turned away journalists attempting to cover some of the protests. Several detained activists announced an open-ended hunger strike to highlight the arrests and the clamping down on freedom of expression. Authorities released some detainees on March 25 and more in small groups through the month’s end. On August 18, the Madaba First Instance Court sentenced 16 detained activists to three months each in prison on charges of illegal assembly. Their appeal remained pending as of the end of October.

In May protesters demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians at the al-Kalouti Mosque for several consecutive days during a period of Israeli-Palestinian clashes. During at least one evening protest, security forces clashed with and arrested protesters, including a Jordan Today press official. A PSD spokesperson said security forces responded to protesters bypassing the security cordon and heading towards the Israeli embassy. Activist Hiba Abu Taha was arrested during the demonstrations while filming the arrests (see section 2.a.). A PSD spokesperson stated an investigation was opened into police misconduct during the demonstration. After a Gaza ceasefire was reached on May 21, thousands of Jordanians rallied in the streets in celebration. Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services. Activists commented on the perceived double standards employed by the government when implementing the defense orders, allowing individuals to gather and protest when it suited their interests and dispersing demonstrations when it did not.

On June 21, authorities administratively arrested teacher Ramez al-Batran for his activism on behalf of the Irbid TU branch. The deputy governor of Irbid, Qabalan al-Sharif, released al-Batran from Bab al-Hawa prison without charges or bail on June 24. Prior to his release from administrative detention, authorities ordered al-Batran to sign a pledge not to participate in any future TU demonstrations (see section 7.a.).

On August 8, authorities arrested approximately 30 teachers, including former TU head Nasser Nawasrah and other former TU board members, as they were traveling to the town of Karak to participate in a sit-in. Sit-in participants claimed security forces closed roads and pressured teachers to sign pledges not to join the sit-in. All detained teachers were released without charges the same day they were detained. Nawasrah and other council members were arrested and released several times throughout the year.

Security services and protesters generally refrained from violence during demonstrations. Occasional scuffles occurred when protesters attempted to break through security cordons intended to limit demonstrations to specific locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives these ministries significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances from the Interior Ministry for board members. The law includes penalties, including fines, for violation of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violation of the law. NGOs that receive a warning are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

Although the Ministry of Social Development instituted an automated system in 2020 for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs, it continued to accept paper applications. Some local NGOs reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by law, while other NGOs continued to claim officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications, effectively shutting down several NGOs. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, monthslong delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal nontransparent decisions. On February 21, the local office of Journalists for Human Rights closed. Country Director Mohammad Shamma said restrictions on foreign funding led to the local office’s inability to remain operational. Another NGO reported being forced to lay off staff due to continued government intervention and foreign funding application rejections and monthslong delays. NGOs reported the drawn-out approval process for even uncontentious projects and foreign funding was stifling civil society.

In April a local NGO released the results of a survey of local NGOs’ experiences with official registration and foreign funding procedures. Despite the rollout of a new foreign funding mechanism in early 2020, more than two-thirds of NGOs receiving foreign funding reported the government had rejected their applications for receipt of foreign funds, and only one-fifth reported being informed of the reasons for rejection. Nearly all surveyed NGOs called for further reform to the foreign funding regulations.

To avoid the registration and foreign funding processes, civil society organizations sought alternative solutions, including registering as for-profit companies or international NGOs.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations, and that security services monitored political and civil society conferences and meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to public health measures designed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic included temporary restrictions on travel between governorates.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. Residents of refugee camps were required to apply for permission to relocate from or temporarily depart the camp for family visits or work, limiting their freedom of movement. The pandemic significantly reduced the likelihood of obtaining such permission.

There were continued reports of forced refugee relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees. Such offenses included “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit), criminal activities, and potential security risks, which were not clearly defined.

As of September Azraq camp hosted 43,493 individuals, including 9,711 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated 790 refugees to Azraq camp during the year, including 469 to Village 5 for security reasons. The refugees who were forcibly relocated to Village 5 were not officially informed of the reasons for their relocation or given the opportunity to access legal remedies or assistance prior to their relocation. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance, to a clinic providing comprehensive health services inside the Village, and to the hospital within Azraq camp if escorted by police. To access the broader camp facilities, Village 5 residents were required to submit a request to security officials.

Although some refugees were permitted to leave Village 5 each month, the process for Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow, with the pandemic slowing the process even further. NGOs reported only 93 individuals left Village 5 during the year, compared with 1,185 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population lacking freedom of movement within and outside the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years. Residents of Village 5 were subject to additional nontransparent criteria that restricted approval of requests to depart the camp.

Civil documents of Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees in most cases.

In 2019 the government effectively halted UNHCR’s registrations of any person arriving in Jordan on a medical, tourism, study, or work visa. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 5,500 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Egypt, and Yemen. According to UNHCR, there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided it would accept expired documentation in support of refugee and asylum seeker requests for access to services, including health care, until the end of the year.

Hundreds of PRS and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park, an unused fenced public space in Irbid Governorate repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. Refugees in the park were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and lack of space. The camp did not meet international standards, lacked several essential facilities, and had only one small shop to obtain daily necessities. PRS residing there were not able to pay residency fees to the Ministry of Interior to obtain legal status, without which they lacked access to formal livelihood opportunities.

PRS illegally residing outside of camps usually limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. In addition some PRS with legal documentation reported delays of up to four years for renewal of their documentation.

For PRS with Jordanian citizenship, potential revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases authorities did not provide information concerning the reasons for the revocation.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. Authorities require all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The country’s border crossings with Syria remained closed to new refugee arrivals. Syrians may not enter Jordan without prior approval from the Ministry of Interior or a valid residency permit in a third country. Syrians staying in Jordan as refugees may visit Syria for a short period without losing their status in Jordan if they obtain permission in advance from the Ministry of Interior to reenter Jordan.

The Rukban border crossing between Jordan and Syria remained closed, and the government continued to restrict humanitarian access to the area, which it considers a “closed military zone.” The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was periodically closed and reopened throughout the year as a preventive measure related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October it reopened for passenger movements; commercial traffic was sporadic.

Employment: Since 2016 the government issued more than 239,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 94.5 percent of these work permits issued to men. Most of these work permits, which grant access to sectors “open” to foreign labor, were no longer valid. Work permit issuance continued to fall during the year, in part due to COVID-19 mitigation measures that shut key areas of the economy for prolonged periods and kept camp employment offices closed.

Formal work for UNHCR-registered non-Syrian refugees was not permitted. Non-Syrian refugees seeking work permits were required to renounce their registration with UNHCR. Although this renunciation resulted in a number of deportation orders, with some individuals, primarily Yemenis, placed in detention, there were no known reports of deportation for labor-law infractions.

The Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month. The pandemic-related suspension of work permits in both Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps for the first six months of the year resulted in job losses among camp residents previously employed outside the camp but unable to return to work despite businesses reopening across the country. Problems with leave permit validity reportedly limited the ability of some refugees to accept potential opportunities once work permit issuance resumed. UNHCR and local NGOs reported unemployment for women and youth remained at concerning levels.

Some Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “ex-Gazans” for short, do not hold Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 174,000 individuals, authorities issued registration cards, which provided permanent residency and served as personal identity documents, and temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers. Without a national identity number, however, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support, although they were able to access UNRWA services.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to provide access to free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children. As of the end of the 2020-21 academic year, however, an estimated 50,650 Syrians and 21,540 non-Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, bullying by fellow students and teachers, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools, and some nationalities faced documentary requirements as barriers to entry.

Access to basic civil services, including renewal of identity documents and the registration of marriages, deaths, and births, remained highly complex for PRS. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals without official refugee status and tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrue fines for overstaying their visit permits and must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa. They then face a five-year ban from reentry into Jordan.

g. Stateless Persons

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which can lead to statelessness. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after maintaining continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Approval of such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Many Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when the bearers fled Syria or were confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. Refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents. The government has a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Zaatari and Azraq camps helped Syrian refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, some members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal councils. While voting processes were well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation.

The Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System released a draft elections law, draft political parties law, and recommendations to amend the constitution and other laws on October 4, spurring national debate. If enacted, these proposals would use a party-based proportional representation electoral system to select 30 percent of the next lower house of parliament, while preserving geographic electoral districts for other members of parliament. The proposals would expand the party-based proportional representation electoral system to 50 percent and then 65 percent of the seats in the lower house in subsequent elections. Additionally, the committee proposed legal changes that would transfer responsibility for regulating political parties from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to the Independent Election Commission and incentivize participation of women and youth in political parties.

Parliament approved a new Municipalities and Decentralization Law on September 14. The law restores the direct election of mayors and municipal council members, with the exception of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba. The law allows the cabinet to appoint 40 percent of the governorate councils’ members (from 15 percent in the 2015 law).

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in November 2020. Local monitors reported the election was technically well administered.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits parties formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin, as well as membership in unlicensed parties. The law also prohibits members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, and security service personnel from joining parties. There were 49 registered political parties, but most had few members and only two ran party-based lists in the 2020 election. International organizations continued to have concerns regarding the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Many politicians believed the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform, despite political parties being legal since 1992. Local civil society organizations were able to monitor and comment on the election process in 2020.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain ethnic or religious minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems held a small minority of positions in national and local legislative bodies and executive-branch leadership roles.

The 29-member cabinet included two female ministers as of November: the minister of culture and the minister of state for legal affairs. Sixteen women served as members of parliament, 15 selected by quota and one through open competition. The new Municipalities and Decentralization Law raises the quota for women on governorate councils from 10 percent to 25 percent of elected members and provides for a 20 percent female quota on municipal councils. No women won mayorships in the 2017 election.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers, senators, and ambassadors. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Authorities began showing an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations in recent years. Courts convicted a former minister of public works and housing, customs director general, and several local elected officials in separate trials during the year. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.

In February the king sent an open letter to the GID director stating that because civilian oversight institutions and the judicial system had “stepped up to their constitutional and legal responsibilities,” the GID should focus solely on national security.

Activists and journalists found it difficult to access government reporting and statistics. They attributed the lack of access to ineffective record keeping and the government’s withholding information from the public. In September the NCHR stated freedom to access information was pivotal to promoting human rights and called for penalties for individuals who impede the public from obtaining information or who intentionally destroy it.

Corruption: On September 29, the SSC issued verdicts in a case related to the illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. A three-judge panel convicted 23 defendants and sentenced the chief suspect to 20 years’ imprisonment. The judges also acquitted four defendants and dismissed charges on two defendants who died during the trial. The verdict was subject to appeal at the Court of Cassation. The SSC also imposed fines of JD 179 million ($252 million) on multiple defendants in the case, requiring additional hearings.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country with some restrictions. The law gives the government the ability to control NGOs’ internal affairs, including acceptance of foreign funding. NGOs generally were able to investigate and report publicly on human rights abuses, although government officials were not always cooperative or responsive. A legal aid organization reported that lawyers continued to be harassed for following up on cases and were threatened with disbarment by the Jordanian Bar Association.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR, a quasi-independent institution established by law, received both government and international funding. The prime minister nominates its board of trustees, and the king ratifies their appointment by royal decree. The board of trustees in turn appoints NCHR’s commissioner general. The NCHR’s annual report assessing compliance with human rights sometimes criticizes government practices. The NCHR submits the report to the upper and lower houses of parliament and to the cabinet. NCHR recommendations are not legally binding, but the government coordinator for human rights (GCHR) in the Prime Minister’s Office is required to respond to the report’s recommendations and to measure progress towards international human rights standards.

Ministries’ working groups continued to meet and implement their responsibilities under the national human rights action plan, a 10-year comprehensive program launched in 2016 to reform laws in accordance with international standards and best practices, including improving accessibility for persons with disabilities. Developments on the action plan were regularly published on the ministries’ websites. Through September, 20 percent of the plan’s activities were completed, 42 percent remained ongoing, and 38 percent remained pending. In September the GCHR, in collaboration with local NGOs, launched a new national human rights abuse complaint mechanism and trained liaison officers to identify and respond to human rights abuses. Ministries affirmed commitment to the plan and expanded resources available to implement it in coordination with donors and NGOs.

The GCHR head and the Prime Minister’s Office human rights unit coordinate government-wide implementation of the national plan, including drafting and responding to human rights reports. The GCHR office conducted 38 activities during the year under the national human rights plan, including discussions of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, inclusion of persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors, gender, trafficking in persons, and general human rights awareness workshops.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of any individual age 15 or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. The law makes prosecution mandatory for felony offenses, including rape. Nonfelony offenses, such as certain cases of domestic violence, are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases, with consent of the victim. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape.

Violence against women was prevalent. While the reported number of “honor” crimes decreased, local NGOs reported an increase in domestic violence. As of September a human rights NGO reported that 13 women died from domestic violence.

In January two men were charged with the attempted murder of their sister. The victim, identified only as Ayah, remained hospitalized in a coma for a month. Police reported Ayah had previously been hospitalized in December 2020 after an earlier assault by one of the brothers, who was then referred to the governor but released without charges.

In August the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), a civil society organization chaired by the queen, launched guidelines for responding to domestic violence against women and children. Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. Due to social taboos and degrading treatment at police stations, however, gender-based crimes often went unreported. NGOs also highlighted that there were no official figures on the prevalence of violence against unmarried girls and women age 50 years and over.

In January the Grand Criminal Court sentenced a man to seven and one-half years’ imprisonment with hard labor for sexually assaulting his 16-year-old daughter more than 300 times. Social media activists and women’s rights advocates condemned the sentence as too lenient relative to the scope of the crime and called for legal reform to eliminate the use of mitigating factors by judges when imposing sentences for such crimes.

The FPD investigated more than 4,000 cases during the year, referring 90 cases to government shelters and more than 100 to a nongovernmental shelter. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court and asserted that courts routinely dropped two-thirds of assault cases that resulted in little or no physical injury. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed cultural authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure and fear of violence such as “honor” killings, few women sought legal remedies.

In March the PSD announced the merger of the Juvenile Police Department with the FPD to unify efforts aimed at protecting children and families. The PSD, the judiciary, and the Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Development jointly developed a formal mediation process, including a manual with guidelines. A specialized “settlement” judge must oversee the resolution of each case and confirm consent of both parties, receiving recommendations from mental health providers and social workers, and may order community service, quash criminal charges, and issue protection orders.

NGO representatives reported fewer women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes but more women at risk of domestic violence. According to international human rights organizations operating in the country, gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotional and physical abuse, often perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the family, were the most common forms of abuse.

Governors used the crime prevention law to detain women administratively for their protection. The Ministry of Social Development operated a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. As of October the Amman-based shelter for women at risk of “honor” crimes had served 268 women, including administrative detainees from the Juweideh women’s correctional and rehabilitation center, women referred to the shelter by the FPD, and women directly referred to the shelter by governors. The Ministry of Social Development amended the shelter’s bylaws to allow children younger than age 10 to accompany their mothers, including mothers who had previously been detained under protective custody.

The FPD operated a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via email and in person. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid. NGO reports indicated, prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that all government-run shelters were operating well below capacity.

The NCFA published a three-year national plan to respond to gender-based violence, domestic violence, and child protection. NGOs reported that health-care providers and teachers were still hesitant to report abuse due to the absence of witness protection guarantees. Specialized judges continued expediting domestic violence cases; misdemeanor cases took approximately three days to resolve, according to the FPD. The NCFA assisted the government in developing mediation guidelines.

NGOs reported improvements to domestic violence-related procedures and policies in law enforcement and the judiciary, since revisions recommended by an NCFA committee established in the wake of protests concerning the handling of a 2020 case in which a man allegedly bludgeoned his adult daughter to death with a brick. In March the Grand Felonies Court convicted a man who had gouged out his wife’s eyes in 2019, a case known as the Jerash crime, of premeditated murder and sentenced him to 30 years’ imprisonment with hard labor.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Civil society organizations stated that many “honor” crimes went unreported, especially in nonurban areas.

In June a man beat his 21-year-old daughter, identified as Rania, to death with an electric cable. NGOs suspected it was an “honor” killing case. The grand felonies prosecutor charged the father with torturing and murdering his daughter. The father remained in detention, and the case was still in process as of mid-November. The killing provoked popular anger and calls on social media for justice for Rania and other women killed by their families.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential “honor” killing during the year. NGOs noted that a few cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape, due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that, according to customary belief, if a woman marries her rapist, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” despite a law ending the practice of absolving rapists who married their victims. Nevertheless, NGOs noted that this law helped reduce such instances and encouraged more women to report rape, especially since the establishment of the shelter.

Governors referred potential victims of “honor” crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter instead of involuntary protective custody in a detention facility. During the year governors directly referred 10 women to the shelter. Most cases were referred by the FPD and NGOs.

The law authorizes DNA tests and other scientific means to identify paternity of a newborn associated with “rape, deception, and deceit.”

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years’ hard labor. The law also sets penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment but does not define protections against sexual harassment. The government did not effectively enforce the law; sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign workers, particularly garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

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

The law permits couples the basic right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraceptives were widely accessible and provided free of charge in public clinics. Hormonal and emergency contraceptives and medical abortion drugs were not included on the government’s over-the-counter list, according to UK-based scientific journal Bio Med Central (BMC). According to estimates in the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2020, 21 percent of women ages 15-49 years used a modern method of contraception. BMC reported that sexual and reproductive services were underutilized by youth.

Advocates raised concerns regarding barriers to services for unmarried women and access problems for women and girls with disabilities, including consent for hysterectomies. Human rights groups raised concerns regarding the treatment of single women who give birth at hospitals, including hospital staff’s reporting them to authorities.

There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no governmental policies limiting family size.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including rape kits and forensic examinations, for survivors of sexual violence, but emergency contraception was generally not available, limiting clinical management of rape. According to an NGO, health professionals did not consistently use trauma-informed practices when interacting with victims, and the quality of care varied throughout the country.

Another NGO reported unmarried victims of rape who became pregnant faced difficulties gaining access to safe delivery and establishing legal status for their children.

Adolescent girls and unmarried women who became pregnant were routinely transferred to government-funded shelters where they could receive educational services, although the quality varied. Social norms prevented underaged girls who became pregnant from attending school.

Discrimination: The constitution affords equal rights to men and women. Nonetheless, observers continued to emphasize the relevant passage’s ambiguity, and the women’s subcommittee of the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System recommended clarifying definitions of equality in the constitution in a report published in October.

In February the PSD launched its first gender-mainstreaming strategy for the years 2021 to 2024. Prior to the launch, female officers mainly served in traffic police and family protection capacities. This strategy opened all PSD positions to female officers, including positions in the Criminal Investigative and Anti-Narcotics Departments, and aimed to recruit young women and retain officers after marriage by instituting family friendly policies. The PSD established a gender office in February to implement the strategy and train PSD leaders on its tenets. The Jordan Armed Forces also launched its own strategy in September to increase women’s participation, including recruitment, retention, and advancement in leadership positions. Observing this strategy, the armed forces began to accept more female pilots into the air academy and deployed more women in UN peacekeeping missions.

The law does not necessarily provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in several areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court handling civil law matters. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a quasi-governmental organization, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

NGOs reported a disproportionate number of individuals charged with nonrepayment of debt were women unable to repay loans they had taken out on behalf of their male family members. In March a defense order suspended prison sentences penalizing the nonrepayment of debt through December 31, and an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 individuals were released from debt imprisonment. This order echoed a Judicial Council decision in April 2020 postponing the jailing of debtors with unpaid debts less than JD 100,000 ($141,000).

The Ministry of Labor designated an office for handling discrimination claims in the workplace for both men and women. Local NGOs advocated for better representation of women in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. In March the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported Jordanian women held 62 percent of leadership positions in the education sector but just 2.7 percent of leadership positions in the overall economy. Additionally, World Bank research found the pay gap between Jordanian men and women was 40 percent in the private sector and 28 percent in the public sector. Some NGOs criticized the absence of provisions on maternity leave, childcare, and access to equal health insurance for female workers.

Under the Personal Status Law that applies sharia rulings, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive, with some exceptions. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances, such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special religious courts for recognized Christian denominations under the Council of Churches adjudicate marriage and divorce for Christians, but for inheritance, sharia applies to all persons, irrespective of religion.

Since the start of the pandemic, by order of the sharia court, alimony for women was paid electronically or through the Jordan Post Office. Due to suspension of work and salaries in some cases, the court resorted to the Alimony Credit Fund to pay women and children’s alimony.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Family members who inherited the pension payments of deceased civil servants received differing amounts according to the heir’s gender. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses.

The law allows a non-Muslim mother to retain custody of her Muslim children beyond the age of seven (the previous limit).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Four distinct groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including the PRS covered in section 2.f. Many of these individuals reportedly faced some discrimination. Palestinians and their children who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship. The same applied to Palestinians who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Palestinians and their children still holding residency in the West Bank after the 1967 war were not entitled to citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees and their children who fled Gaza after the 1967 war were not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These refugees had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA.

Jordanians of Palestinian heritage were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships but were well represented in the private sector.

Other minority populations in Jordan include Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Assyrians, Bani Murra (Jordanian/Syrian “Roma” regionally known as “Dom”), in addition to the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and Sudanese refugee populations (see section 2.f.). Minority Rights Group International reported the Bani Murra faced widespread prejudice and hostility across the region, suffered from high rates of poverty, and had limited access to education, employment, and government services.


Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country. The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers that differed from the standard national identification numbers given to most citizens. This made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. National identification numbers do not change during a person’s lifetime and are used in all forms of identification. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and resided in the country for at least five years, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including basic education; subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a driver’s license; and receive employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau.

By law children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. The cabinet may then approve citizenship for these children under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred. NGOs continued to lobby the government to make access to social services less onerous.

Authorities separated children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency faced obstacles enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). See section 2.f. for information on access to education for refugees.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child younger than 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and death.

In March the SSC reached a decision in the case of gang members accused of torturing a 16-year-old boy (identified as Saleh), cutting off his hands and gouging out his eyes, allegedly to avenge the death of a gang member killed by the boy’s father during an extortion attempt in 2020. The court convicted the defendants of terrorizing society, forming a gang, indecent assault, criminal kidnapping, causing permanent disability, possession of an unlicensed firearm, resisting arrest, and attempted murder. Six of the perpetrators were sentenced to death, one in absentia, despite calls by human rights organizations not to bring back the death penalty, while the court acquitted seven others. The court also sentenced one defendant to 10 years in prison, another to 15 years, and two others to one year.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as age 16 may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between age 16 and 18 would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract. A local NGO reported higher rates of child marriages during the year. Early and forced marriage among refugee populations remained high. During the year a large number of marriages of Syrians in the country involved an underage bride, according to many sources. According to local and international organizations, some Syrian refugee families initiated early marriages for their daughters to help mitigate the stresses of poverty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment for the commercial exploitation of children. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons younger than age 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Within the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.f.).

Institutionalized Children: Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The Ministry of Social Development monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

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 Parent Child Abduction at


Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews, without government response. In December 2020 a government university professor publicly denied the Holocaust. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust and used anti-Semitic tropes. Some private-school curriculums included information on the Holocaust. Increased anti-Semitic hate speech on social media appeared to coincide with escalated tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Organ Harvesting

Organ harvesting is considered a cross-border trafficking-in-persons crime and was the third-most committed trafficking offense after forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to the PSD. The PSD’s Counter Trafficking Unit started tracking social media activity to locate potential perpetrators. There were reports of six organ harvesting cases as of October.

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

UN Development Program surveys conducted in April and November 2020 detailed more than 85 percent of the most vulnerable households, including those with persons with disabilities, reported facing significant challenges in meeting their basic needs. According to the report, persons with disabilities were more likely to be impoverished, less likely to have access to education, and more likely to face long-term health consequences.

The law tasks the Ministry of Public Works’ Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting existing buildings to comply with building codes. Most private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure, such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections, was largely not accessible. The HCD continued implementing the 10-year Strategy on Accessibility, a plan to make existing buildings and public facilities accessible.

The PSD’s national 911 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech disabilities by using sign language over a video call with specially trained officers on duty. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when interacting with government offices without a representative who could communicate via sign language.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education. The NCHR noted school classrooms were not fully accessible and that there was a limited number of qualified teachers for children with disabilities. The NCHR reported that the appointment of qualified teachers was restricted since the activation of the defense law in 2020, imposing a temporary moratorium (still in effect as of year’s end) on new appointments and the secondment of personnel in ministries, government departments, and public official institutions and bodies. Families of children with disabilities reported further obstacles from COVID-19 prevention measures.

Human rights activists and media reported cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions. As of October, three government-run centers were permanently shut down, and three were suspended for at least two months, mostly due to incidences of staff-member violence against beneficiaries. The Ministry of Social Development conducted intensive inspections and visits to ensure remedies were in place. On March 7, the ministry formed a joint investigative committee with the Higher Council for the Rights of People with Disabilities following the death of a 45-year-old man at a ministry-run shelter for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The shelter was shut down for three months and beneficiaries were transferred to another facility; an investigation remained underway at year’s end. News websites shared a video reportedly from security cameras at the shelter showing staff apparently mistreating and assaulting shelter residents. The prosecutor charged an employee with negligence, and the ministry suspended another employee until the investigation’s conclusion.

The HCD’s Complaints Division received 10 complaints of abuse. Four of those were domestic violence and were referred to the Family Protection Department for investigation. The remaining cases were complaints against staff in public and private organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and AIDS were largely taboo subjects. Lack of public awareness remained a problem because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTQI+ community. Society stigmatized individuals with HIV, and those individuals largely concealed their medical status. Individuals with HIV are not eligible for disability pensions. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes toward persons with HIV or AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. According to NGOs, detention centers placed detainees with HIV in solitary confinement to prevent them from mixing with other detainees. The government deported migrant workers and refugees who were diagnosed with HIV. The Ministry of Health enforced a policy to deny access to antiretroviral drugs for those awaiting deportation. Palestinian refugees with HIV were treated as Jordanian citizens and permitted to remain in the country. Refugees of other nationalities, including Syrian and Iraqi refugees, were deported to either their home countries or other countries.

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

While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not criminalized, societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was prevalent. According to a security official, these relationships were largely seen as “unacceptable by Jordan’s conservative society.” LGBTQI+ persons were frequently targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault, and authorities provided them with no legal protection. Local activists reported a significant increase in the number of cases of LGBTQI+ individuals seeking support or reporting domestic violence during COVID-related lockdowns.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. LGBTQI+ community leaders reported that most LGBTQI+ individuals kept their sexual orientation or gender identity secret due to fear of societal or government discrimination. LGBTQI+ individuals reported their reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. Some LGBTQI+ individuals reported that authorities responded appropriately to reports of crime in some cases.

Authorities arrested LGBTQI+ individuals on the pretext of violating public order or public decency ordinances. LGBTQI+ citizens faced regular administrative or arbitrary detentions, harassment including informal interrogation, and monitoring from state actors. During the year authorities shut down at least two events associated with the LGBTQI+ community and arrested participants under public decency laws. Activists planned a virtual event in mid-June to discuss the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. A member of parliament declared the event contradictory to the country’s values and traditions, referred to LGBTQI+ persons using denigrating terminology, and alerted the Ministry of Interior, which subsequently shut down the virtual event. Authorities also arrested 14 individuals in July during an LGBTQI+ gathering at a private residence after monitoring their social media pages.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community confirmed they generally lacked safe spaces and reported being targeted by the police upon leaving any of the few associated with the community. In July an NGO reported police detained 30 visitors at the NGO’s center on suspicion of “Satan worship,” a justification sometimes used to harass LGBTQI+ persons, according to NGO representatives. Authorities later claimed the NGO conducted “public LGBTQI+ activities.” Police released 12 individuals within 24 hours of the incident and released the remaining 18 within days. None of the individuals were officially charged.

LGBTQI+ persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. Individuals have reported being fired from jobs or denied professional opportunities because of their LGBTQI+ identity. Some experienced extortion and threats of being fired, disinherited, disowned, arrested, or prosecuted. Several LGBTQI+ individuals found it impossible to live in the country due to their LGBTQI+ identity and therefore left the country or were in the process of doing so. Many feared for their lives or abuse at the hands of family members or authorities. Parents were customarily allowed to request informal “warrants” from security services for children, including adult-age children, to suspend their movement inside the country, prevent travel abroad, or require authorities to forcibly return them to family custody, even if family members had previously threatened that person’s life. In cosmopolitan circles, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy loosely allowed LGBTQI+ individuals to socialize discreetly. LGBTQI+ members of the growing working classes and refugee communities were more vulnerable to police harassment and assault with impunity than individuals who belonged to politically connected families or to tribes the authorities were hesitant to harass.

Relatively few shelters accepted LGBTQI+ cases, and the facilities and NGOs that served the community lacked sufficient funding and services.

Open discussion of LGBTQI+ individuals and topics was controversial due to a generally traditional culture among all citizens, regardless of faith. The Media Commission banned books and blocked websites containing LGBTQI+ content. Government regulations on NGO registration and foreign funding largely prevented civil society groups from working on activities with perceived links to the LGBTQI+ community.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the law provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public and private-sector workers who may organize. It also defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU), the country’s sole trade union federation. The establishment of new unions requires at least 50 founding members and approval from the Ministry of Labor. The law authorizes additional professions to form professional associations on a case-by-case basis.

The government did not fully enforce applicable laws, which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and the government influenced union policies and activities. The Ministry of Labor may dissolve any union perceived as violating the labor law.

There were no known reports of threats of violence against union heads, although security services arrested labor activists and reportedly pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.

In December 2020 the Amman Magistrate’s Court issued a decision to dissolve the TU and imprison council members for one year; all were released shortly thereafter on bail. All public-school teachers belonged to the union, which had approximately 140,000 members.

After its closure the union accused the government of continued legal and administrative pressure against activists. The government forcibly retired more than 120 union-affiliated teachers following a July 2019 crackdown, imposed salary and benefit cuts without written justification, and reassigned dozens of teachers to distant school districts, reportedly in retaliation for union activities. Education International, the American Federation of Teachers, the NCHR, and other organizations condemned authorities’ treatment of union activists. In February the UN high commissioner for human rights expressed concern regarding gag orders imposed on news coverage of the union and encouraged the government to engage in dialogue and promote civic freedoms.

Although union members continued to be entangled in multiple pending court battles, the union and some members won some legal victories during the year. On July 11, the Amman First Instance Court found the union’s former acting head not guilty of spreading false news and incendiary remarks on social media; an appeals court upheld the decision in September. On October 31, an Amman appeals court dismissed a lower court’s March ruling that contributed to the government’s case dissolving the TU. This ruling did not immediately restore the union’s legal status because it was awaiting two other pending cases, as of November.

When conflicts arise during labor negotiations, the law requires that union representatives and employers first attempt to resolve the matter through informal mediation. If a matter remains unresolved, the union is required to request Ministry of Labor-appointed mediation. Ministry-appointed mediators are assigned to cases for up to 21 days. If initial mediation fails, the case is referred to a higher mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor. If the council’s adjudication is unsuccessful, the dispute goes to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days.

The law allows foreign workers to join unions but does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join trade unions or engage in collective bargaining. No new trade union had been established since 1976. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers from employer retaliation for union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide the right to reinstatement for workers fired due to antiunion views.

There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The law prohibits management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but enforcement was inconsistent. Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers. As of October, 12 workers’ strikes had occurred during the year.

The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the GFJTU and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported difficulty getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 sectors established in law, in part because new unions would require approval by a tripartite committee in which the existing 17 union heads are represented.

Some foreign workers whose residency permits are tied to work contracts were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike is counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.

Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect unionized and nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working as day laborers in the public sector on short-term contracts.

Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face government restrictions in addition to or apart from those discussed in section 2.b.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits forced labor, but there are exceptions in cases related to national emergency and with just remuneration. The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations of forced labor (see section 6). The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor also occurred among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified the 48,000 domestic workers in the country (as of October), most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. Activists further noted cases where domestic workers who used an employer’s telephone to complain to a Ministry of Labor hotline experienced retaliation when the hotline returned the call to their employers. Kafala, the system in which employers sponsor domestic workers’ visas, continued to apply. Under kafala, domestic workers cannot change employers or leave the country without permission from their employer, leaving them vulnerable to forced labor conditions.

In October the government issued regulations requiring recruitment agencies to provide migrant domestic workers with insurance covering medical care and workplace accidents. The law authorizes the Ministry of Labor to rate recruitment agencies publicly based on compliance with the labor law and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of August the ministry referred 22 recruitment agencies and transferred 11 domestic-helper complaints to the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) of the PSD. The minister of labor has the authority to close recruitment agencies with multiple labor violations, based on the recommendation of ministry inspectors.

As of October the Ministry of Labor issued 2,210 verbal and written warnings requiring remedial action in workplaces.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law forbids employment of children younger than age 16, except as apprentices in light work. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays, and on weekends.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

According to a local NGO, Jordanian child laborers work in the car mechanic, cleaning, metalwork, carpentry, and sewing sectors, while Syrian refugee children predominantly work in agriculture, services, and industry. Children also sold goods in the streets and begged in urban areas. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal sector, such as family businesses and the agricultural sector. NGOs estimated that child laborers younger than 16 numbered approximately 70,000. The government continued a series of campaigns begun in 2020 continuing to combat forced child begging. Throughout the year the PSD detained 12,484 individuals, 45 percent of whom were juveniles. Children were often sent to a shelter for one to three months and subsequently returned to their homes.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor. Authorities referred criminal violations to the magistrate’s penalty court, which handles labor cases. The law provides that employers who hire a child younger than age 16 pay a fine. In addition the government provided shelter, education, and financial services to children engaged in child labor. Children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including street work and dangerous tasks in agriculture.

Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between ages 16 and 18 to issue advice and guidance, provide safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. The Labor Ministry had a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children younger than age 16 and hazardous work for children younger than 18.

Although the Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, activists saw a noticeable increase in child labor due to economic hardships caused by the government’s COVID-19 measures and school closures. Refugee children worked in the informal sector, sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; however, labor law does not explicitly prohibit it. The law also does not prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, based on race, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee and stateless status. It is unclear whether penalties are imposed for discrimination based on sex or disability, or if such penalties are commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.

The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of a disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs, however, reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment. In July the employment bylaw went into effect, which provided some employment protection for persons with disabilities.

Some persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the law’s requirement that any workplace with more than 50 employees have 4 percent or more of its workforce be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Labor, agreements were signed with private-sector companies in June to ensure implementation of the 4-percent requirement and to allow the ministry to conduct inspections. As of October, 120 persons with disabilities had registered on the Ministry of Labor Department for Persons with Disabilities Employment platform during the year to be notified of job opportunities. The ministry, however, lacked the capacity to keep the platform up to date.

A three-year Ministry of Labor program entitled Economic Empowerment and Social Participation of Persons with Disabilities, slated to end in 2020, was extended until the end of the year due to the pandemic. Through the program, 13 instructors were certified to train civil society organizations, private-sector companies, and the public sector. The ministry continued to implement a sign-language program and offer simultaneous interpretation devices across the ministry’s departments. The ministry also allocated funding for its Employment of Persons with Disabilities department.

Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to gender, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).

Working women were largely concentrated in the “socially acceptable” health and education sectors and made up approximately 14 percent of the workforce as of March, according to the Department of Statistics. By law the minister of labor specifies the industries and economic activities that are prohibited for women, as well as the hours during which they are allowed to work. Women are prohibited from working in quarries, construction sites, and other hazardous environments, and are not allowed to work between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. except in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, tourism offices, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Women are generally barred from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The minister of labor used regulatory authority in 2019 to suspend profession- and sector-based restrictions for female workers, which continued throughout the year. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours per day. These restrictions limit job competition in favor of men. The Civil Service Ordinance allocates benefits such as the family allowance and cost of living allowance at a higher level for men than for women.

The law prohibits discrimination in wages based solely on gender and includes protections for flexible and part-time work contracts.

Union officials reported that sectors predominantly employing women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. Many women reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to the Department of Statistics, as of the second quarter of the year, unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 83.4 percent, compared with 31.2 percent for men. The female unemployment rate was 33.1 percent, compared with a male unemployment rate of 22.7 percent and the overall unemployment rate of 24.8 percent.

In 2019 the Ministry of Labor increased the number of professions closed to foreign workers from 11 to 28, with the stated purpose of creating job opportunities in the private sector for Jordanian youth. Professions reserved for citizens include office workers, sales professionals, electricians, security guards, hair stylists, and car mechanics. The decision to close these professions to foreign workers included denying new workers permits and not renewing previously granted foreign worker permits in all closed professions.

According to the employment ministry, Egyptians were the majority of foreign workers in the country and were subject to a sponsorship system, including needing employer clearance to leave the country. Jordan exported highly skilled and educated workers while hosting unskilled migrants to perform lower-level jobs its citizens avoid. NGOs reported foreign workers, including garment workers, agricultural workers, and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and verbal and physical assault in the workplace. Lawyers criticized the law on harassment in the workplace, saying it did nothing to hold perpetrators accountable and assisted victims only by allowing them to resign. Domestic workers and Syrians were unable to participate in social security programs.

On June 9, the Ministry of Interior announced that its approval was no longer required for previously deported migrant workers to seek new visas to enter the country. Migrant workers wishing to return after being deported for residency infractions could apply for a visa following a three-year waiting period.

Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions (see section 7.e.). The informal labor market continued to be the primary sector of employment for refugees. Non-Syrian refugees did not have access to the formal labor market. Syrian refugees were mostly employed in the informal sector due to the limited number of “fee-free” work permits available, the high annual cost of work permits in areas not covered by the fee-free program, and the limited sectors in which refugees were permitted to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage, per month, which is above the individual poverty line. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. A January increase in the minimum wage excluded migrant workers.

The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, and observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work. NGOs reported some instances of forced overtime. As part of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic response, the government announced policies for remote work, reduced wages, and suspension of operations for private-sector companies. The policies included permission for employers to reduce workers’ salaries up to 50 percent in cases where employees could not report to work. As of August the Ministry of Labor received 13,651 employee complaints regarding policies designed to ease the impact of government public health measures on employers.

Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, increasing to 21 days of paid annual leave after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances, such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, and employers were required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. However, enforcement was inconsistent. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as needed, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with the Ministry of Labor’s occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor abuses or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors cannot enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the law directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The NCHR reported receiving 12 complaints related to labor disputes through November. The ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.

Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely than men to encounter labor abuses, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.

The government requires garment-exporting manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan (BWJ) program, a global initiative by the ILO and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. All factories required by the government to join BWJ were active members of the program. BWJ expanded its program during the year to include export factories in the plastics, chemicals, and industrial engineering sectors.

In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. BWJ stated that reports of coercion decreased during the year. Indebtedness of foreign garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted. While the law sets the minimum wage, a substantial portion of the standard monthly minimum wage for foreign workers in the garment industry was used to pay employment placement agencies for food, accommodation, and travel for workers from their home countries, according to an international NGO. In January BWJ launched a two-year initiative to improve the mental health of factory workers in the garment sector, a matter NGOs had raised during 2019 collective bargaining agreement discussions, by training medical providers and Ministry of Health staff who treat factory workers.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Labor did not consistently inspect and monitor all workplaces or apply all the protections of the labor code for vulnerable workers such as domestic and agricultural workers. Authorities were hampered by barriers to the inspection of homes where domestic workers lived. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural workers, domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, most of whom were foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens. Domestic workers face discrimination by nationality in their wages. Although the law was amended in 2008 to extend certain rights to domestic and agricultural workers, the law required that each group be covered by its own legislation.

In June 2020 the Ministry of Labor shut down two textile factories in the town of Karak following complaints of poor working conditions and maltreatment of employees; as of September the two factories remained closed pending court rulings. The 1,500 Jordanian employees of these factories were being paid via a social security program to ease the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector, while 230 Burmese workers were waiting to be deported or relocated to other factories.

On March 14, the government approved a new law to regulate the agricultural sector, preserve workers’ rights, protect against discrimination, and provide workers with coverage under the Social Security Law. For the first time, the law also gives agricultural workers the right to file lawsuits and submit complaints to labor inspectors, have access to the courts, and be exempt from work- or residency-permit fees. Local NGOs said the bylaw fell short of expectations, particularly because it did not address work permits for migrant workers, who make up most of the sector’s workforce. Other NGOs criticized the absence of provisions on maternity leave, childcare, and equal health insurance for female workers in the informal sector. The law does not require farms with three or fewer workers to enroll employees in social security.

Employers reportedly subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the majority of whom are Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry, where employers usually paid migrant workers less than the minimum wage and failed to uphold occupational health and safety standards.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions, working long hours without holidays or days off during the week and not being paid on time. NGOs report employers regularly confiscate passports and other documents. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. The CTU operates a 24-hour hotline, with limited translation capabilities. From January through August, the Ministry of Labor referred 29 cases to the CTU; 104 workers were placed in shelters.

Advocates reported that migrant domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from the employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications with police stations against domestic workers. Authorities waived immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or expired work permits. Most fleeing domestic workers reportedly sought to escape conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. NGOs reported authorities administratively detained domestic workers and other migrant workers and did not inform them of their rights or the reasons for their detention. Legal processes for migrant workers take years and translation services are minimal.

Migrant workers were disproportionately affected by the government’s COVID-19 response. Factory workers contracted the virus at higher rates due to poor health and safety standards and overcrowding, particularly those working in factories in Dalil and Aqaba. Migrant workers are excluded from government programs to offset the effects of the pandemic. Migrant workers are also vulnerable to hate speech and negative stereotypes in print, broadcast, and social media. As of September, the Hemaya online platform the government launched in 2020 to assist foreign workers with their pandemic-related difficulties had received 85,000 complaints on delayed wages and job terminations. Medium and small factories were especially affected by the pandemic; some could not meet commitments to staff, and some cancelled contracts and closed worker dormitories. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.

In May the Ministry of Labor began to address dormitory conditions of migrant workers in response to complaints. Officials conducted inspections, reported unlicensed dormitories to the Ministry of Justice, and coordinated with BWJ to renovate dormitories.

The informal labor market continues to be the primary sector of employment for refugees. Syrian refugees are mostly employed in the informal sector due to the limited number of “fee-free” work permits available, high annual cost of work permits for work in areas not covered in the fee-free scheme, and limited sectors in which refugees are permitted to work.


Executive Summary

The government and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev became president after June 2019 elections that were marked by election-day irregularities including ballot stuffing and falsification of vote counts, according to an observation mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Former president Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoys broad, lifetime, legal authority over a range of government functions in his constitutional role as the First President. The executive branch controls the legislature and the judiciary, as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. On January 10, the country held elections for its lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis. Independent observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, stated that the elections lacked genuine competition and transparency.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security. The Committee for National Security oversees internal and border security, as well as national security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. The committee reports directly to the president, and its chairman sits on the Security Council, chaired by First President Nazarbayev. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killing by or on behalf of the government; torture by and on behalf of the government; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases. Nonetheless, corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for many in positions of authority as well as for members of law enforcement agencies.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings or beatings that led to deaths. Activists noted that deadly abuse in prisons, particularly abuse carried out by so-called voluntary assistants – prisoners who received special privileges in exchange for carrying out orders of prison staff – remained frequent.

On March 15, a court in Kyzylorda sentenced four police officers to prison terms of six to nine years after convicting them of murdering 43-year-old Baurzhan Azhibayev in 2019 during a traffic stop for failing to use his turn signal. The police officers reportedly beat, tased, and choked Azhibayev after he argued with them and refused to obey their instructions, resulting in his death.

On December 8, 30-year-old Nurbolat Zhumabayev died in police custody in Shymkent after police arrested him for suspected carjacking. Zhumabayev’s family said that his body was covered in bruises when they viewed it on December 9. The Shymkent mayor announced on December 9 that the Ministry of Internal Affairs would investigate and conduct an autopsy. The investigation continued as of the end of the year.

On June 2, a jury in Karaganda acquitted four defendants, including a former police officer and a local businessman, accused of ordering and organizing the 2019 killing of Galy Baktybayev. Baktybayev was a civil activist who raised problems of corruption, embezzlement, and other abuses by local government.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture, but human rights activists asserted the domestic legal definition of torture does not meet the definition in the UN Convention against Torture. The National Preventive Mechanism against Torture (NPM) was established by law and is part of the government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman.

The domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) Coalition Against Torture reported more than 200 incidents of abuse during the year. Cases of prison officers being brought to justice for abuse were rare, and officers often received light punishment. Human rights observers commented that only in rare incidents, such as when information regarding the abuse was publicized and caused a strong public reaction, were perpetrators held accountable. Abuse occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. Human rights observers stated that authorities occasionally used pretrial detention to beat and abuse detainees to extract confessions. Observers cited the lack of professional training programs for administrators as the primary cause of mistreatment.

On June 8, the Turksib District Court in Almaty found an inspector at a pretrial detention facility guilty of torture and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment.

In July, Karim Babayev, a prisoner at Almaty detention facility CI18, was hospitalized after he attempted self-mutilation as a protest against abuse. Babayev had been transferred to multiple prisons and stated that he was beaten in every prison. Babayev frequently protested abuse and filed complaints. Human rights observers stated Babayev was regularly punished for his activities.

In August the president pardoned Natalya Slekishina, who was raped in prison in 2016 by prison guard Ruslan Khakimov. Khakimov was convicted for Slekishina’s rape and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.

The government made some efforts to increase accountability, but members of the security forces still abused detainees and prisoners with significant impunity. Observers reported there were often limited consequences for such abuses with police and security forces. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman was empowered to receive complaints and investigate abuses in prisons through oversight of the NPM.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The NPM reported poor health and sanitary conditions and poor medical services, including for prisoners suffering from HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and diabetes. The NPM also reported discrimination against prisoners in vulnerable groups, including prisoners with disabilities and prisoners with HIV or AIDS.

On July 19, a part of the barracks of prison GM-172/6 in Mangistau Region, built in the 1960s, collapsed. Three prisoners inside the building died, and eight were taken to a hospital with injuries. The government formed a commission to investigate the incident. During past monitoring visits to the prison, NPM members and human rights observers told the prison authorities that the building required a major overhaul, but their statements were ignored.

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, activists raised alarms concerning health conditions in prisons and detention facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded prisons’ poor health and sanitary conditions, particularly in cases where individual prisoners were already vulnerable to infection.

Prisoner rights activists expressed concern that authorities used COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to block access to information concerning medical treatment in prisons. Following an order from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, prison administrators banned in-person meetings between prisoners and relatives. To compensate for the lack of visits, however, administrators of some prisons increased the number of prisoners’ telephone calls and allowed prisoners to have online meetings with relatives.

According to Prison Reform International (PRI), although men and women were held separately, and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners, youth often were held with adults during transitions among temporary detention centers, pretrial detention, and prisons. There was a high risk for abuse during searches, investigations, and transfer to other facilities.

The NPM and members of public monitoring commissions (PMCs, quasi-independent bodies that carried out monitoring) reported infrastructure problems in prisons, including poor plumbing, poor sewage systems, and unsanitary bedding. PMC members reported that some prisoners with disabilities did not have access to showers for months. They also reported shortages of medical staff and insufficient medicine, as well as access problems for prisoners with disabilities. The NPM noted that many facilities had restricted internet connectivity with the outside world and limited access to information on prisoner rights. The PRI and the NPM reported there was widespread concern regarding food and nutrition quality in prisons. Prisoners and former prisoners complained their food was served past its expiration date.

The government did not publish statistics on the number of deaths, suicides, or attempted suicides in pretrial detention centers or prisons during the year. PRI and PMC members reported that many suicides and deaths occurred in prisons.

Administration: Authorities typically did not conduct proper investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Human rights observers noted that in many cases authorities did not investigate prisoners’ allegations of torture, did not respond to complaints of abuse, or did not hold prison administrators or staff accountable. Prison officials reportedly censored all prisoners’ communications; consequently, there was a reported lack of secure channels for submission of complaints. The NPM’s 2018 report emphasized problems with voluntary assistants, prisoners who are used to control other prisoners and who carry out additional duties.

The law does not allow unapproved religious services, rites, ceremonies, meetings, or missionary activities in prisons. By law a prisoner in need of “religious rituals” may ask his relatives to invite a representative of a registered religious organization to carry them out, provided the ceremonies do not obstruct prison activity or violate the rights and legal interests of other individuals. PMC members reported that some prisons prohibited Muslim prisoners from fasting during Ramadan. According to the NPM, prayer was permitted so long as it did not interfere with internal rules. Prayers were not allowed at nighttime or during inspections.

Independent Monitoring: There were no independent international monitors of prisons. The PMCs, which include members of civil society, may undertake monitoring visits to prisons. Human rights advocates stated that some prisons created administrative barriers to prevent the PMCs from successfully carrying out their mandate, including creating bureaucratic delays, forcing the PMCs to wait for hours to gain access to the facilities, or allowing the PMCs to visit for only a short time. Some advocates stated PMCs were not effective because they did not have enforcement powers, and that justice-sector institutions, including prisons, were not truly interested in reform.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but such incidents occurred.

On January 10, during and immediately following parliamentary elections, riot police in Almaty surrounded groups of activists protesting the election for up to seven hours in a procedure known as “kettling,” which prevented activists from leaving the site of the protest. During the kettling, mobile internet was blocked, police played loud music, and organized groups of aggressive men intimidated and shouted insults at the protesters. Human rights defenders condemned the use of kettling as a form of illegal detention and an abuse of individuals’ right to free movement. Some activists filed complaints with the Almaty Prosecutor General’s Office, but prosecutors found no abuses in the police’s actions.

In August the Auezov District Court in Almaty found former police lieutenant colonel Dzhandos Dzhangazin guilty of negligence and sentenced him to one year of probation for illegally detaining and remanding a suspect into police custody. Dzhangazin detained the suspect even though a court had denied Dzhangazin’s request for an arrest warrant. The suspect was in police custody for four days before an officer at the detention facility noticed the court’s previous denial and reported the violation to supervisors, after which Dzhangazin was charged.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

Although the judiciary has authority to deny or grant arrest warrants, judges authorized arrest warrant requests in most cases.

The law allows conditional release on bail, although use of bail procedures was limited. Prolonged pretrial detention remained commonplace. The bail system was designed for persons charged with committing a criminal offense for the first time or a crime of minor or moderate severity. Thus, the bail system requires that the penalties for conviction include a fine as an alternative penalty. Bail is not available to suspects of grave crimes, crimes that led to death, organized crime, terrorist or extremist crimes, or in situations where there is reason to believe the suspect, if released, would hinder the investigation of the case or would escape.

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

Human rights defenders reported that authorities dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before a detainee’s attorney arrived, and in some cases used defense attorneys to gather evidence.

The law states that the government must provide an attorney when the suspect is indigent, is a minor, has physical or mental disabilities, or faces serious criminal charges. Public defenders often lacked the necessary experience and training to assist defendants. Defendants are barred from freely choosing their defense counsel if the case against them involves state secrets. The law allows only lawyers who have special clearances to work on such cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government frequently arrested and detained political opponents and critics, sometimes for minor infractions such as unsanctioned assembly, that led to fines or up to 15 days’ administrative arrest. During the year authorities detained many persons who participated in unsanctioned antigovernment rallies, including some pedestrians walking near rally sites.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows police to hold a detainee for 48 hours before submitting charges.

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. According to the NGO Freedom House’s Nations in Transit 2020 report, the country’s judiciary remained heavily dependent upon the executive branch, judges were subject to political influence, and corruption was a problem throughout the judicial system. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and had the authority to suspend court decisions.

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

On March 20, the law on the court system was amended to exempt presidential nominees to the Supreme Court from several requirements mandatory for other candidates, such as requirements covering judicial experience, mandatory internships, testing, and endorsement by the Supreme Court.

On April 9, Supreme Court Judge Meiram Zhangutdinov was arrested for taking a bribe from his colleague, Judge Liza Turgumbayeva, in Shymkent. The bribe was allegedly to help Turgumbayeva get a post in another court. Turgumbayeva was also arrested. At year’s end the investigation continued. The president described the crime as “outrageous” and noted that the case was an example of “active cleaning of the judges’ corps, and that process should not stop because we have to change the negative image of judges in the eyes of people.”

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

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

Defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and, if needed, a government-provided attorney. By law a defendant must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment if convicted. The law also provides defendants the right to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, to have an interpreter if needed, to confront witnesses against them, and to call witnesses for the defense. Defendants have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to observers, prosecutors dominated trials, and defense attorneys played a minor role. Defense attorneys in human rights cases stated they experienced harassment from authorities. Attorneys also sometimes complained they and the defendants did not always have adequate time or facilities to prepare.

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

Due to COVID-19 pandemic quarantine restrictions, courts continued to work remotely. Attorneys and activists complained that during this time, courts made more mistakes and more arbitrary decisions than usual and failed to follow procedures and deadlines, including procedures related to observing court proceedings.

Lack of due process remained a problem, particularly for cases arising from civil protests.

Human rights activists and international observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that made a confession of guilt more important than evidence when building a criminal case against defendants. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that officials obtained confessions through torture or duress.

Beginning July 1, the Code of Administrative Procedure entered into force and specialized administrative courts opened in all 14 regions and cities of national significance (Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and Shymkent Regions). The code provides for these courts to consider lawsuits submitted by citizens against government authorities or officers for violating administrative processes and procedures.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The civil society alliance Tirek maintained a list of between 12 and 22 individuals it considered detained or imprisoned based on politically motivated charges. The government paroled five internationally recognized political prisoners from the Tirek list. One of the five, poet and dissident Aron Atabek, was released after the court commuted the remainder of his sentence due to a terminal illness. Atabek subsequently died on November 24. Individuals on the Tirek list who remained incarcerated included persons connected to the banned political party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan or its alleged successor organization the Koshe Party. The government banned both parties as extremist organizations. Both organizations were led by or closely associated with fugitive banker and opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov. Convicted labor union leader Larisa Kharkova remained subject to restricted movement, unable to leave her home city without permission of authorities.

On October 11, an Almaty court found 13 Koshe Party activists guilty of organizing or participating in the activities of a banned extremist or terrorist organization. Askhat Zheksebayev, Kayrat Kylyshev, Abai Begimbetov, and Noyan Rakhimzhanov received five-year prison sentences. Diana Baymagambetova and Dametkan Aspandiyarova received two-year restricted freedom sentences (a form of parole). The remaining activists received one-year restricted freedom sentences. Human rights observers criticized the trial as unfair. The judge denied journalists and observers access to the online court proceedings, which were conducted on the Zoom platform. Human rights observers commented that the restriction was an attempt to minimize public reaction to the trial.

Human rights organizations have access to prisoners through the NPM framework.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Human rights defenders alleged that authorities selectively prosecuted family members and former colleagues of outspoken opposition supporter and activist Barlyk Mendygaziyev, who lived in the United States, to force Mendygaziyev to stop his political activities.

On June 5, authorities placed Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s brother, in pretrial detention for suspected involvement in an organized criminal group and money laundering. On July 26, three managers of Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s prior business, Karachaganak Support Services, an oil services company, were convicted of participation in an organized criminal group and tax evasion and were sentenced to five-and-a-half to seven years’ imprisonment. Other Mendygaziyev relatives with alleged politically motivated prosecutions against them include: Kalyk and Erik Mendygaziyev and Rasim Almukhanov for alleged livestock theft; Abai Mendygaziyev for alleged drug possession; and Arman Mendygaziyev for alleged participation in an organized criminal group.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Economic and administrative court judges handle civil cases under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. Although the law and constitution provide for judicial resolution of civil disputes, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, these courts worked remotely, leading to complaints of increased disregard for procedures and deadlines.

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

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

The law provides prosecutors with extensive authority to limit citizens’ constitutional rights, in violation of internationally accepted norms. The law allows wiretapping in medium, urgent, and grave cases. The National Security Committee (KNB), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, may infringe on the privacy of communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Human rights activists reported incidents of alleged surveillance, including wiretapping and recording telephone conversations, posting on social media videos of private meetings, and KNB officers visiting activists’ and their families’ homes for “unofficial” conversations regarding suspect activities.

Courts hear appeals of prosecutors’ decisions for a wiretap or surveillance but cannot issue an immediate injunction to cease an infringement.

Human rights defenders, activists, and their family members continued to report the government occasionally monitored their movements, contrary to international norms.

In July international and local media reported that government officials, journalists, activists, and businesspersons were included on the leaked list of individuals who had been monitored since 2016 using the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO’s Pegasus software program, which the firm reportedly sold only to military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. Two journalists named in the leak and other international human rights defenders called the monitoring an abuse of human rights. First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Dauren Abayev described the news reports as “intriguing information without any proof.”

In February activist Lukpan Akhmediyarov in Uralsk complained that police used special software to track his movements and unfairly detain him so that he could not travel to Atyrau to greet political prisoner Maks Bokayev upon Bokayev’s release from prison. According to Akhmediyarov, police used the special software to track the movement of activists and to intercept conversations and messages from the activists’ mobile phones.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of unfair means, including detention, imprisonment, criminal and administrative charges, restrictive laws, harassment, licensing regulations, and internet restrictions.

Freedom of Expression: The government limited individuals’ ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their own actions. The law expressly prohibits insulting the first president, the sitting president, or their families, and imposes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with large fines and imprisonment for up to five years if convicted.

The media watchdog NGO Adil Soz and the Committee to Protect Journalists noted that police and authorities hindered journalists’ coverage of the January 10 parliamentary elections. Election officials allegedly denied journalists access to polling stations, expelled them from polling stations, and tried to confiscate their cell phones.

On May 28, the Ministry of Information and Social Development demanded that the independent online outlet The Village delete a news story regarding a mural in Almaty featuring a portrait of First President Nazarbayev that had been defaced with the word “cancel” spray-painted across Nazarbayev’s forehead. The ministry stated that the article dishonored Nazarbayev, which is a criminal offense. The Village disagreed with the accusation but nonetheless blurred the image of the mural on its website.

On June 15, the Auezov District Court in Almaty issued a ruling in favor of former Almaty mayor and sitting Nur Otan Party Deputy Chairman Baurzhan Baibek’s lawsuit against activist Zhanbolat Mamay and his wife Inga Imanbay. The lawsuit contended that videos Mamay posted online, allegedly detailing Baibek’s corrupt activities while serving as Almaty’s mayor, wrongly harmed Baibek’s honor, dignity, and business reputation. The court ordered that Mamay and Imanbay post public refutations of their allegations against Baibek, delete all videos containing their allegations of Baibek’s corruption, and pay court and contracted experts’ service fees.

In October unknown persons blocked the website of the independent online news outlet Hola News for 10 days until the outlet’s management removed content critical of First President Nazarbayev. The removed content reportedly was an article regarding information uncovered in the Pandora Papers regarding corruption and offshore business dealings involving members of the first president’s family and inner circle. Subsequently the owners and editor in chief of Hola News sold and resigned from the organization to protest media censorship. Government officials publicly denied blocking the site.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were severely limited. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for paid media coverage and advertising were significant problems.

Companies allegedly controlled by members of First President Nazarbayev’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several television frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Social Development distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Social Development, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 50 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign-based media broadcasting companies did not have to meet this requirement.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists and those working in opposition media or covering stories related to corruption, rallies, or demonstrations reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.

On March 2, police in Shymkent assaulted Astana TV reporter Bahrambek Talibzhanov and Channel 31 reporter Bahrom Abdullayev who came to cover a fire at the Tulpar market. On April 5, in response to this incident, journalists and their supporters protested in front of the Shymkent police station, demanding that police stop pressure and violence against journalists. The chief of police apologized for his officers’ misconduct and promised to hold them liable for abuses.

In September police in Taraz began an investigation into alleged dissemination of disinformation by two journalists and one blogger who covered the August 26 explosion at a military depot near Taraz that killed 17 service members. Video circulated online from one of the journalists showed the extent of the blast, including ordnance reportedly found in Sarykemer village, nine miles from the blast site. Police subsequently dropped the investigation and filed no charges against the journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship to avoid pressure by the government.

The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, racial, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source.

The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations, the government may censor media sources by requiring media to provide, for government approval, its print, audio, and video information 24 hours before publication or broadcasting.

Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed if they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize loudspeakers.

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and are governed by the same rules and regulations as mass media. Authorities sometimes charged bloggers and social media users with criminal law violations based on their online posts.

Libel/Slander Laws: A change in 2020 removed criminal liability for libel and slander from the law. Human rights activists and observers welcomed the decriminalization of libel but remained concerned that the law continues to impose serious punishment for conviction of libel. Several articles in the law remain that may also be applied against individuals insulting government officials, particularly First President Nazarbayev and the sitting president. Media activists raised concerns regarding the wide use of the legal provision imposing liability for dissemination of false information. The activists highlighted its use to pressure or silence journalists and civil society activists, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law includes penalties for conviction of defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists believed these provisions strengthened the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

In February, three bloggers in Mangistau Region – Sholpan Utekeyeva, Ulbosyn Turdiyeva, and Aigul Akberdy – were found guilty of libel against the head of the local police, Colonel Boken Zhumagali. The libel cases were in response to the bloggers’ social media reposts that alleged Zhumagali unlawfully repressed Merey Korbakov, a civic activist from the village of Beineu. Two bloggers received 20-day administrative arrests and two received small fines (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression).

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the first president, as well as specific economic information such as data on mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the first president, the president, and their families.

The government intimidated media outlets that criticized the president, the first president, and their families; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions had a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” was overly broad. The law requires owners of communication networks and other service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites discord.” International legal experts noted these terms are not clearly defined.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Opponents criticized laws on freedom of peaceful assembly as restrictive and falling short of international standards. Serious restrictions remained. Organizers must submit advance notification to the local government and await a response. The law states all gatherings except single-person pickets may only be held in areas designated by authorities. Spontaneous gatherings are banned, and foreigners and stateless persons are denied the right to peaceful assembly.

On February 8, a small group of individuals began a series of daily protests in front of the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Almaty to demand information regarding their family members in China. Several protesters were arrested, some repeatedly, and fined. In September protesters temporarily moved their protest to outside the PRC embassy in Nur-Sultan where, on September 23, authorities arrested and fined 10 protesters for holding an unauthorized protest. On October 1, authorities detained and again fined the same group of protesters as they left their rented apartment in Nur-Sultan. The daily protests and police response, including occasional fines and detentions of participants, continued in Almaty at year’s end.

Freedom of Association

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

On April 8, parliament amended the law on legal assistance and the professional activities of advocates. Independent lawyers criticized the amendments as infringing on their rights and imposing more restrictions on their activity and on their professional bar associations. Following strong public reaction and protests, the president submitted the law to the Constitutional Council to review whether the amendments complied with the constitution. On June 6, the Constitutional Council recommended limited changes but ruled that the amendments were constitutional. On June 10, President Tokayev signed the amendments into law.

NGOs reported some difficulty in registering public associations. According to government information, these difficulties were due to discrepancies in the submitted documents (see section 5).

Authorities continued to refuse registration as a political party to the social movement Halyqqa Adal Qyzmet led by Togzhan Kozhaly. Authorities cited administrative errors or missed deadlines as justification for their denials. Kozhaly had attempted to register the organization six times as of the end of the year.

Membership organizations other than religious groups, which are covered under separate legislation, must have at least 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in more than one-half the country’s regions for national registration (see sections 3 and 7.a.).

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

The law prohibits illegal interference by members of public associations in the activities of the government, with a moderate fine or imprisonment for up to 40 days if convicted. If the interference is committed by the leader of the organization, the fine may be slightly increased or the imprisonment may be for up to 50 days. The law does not clearly define “illegal interference.”

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

In February tax authorities’ proposed penalties on a small group of civil society NGOs were reversed on appeal for all affected organizations. This was done after Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi publicly ordered his ministry, in consultation with the Finance Ministry, to review NGO tax cases that first came under scrutiny in November 2020 when a group of 13 NGOs that received foreign funds reported heightened scrutiny by tax authorities. The NGOs stated this heightened scrutiny was likely motivated by the NGOs’ planned activities regarding parliamentary elections. The NGOs reportedly received notifications from tax authorities regarding discrepancies in their 2017-18 foreign grants reports, which the NGOs claimed were typographical errors and minor technical inaccuracies. Observers noted that the tax authorities proposed penalties, including moderate administrative fines and suspension of activities, that were larger than the severity of the alleged errors would warrant.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR’s contracted local partners may, if needed, appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation.

According to UNHCR, the refugee system falls short of the international standard regarding access to asylum procedures and access to the country’s territory. Authorities remained reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lacked valid identity documents, citing security concerns. Contrary to commitments under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a person who crosses the border illegally to escape persecution may be prosecuted for this in criminal court, and subsequently may be viewed as a person with criminal potential, a negative factor in the asylum decision.

According to UNHCR data, as of September 1, there were 242 asylum seekers in the country, most from Afghanistan. There were 401 recognized refugees in the country and 7,915 stateless persons. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably compared with prior years.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) cases.

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

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other.

In October the government renewed the one-year asylum status for all four ethnic-Kazakh persons from China (see Abuse of Migrants and Refugees below).

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: On January 21, asylees Murager Alimuly and Kaisha Khan from Xinjiang, China, separately suffered attacks by unknown assailants in the Nur-Sultan and Almaty areas. At year’s end the attacks were still under investigation by authorities, with no reported suspects. Alimuly and Khan were two of the four ethnic Kazakhs who fled China and received asylum in October 2020.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work but may not engage in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights, with the result that most refugees worked on the informal economy.

Access to Basic Services: Status as “temporarily residing aliens” hindered refugees’ access to the full range of rights stipulated in the law. The law lacks provisions on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees had access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but they had no access to social benefits or allowances. The government did not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial assistance.

In August the country changed its regulations on access to health services. Starting August 15, stateless persons, asylum seekers, and foreigners who are temporarily staying as labor migrants or for other purposes must sign contracts for voluntary health insurance and register with a local clinic to be eligible for primary health services.

g. Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide procedures to deal with stateless persons, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. The law does not provide for a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons.

The country contributes to statelessness because its application for citizenship requires renunciation of citizenship of the country of origin, with no stipulation that Kazakhstani citizenship would be granted. As of September a total of 7,915 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless, according to UNHCR. Most individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness, are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

The law allows the government to deprive individuals of citizenship if convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR and the government, no one has been deprived of citizenship under this law. Instead, during the year the government brought back to the country 12 citizens and their families who had joined international terrorist organizations. The government prosecuted the citizens in criminal court as terrorists but provided social services to their family members.

According to UNHCR, the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons was documented, and they were considered as having permanent residency, which was granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals.

A separate legal procedure for citizenship exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years.

The law prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, the lack of which hindered the children’s access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

The constitution concentrates power in the presidency itself. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The law requires most of these appointments to be made in consultation with the chairman of the Security Council, a position that was granted in 2018 to then president Nazarbayev for his lifetime. The law also grants Nazarbayev lifetime membership on the Constitutional Council, allows him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulates that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.

The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. The Mazhilis and the Senate always confirmed presidential nominations. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On January 10, the country held national elections for the Mazhilis. Five of the country’s six officially registered political parties participated in the elections. The ruling Nur Otan Party won a reported 71 percent of the vote and received 76 seats in the Mazhilis, the Ak Zhol Party won 10.95 percent and received 12 seats, and the People’s Party won 9.1 percent and received 10 seats. Political parties Auyl, with 5 percent of votes, and Adal, with 3.57 percent, did not surpass the 7-percent threshold for proportional representation in the Mazhilis and so received no seats. Independent observers criticized the elections for numerous irregularities and restrictions. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission’s report, the parliamentary elections lacked competition and transparency, and voters had limited opportunity to make an informed choice.

In August 2020 the country held Senate elections, following the legal requirement that 17 of 49 senators rotate every three years. Senators were selected by members of maslikhats (local representative bodies) acting as electors to represent each administrative region and the cities of national significance. Four incumbent senators were re-elected. Most newly elected senators were affiliated with the local representative bodies that elected them.

The government conducted presidential elections in 2019. Of seven presidential candidates, Tokayev won with 70.96 percent of the vote. According to an OSCE observer mission’s report, the election “offered an important moment for potential political reforms, but it was tarnished by clear violations of fundamental freedoms as well as pressure on critical voices.” The report cited several infractions such as ballot-box stuffing, problems with vote counting, and cases of deliberate falsification. Other problems noted in the report included a lack of transparency, such as not releasing election results by polling station, and violations of the rights of assembly, expression, and association. The report noted the widespread detention of peaceful protesters on election day in major cities. Overall, the conduct of the election showed “scant respect for democratic standards,” reported the OSCE mission.

The OSCE report further observed that the problems went beyond election day itself. According to the final report, in prior years some opposition parties were either banned or marginalized through restrictive legislation or criminal prosecution, and the ability of political parties to register was significantly restricted by the law. Moreover, the laws on candidate eligibility were highly restrictive.

Laws restrict public opinion surveys ahead of elections by requiring registration, five years of experience, and notification to the Central Election Commission (CEC). Violation of the law leads to moderate fines for individuals or organizations. The law prohibits publishing, within five days prior to elections, election forecasts and other research related to elections, or support for particular candidates or political parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Several groups tried to register as political parties, but all attempts were rejected by the government.

On June 25, activists from the unregistered El Tiregi political party, led by Nurzhan Altayev, and from the Union of Tajik-Afghan War Veterans protested in Nur-Sultan regarding multiple denials by authorities to register El Tiregi. According to Altayev, he unsuccessfully attempted 10 times to register El Tiregi.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, but traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life.

The law mandates a combined 30 percent quota for women and youth in the lists of candidates running for elections. Youth are defined as persons between ages 14 and 29.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed, especially where corruption was involved or there were personal relationships with government officials.

Corruption: Corruption was widespread in the executive branch, law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary, according to human rights NGOs. According to the Agency on Combatting Corruption, the largest numbers of officials held liable for corruption in the first six months of the year were in police, finance, and agriculture.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Agency on Combatting Corruption, the KNB, and the economic investigations service of the Finance Ministry were responsible for combating corruption. The KNB investigated corruption crimes committed by officers of the security services, the anticorruption bureau, and the military.

The Agency on Combatting Corruption reported that from January to September, it registered and investigated 921 corruption cases; 101 officials were detained, and 101 were arrested. The agency sent 725 cases to courts for prosecution, and 570 individuals were convicted. Of those convicted, 138 were convicted for taking bribes, 237 for giving bribes, 12 for serving as intermediaries, 78 for fraud, 42 for embezzlement, and 44 for abuse of power.

On September 16, an appellate court in Nur-Sultan convicted Berik Sharip, the former chairman of the state-owned pharmaceuticals distribution monopoly SK-Pharmacia, on charges of abuse of power related to medicine procurements during the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency. The court sentenced Sharip to three and one-half years in prison. In August, Sharip was convicted on illegal weapons charges.

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

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

Authorities had a mixed approach to relations with NGOs. Some NGOs faced difficulties in acquiring office space and technical facilities depending on their scope of work and relationship with authorities. On the other hand, government leaders participated – and regularly included NGOs – in roundtables and other public events on democracy and human rights.

National security laws prohibit foreigners, international organizations, NGOs, and other nonprofit organizations from engaging in political activities. The government prohibited international organizations from funding unregistered entities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Presidential Commission on Human Rights is a consultative and advisory body that includes top officials and members of the public appointed by the president. The commission reviews and investigates complaints, issues recommendations, and monitors implementation of international human rights conventions. The commission does not have legal authority to remedy human rights abuses or implement its recommendations.

The commissioner on human rights (ombudsman) is recommended by the president and is elected by the Senate for a five-year term. The ombudsman reviews and investigates complaints concerning abuses of human rights by officials and organizations. The ombudsman issues recommendations, publishes reports on human rights, and serves as the chair of the Coordinating Council of the NPM.

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

Domestic human rights observers stated that the Ombudsman’s Office and the human rights commission did not have the authority to stop human rights abuses or punish abusers. The commission and ombudsman avoided addressing underlying structural problems that led to human rights abuses, although they advanced human rights by publicizing statistics and individual cases. The commission and ombudsman aided citizens with less controversial social problems and matters involving lower-level elements of the bureaucracy.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes sexual abuse and rape, and imposes penalties up to eight years of imprisonment, or life imprisonment if the crime was committed against a minor. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases. According to human rights defenders, fewer than 1 percent of rape complaints made it to court.

On February 9, a court in Almaty sentenced both a former prosecutor and a former manager of a local bank to eight years of imprisonment for committing a rape in 2019. Police initially refused to record the complaint when the victim first reported the crime but later officially registered the case due to her lawyer’s persistence. Police resistance, procrastination, attempts to hush up the complainant, and other hurdles delayed the investigation. The victim faced pressure and intimidation from the assailants’ relatives who tried to force her to withdraw the complaint.

On August 10, a court in Almaty convicted former KNB captain Sabyrzhan Narynbayev for attempted rape and sentenced him to eight years of imprisonment. In September 2020 Narynbayev gave a ride to Aiya Umurzakova and on the way to her village he assaulted and beat her, tried to rape her, and threatened her life. Lawyers persuaded her to file a complaint with police. Before and during the court proceedings, Umurzakova reported pressure and threats from the assailant and his family and attempts to persuade her to drop the case by offering money. A fraud case was launched against her for allegedly taking money from the defendant to withdraw her complaint but afterwards refusing to do so. The court found Umurzakova not guilty of fraud.

NGOs estimated that more than 400 women died annually from spousal violence. The law specifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. It outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in supporting victims of domestic violence. The law has mechanisms for issuing restraining orders and provides for administrative detention of alleged abusers for 24 hours. The law sets the maximum sentence for conviction of spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for assault. The law permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the offender has alternatives. It allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence. The law replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if having the perpetrator pay fines damages the victim’s interests.

Research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that most victims of partner abuse never tell anyone of their abuse, due in part to social stigma. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile. NGOs also noted that the lenient penalty for conviction of domestic violence – an administrative offense with a maximum sentence of 15 days’ imprisonment – did not deter even previously convicted offenders.

Police reported that the number of domestic violence offenses decreased 8 percent following a significant increase in 2020. The law was changed to shift the responsibility to police for collecting evidence for these offenses; previously it was the responsibility of victims. Penalties were increased and reconciliation procedures were reformed.

The government maintained domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 49 crisis centers, 39 of which had shelters.

Activists criticized the government for failing to ensure that all persons in vulnerable situations were protected against domestic violence. Even when victims reported violence, activists stated police were reluctant to act. Police sometimes did not issue restraining orders to assailants and tried to dissuade the victim from filing a complaint, creating an environment of impunity for aggressors. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reforms included a formal training for police and judges on domestic violence and a repeat-offender plan that increased the use of restraining orders and expanded penalties to include imprisonment.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of seven to 12 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; consequently, a typical bride-kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to resolve their situations themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very complex process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only the use of force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness during sexual assault carries criminal liability. There were no reports of any prosecutions. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace were hesitant to file complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports of educational problems related to women’s reproductive health and hygiene. Access to government-provided sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors was limited. Women were able to access emergency contraception as part of clinical rape management, but most women privately procured such treatment at their own expense to avoid state-run clinics’ bureaucratic examination requirements.

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. Ethnic minorities, however, faced problems in various areas of life. Only three of the 23 cabinet members were not ethnic Kazakhs. Ethnic minorities were underrepresented in other government bodies as well. Human rights observers noted that ethnic minorities were not incorporated into the country’s social and political mechanisms and their role was shrinking. Observers also noted that the government should – but did not – provide minorities equal participation in social life, equal access to government service, equal business opportunities, and most importantly, equal treatment before the law.

Trials continued in response to the February 2020 riots between ethnic Kazakh and ethnic Dungan residents in Qorday Province. On April 27, 51 persons were tried and charged with incitement to mass riots, extortion, robbery, murder, encroachment on the life of law enforcement officers, and “illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation, carrying weapons, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices.” Some 60 lawyers took part in the defense. The court convicted 19 individuals convicted of more serious charges and sentenced them to prison terms from five to 20 years. The court convicted 31 individuals of lesser charges and sentenced them to one year to five years’ imprisonment, but the sentences were suspended because they paid compensation for damages. One of the suspects was acquitted for lack of evidence.

In August 2020 the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed information concerning the Qorday incident and requested that the government provide a response before October 2020 in order to: “conduct [an] effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the events”; ensure effective protection of the Dungan minority; provide reparation, including health and psychological support; and provide access by independent observers to the Qorday District. On April 30, the UN committee chair again requested a response. By year’s end there was no publicly released response from the government.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. The government registers all births upon receipt of the proper documentation, which may come from the parents, other interested persons, or the medical facility where the birth occurred. Children born to undocumented mothers without legal status or identification were denied birth certificates.

Education: Some children from migrant families, particularly undocumented migrants and stateless persons, could not enroll in school due to their lack of legal status.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. According to a survey, 40 percent of children in institutions and 18 percent of children attending regular schools stated they were subjected to physical abuse by adults. Children frequently faced abusive, cruel, and disparaging treatment in families, schools (particularly special schools for delinquent children), and boarding schools. The law provides for eight to 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of forcing boys or girls younger than age 18 to have sexual intercourse.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not specify the minimum age for consensual sex. UNICEF reported that data on sexual abuse of children, child prostitution, child pornography, child trafficking, bride kidnapping, and forced marriage of girls remained scarce, making it difficult to assess the scale of rights violations.

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

Displaced Children: Human rights observers noted there were many street children, mainly in large cities. Street children were referred to centers for delinquent children or support centers for children in difficult life situations. Some were returned to their families. According to the 2019 Report of the Committee for Protection of Children Rights of the Ministry of Education and Science, there were 15 “adaptation” centers for delinquent children and 17 support centers for children in difficult life situations. More than 4,000 children were held in the adaptation centers, and more than 2,000 in the support centers.

Institutionalized Children: Incidents of child abuse in state-run institutions such as orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children were “not rare,” according to government sources. NGOs stated one-half the children in orphanages and other institutions suffered from abuse by teachers or other children. According to the Ministry of Education’s Committee for Protection of Children Rights, the number of orphans in orphanages decreased from 6,223 in 2017 to 4,606 by the end of 2020. The government continued its policy of closing orphanages and referring children to foster families and other forms of home care. Activists criticized the policy as lacking a clear plan for children’s deinstitutionalization, properly trained staff, infrastructure, and funds. Activists alleged that authorities focused on the closure of orphanages instead of working with families to prevent the placement of children in institutions. Activists also stated critical decisions on the removal of a child from its family and placement in an institution were based on police reports, not social workers’ reports.

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


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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and in the provision of other government services, but significant discrimination occurred. Human rights defenders were concerned regarding gaps in the country’s legislation. The law does not give a clear definition of discrimination, making it impossible to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly in instances of indirect discrimination. The government took steps to remedy some barriers to persons with disabilities, including providing access to information. NGOs stated implementation of the law on disability was poor. NGOs also noted ineffective implementation of some government disability programs, sometimes marred by corruption and a lack of trained staff.

Employment for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Activists noted that employers did not have sufficient incentives to hire persons with disabilities.

The law requires companies to set aside 3 percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities; nevertheless, civil society reported that persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment.

Human rights observers noted multiple types of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Doctors discouraged women who use wheelchairs from having children. The management of prisoners with disabilities in detention facilities remained a serious problem.

There are no regulations regarding the rights of patients in mental hospitals. Human rights observers stated this situation led to widespread abuse of patients’ rights. NGOs reported that patients often experienced poor conditions and a complete lack of privacy. Citizens with mental disabilities may be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review, and the government committed persons younger than age 18 with the permission of their families.

Members of the NPM may visit mental hospitals to monitor conditions. According to an NPM report, most mental hospitals required extensive renovations. Other observed problems included a shortage of personnel, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions, poor food supply, overcrowding, and lack of light and fresh air.

Education authorities reported that 55 percent of schools were equipped and staffed for inclusive education of children with specific needs. Independent observers alleged that the actual number of such schools was in fact lower. There were no statistics on the number of children with disabilities who attended preschool institutions. Of children with specific needs between ages seven and 18, 20% attended regular schools. The majority attended special education classes or were homeschooled. Some parents refused to send children with disabilities to school and viewed their education as unnecessary. Some children with Down syndrome were able to attend privately funded specialized education centers, but the centers had limited capacity, which resulted in waiting periods of up to a year and one-half.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

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

There were reports of anti-LGBTQI+ violence, but there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults. Activists reported that beating, extortion, and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals were not uncommon, although typically unreported.

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

On May 29 and July 29, training events related to LGBTQI+ rights conducted by the NGO Feminita were disrupted by aggressive groups of men in Shymkent and Karaganda, respectively. In both cases police removed the activists from their rented private meeting space, ostensibly to protect them from further violence. Feminita posted a video on social media of police pulling one Feminita member by the hair into an unmarked police car in Skymkent. In both cases Feminita activists reported that police treated them not as victims but as criminal suspects. No members of the mob that disrupted the training sessions were arrested or charged in either city.

Human rights activists reported that the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTQI+ communities negatively. At home more often due to public health restrictions, LGBTQI+ persons often endured stress and abuse from family members who disapproved of their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts. Due to their lack of appropriate documentation and contracts, transgender persons were often not eligible for relief programs offered by the government to support needy individuals.

Although a process for gender reassignment exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements (such as undergoing gender reassignment surgery) before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care. The law includes behavioral disorders as reasons for denial of gender reassignment, which expanded the categories of persons who could be denied such treatments.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers’ rights to form and join unions, but it imposes restrictions, such as a requirement that registered unions be represented in at least half of the country’s regions.

The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent ones. The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK) is the largest national trade union association, with approximately 90 percent of union members on its rolls. In 2018 the International Trade Union Confederation suspended the membership of the FTUK due to a lack of independence.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and a court may order reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity. Penalties for breaking these provisions include fines and imprisonment of up to 75 days, commensurate with penalties of other laws involving denials of civil rights. According to the FTUK, as of January, 15,915 companies had collective bargaining agreements; 1.5 million workers, or 90.2 percent of FTUK members, labored with collective bargaining agreements in 2020. The number of collective agreements countrywide increased 19.1 percent from 120,200 in 2019 to 143,571 in 2020, the latest available data.

The country’s three national-level labor unions include the FTUK, with more than 1.6 million members, Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (Amanat) with 300,000 members, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) with up to 800,000 members. On February 5, the Specialized Interdistrict Economic Court in Shymkent suspended the independent Fuel and Energy Workers Union for six months after finding the union’s original registration was “improper,” as it did not have representation in at least half of the country’s regions. The union remained unregistered as of the end of the year. The geographical representation requirement often prevented the registration and operation of independent unions.

The law provides in principle for the right to strike but imposes onerous restrictions that make strikes unlikely. By law there is a variety of circumstances in which strikes are illegal. Workers may not strike unless a labor dispute is unresolvable through compulsory arbitration procedures. Decisions to strike must be taken in a meeting where at least one-half of an enterprise’s workers are present. A written notice announcing a strike must be submitted to the employer at least five days in advance.

In June, Amanat chairman Andrey Prigor reported that all strikes tend to be spontaneous because a reconciliation commission may take months to initiate the strike in accordance with the law. The extensive legal requirements and delays gave employers time to pressure or even fire activists.

A blanket legal restriction bars certain occupations from conducting a strike. Military and other security service members, emergency medical, fire, and rescue crews, as well as those who operate “dangerous” production facilities are forbidden to strike. By law such strikes are illegal. Workers employed in railways, transport, communications, civil aviation, health care, and public utilities may strike if they maintain minimum services to the public. Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal. The government may file criminal charges against labor organizers for calls to participate in strikes declared illegal by the court. Officials are suspected of inflicting violence in response to supposedly unlawful attempts to associate.

Disagreements between unions and their employers must be presented to a tripartite commission for arbitration if the disagreement cannot be settled between the employer and the union. The commission is composed of representatives of the government, labor unions, and employer associations. State-affiliated and independent labor unions participate in tripartite commissions. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual collective agreements governing most aspects of labor relations.

In May 2020 the FTUK, Amanat, and KCL established a working group to draft the general agreement for labor relations for 2021-23. They recommended that the government and employers increase the minimum wage, change the minimum subsistence allowance, establish a minimum basket of consumer goods, and negotiate on other social matters.

Foreign workers have the right to join unions, but the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and the financing of unions by foreign entities such as foreign citizens, governments, and international organizations. Irregular migrants and self-employed individuals residing in the country were not exempt from the laws regulating union participation.

Restrictions on independent unions, government interference in union affairs, and gaps in the law demonstrated a lack of respect for freedom of association.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except when it is a consequence of a court sentence or a condition of a state of emergency or martial law. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

The law provides for the punishment of convicted traffickers and those who facilitated forced exploitation and trafficking, including labor recruiters who hired workers through deliberately fraudulent or deceptive offers with the intent to subject workers to forced labor, and employers or labor agents who confiscated passports or travel documents to keep workers in a state of involuntary servitude. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for regulating migrant labor. The ministry verifies employer compliance by conducting checks of employers to reveal labor law violations, including provisions related to exploitation of foreign workers. Labor inspectors report suspected trafficking or forced labor to the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the local police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for formally identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings against perpetrators.

In 2019 the president signed a revised moratorium on government inspections for 2020-23 that reduced previous restrictions on labor inspectors. The moratorium allows inspections of medium and large businesses. In addition inspectors’ job descriptions include the responsibility for reporting potential labor trafficking cases to law enforcement agencies. Indicators for the identification of forced labor are part of their inspectors’ checklists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for identifying victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation and initiating criminal proceedings. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is responsible for handling migrant labor. Compared with previous years, the Ministry of Internal Affairs generally enforced laws to identify foreign and domestic victims of labor trafficking. Authorities identified 17 foreign victims in 2020, compared with three victims in 2019. Police conducted interagency operations to find victims of forced labor. Identification of forced labor victims increased from 40 victims identified in 2019 to 88 victims identified in 2020, of whom 67 were victims of sexual exploitation, and 21 were victims of labor exploitation, including four domestic and 17 foreign victims.

In 2020 police investigated 72 criminal cases of human trafficking, and courts convicted 11 traffickers, including eight for sexual exploitation and three for labor trafficking crimes, marking the first time in three years the government obtained forced labor convictions. During the first nine months of the year, police opened 31 criminal cases, including six trafficking-in-persons cases, 11 trafficking-in-minors cases, one case of kidnapping for the purpose of exploitation, three cases of illegal deprivation of freedom for the purpose of exploitation, four cases of engagement of minors into prostitution, and six cases of engagement of a person into prostitution.

Migrant workers were considered most at risk for forced or compulsory labor. According to the International Organization for Migration, on average 1.2 million migrant laborers register in the country every year, including seasonal workers. In 2019, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1.6 million persons were registered as migrants in the country. The majority of migrant workers came from Uzbekistan, with lesser numbers from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Migrant workers worked primarily in agriculture and construction. Some migrant workers suffered difficult working conditions, with long hours and withheld wages.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the government assisted migrants in maintaining their legal status and in returning to their home countries. The government coordinated with the governments of the other Central Asian countries and local NGOs to open border crossings and facilitate the safe return of labor migrants to their home countries, including those transiting from Russia.

In 2020 parliament ratified the Agreement Between the Governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Employment and Protection of Migrant Worker Nationals of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan and Protection of Migrant Worker Nationals of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan. The agreement strengthens regulation of migration flows and efforts to prevent forced labor by facilitating migrants’ access to government services and providing for mutual recognition of educational qualifications.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor; however, gaps existed in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor. Prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor are prosecuted as criminal offenses. Conviction of crimes involving the worst forms of child labor, such as violations of the minimum age employment in hazardous work, engaging minors in pornographic shows or production of materials containing pornographic images of minors, coercion of minors into commercial sexual exploitation, kidnapping or illegal deprivation of the freedom of a minor for the purpose of exploitation, and trafficking in minors, are punishable by penalties that are commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating criminal offenses and training criminal police in investigating the worst forms of child labor.

The law provides noncriminal punishments for violations that do not include the worst forms of child labor, including written warnings, suspensions, terminations, the withdrawal of licenses for specific types of activities, administrative penalties or fines, and administrative arrest (only by court decision and only up to 15 days for violation of legislation in relation to minors). Such violations include employment of minors without an employment agreement, which is punishable by fine and suspension of the employer’s license. Untimely or incorrect payment of salaries, failing to provide vacation or time off, excessive work hours, and discrimination in the workplace are also punishable by fines. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection was responsible for enforcement of child labor law and for administrative offenses punishable by fines.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Instances of work by children below the country’s minimum age of employment were reported in agriculture, including producing vegetables, weeding, and collecting worms; in construction; in the markets and streets, including transporting and selling items; in domestic work; in gas stations, car washing, and working as bus conductors; or as waiters in restaurants. These forms of labor were determined by local legislation to be potentially hazardous and were categorized as the worst forms of child labor. The majority of such situations occurred on family farms or in family businesses.

In the first six months of the year, police identified 11 cases of trafficking in minors and four cases of engagement of minors into commercial sexual exploitation.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. Transgender individuals are effectively barred from working in law enforcement or serving in the military. The law prohibits persons with specific, listed medical conditions or diseases from working in law enforcement agencies or serving in the military.

The government did not effectively enforce the law and regulations on discrimination. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation. Most discrimination violations are an administrative offense punishable by a fine that is not commensurate with those for similar violations. Cases such as illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority status are considered criminal offenses and are punishable by penalties that are commensurate with violations related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, transgender persons, orphans, and former convicts. Transgender persons experienced workplace discrimination and were repeatedly fired for their gender identity. Disability NGOs reported that obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men.

On October 12, the president signed into law amendments that removed prohibitions on women from performing work in difficult, harmful, and hazardous working conditions. The list previously had prohibited women from working in 213 professions and jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national monthly minimum wage was above the poverty line. Every region estimated its own poverty line. The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours. It limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50 percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and any overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker. By law employees are entitled to 24 days of paid annual leave per year.

During the summer multiple strikes took place in the oil services sector in Mangystau Region regarding wage discrepancies among direct employees of oil companies, prime contractors, and subcontractors. The strikes followed changes made in December 2020 to the contract of the state-owned oil company KazMunaiGaz that stated contracted employees’ wages should not be lower than the wages of the host company’s employees with similar job responsibilities and qualifications. In September, KazMunaiGaz CEO Alike Aidarbayev stated subcontractors misinterpreted the changes, which do not apply to all subcontracted companies.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to the main industries. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers of any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. Occupational safety and health standards were set and conditions were inspected by government experts. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action. In June the government approved the Occupational Health and Safety Action Plan, effective until 2025. The plan aims to achieve a 10 percent reduction of industrial injuries and a 20 percent decrease in the number of workers laboring in hazardous conditions.

In some regions doctors complained of a shortage of medical equipment, test kits, and health specialists in rural hospitals. A doctor from Jambyl Province reportedly stated she was the only infectious disease specialist on hand to deal with COVID-19 patients at the main hospital in the Merki District, which has an estimated 85,000 inhabitants.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforced standards for minimum wages, workhour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health. By law labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification, except in cases where the inspection is conducted based on a request from law enforcement authorities or a complaint related to certain extreme health and safety hazards. From January to June, inspectors conducted 1,900 inspections and detected 3,000 violations of the law. An FTUK analysis concluded that violations centered on wage arrears or delays, illegal or forced layoffs, labor safety, violations of collective agreements, unequal payments, work conditions of local and foreign workers, and incorrect indexation of wages. The absence of local labor unions contributed to some of these violations.

The law provides for so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for three years. In the opinion of labor rights activists, the practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems.

By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety problems between representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to assign technical labor inspectors to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions, and their resolutions are mandatory for both employers and employees. In April there were 15,575 production councils and 17,595 volunteer labor inspectors, according to the government.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Violations of law are considered administrative offenses, not criminal ones, and penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime law were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud. For example a minimal punishment for conviction of fraud is a substantial fine or imprisonment for up to two years, while violations of wage or overtime payment provisions result in fines. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety law were also not commensurate with crimes such as negligence. There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety.

Regarding workplace injuries, 520 workers in the processing sector were injured, 349 employees in mining were injured, and 229 workers in the construction sector sustained injuries. The highest number of fatalities – 54 workers – was recorded in the construction sector, followed by 39 fatalities in the processing sector and 24 fatalities in mining. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. Experts also cited low qualifications of workers, a deficit of qualified safety engineers, and corruption in the companies as other leading reasons for occupational accidents. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection reported that in 2020, 23 percent of employees worked in hazardous conditions.

According to the FTUK, in 78 percent of fatal accidents in 2020, employers were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations. Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Companies may refuse to compensate workers for nonfatal industrial injuries if the worker did not comply with labor safety requirements.

In August the Karaganda Labor Inspection Department found liable the management of steel producer ArcelorMittal Temirtau (AMT) for a May 26 accident in which two crane operators sustained severe burns after a cast iron ladle fell during crane lifting operations, spilling its contents onto the two operators. The Karaganda Labor Inspection Department assigned 100 percent of the blame for the accident to AMT for unsatisfactory organization of labor and use of broken equipment.

Informal Sector: The government reported in 2020 that 1.22 million citizens of the country’s workforce of nine million persons worked in the informal economy. Government statistics defined the informally employed as those who were not registered as either employed or unemployed. The government also categorized those individuals who were self-paid or self-employed as working in the informal economy. A Ministry of Finance spokesperson separately reported during the year that up to one-third of workers were engaged in the informal sector. Informal workers were concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry-cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part worked without health, social, or pension benefits, and did not pay into the social security system.


Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.

The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence both internally and externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations and activists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.

Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterrorism operations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. Between July 2020 and June 30, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) received 188 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions or inactions, compared with 161 in the prior year (see section 5). The Missing Voices website, founded by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to track police killings and disappearances, documented 168 cases of killings and 33 suspected enforced disappearances during the year.

Some groups alleged authorities significantly underestimated the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, including due to underreporting of such killings in informal settlements, particularly in dense urban areas. Media reports and NGOs attributed many human rights abuses to counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and the northeast counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir bordering Somalia, as well as along the coast. Human rights groups reported these abuses targeted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis. During the year the NGO HAKI Africa and its partners alleged suspected security force members killed 18 persons, including many ethnic Somalis, in the coastal region. HAKI reported extremists and criminal groups killed six individuals in the six coastal counties. In the Nairobi metropolitan area, HAKI alleged police killed 19 persons.

The Police Reforms Working Group, a collection of NGOs, called on the government to investigate the April 29 killing of a young man known as Collins, who lived in Nairobi’s Marathe informal settlement. NGOs claimed a police officer killed Collins because he was a witness to a separate extrajudicial killing.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights investigated a May incident in which prison guards beat to death a prisoner. Police investigated the killing, and prison officials involved were charged with murder. Other prisoners who witnessed the killing claimed they were intimidated not to testify. The commission also investigated these allegations and successfully advocated for the witnesses’ transfer to another prison. As of November the original murder case was pending in court.

Media reported police killed 38-year-old John Kiiru, who was out past curfew on August 18 in Nairobi’s Kayole neighborhood. Police reportedly shot teargas to disperse protests that broke out the next day in response to the killing. IPOA was investigating Kiiru’s death.

In March 2020 the government began enforcing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The government lifted the curfew in October. Media and human rights groups reported police used excessive and arbitrary force to enforce these measures, which led to deaths and injuries. As of October 4, IPOA stated it received 103 complaints of police misconduct while enforcing the curfew, involving 23 deaths and 80 injuries from shootings, assaults, and inhuman treatment since the start of the pandemic. Through September 23, the NGO Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported 17 cases of police brutality related to alleged violations of pandemic mitigation protocols. For example, on August 1, police officers in Embu County allegedly killed two brothers for reportedly violating curfew. IPOA launched an investigation on August 4 and recommended murder charges against six police officers. As of year’s end, the case remained in court. Separately, police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndie continued to face a murder charge in the death of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo, who was shot and killed on the balcony of his family’s home in March 2020. As of year’s end, this case also was still in court. Between January and August, the Social Justice Centres Working Group recorded 20 deaths in informal settlements from shootings, beatings, and other violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 measures.

Al-Shabaab terrorists continued to conduct deadly attacks in areas close to the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. On May 3, two government contractors working on a border security project died when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device planted by al-Shabaab extremists in Lamu County. Al-Shabaab militants attacked two cell phone towers on May 12 in Mandera and Wajir Counties, killing three police reservists.

Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

b. Disappearance

Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces and extremist groups were culpable of forced disappearances. Human rights groups noted many unlawful killings first materialized as enforced disappearances. The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported that in early April 2020 an activist from Kiamaiko Social Justice Centre and two companions disappeared. Their car was later found abandoned, but authorities found no trace of the men, and a criminal investigation remained pending. HAKI alleged security forces conducted 13 enforced disappearances in the coastal region and four in the Nairobi metropolitan area from January to August. In September four unidentified men reportedly abducted Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdusamad, a well-known ethnic Somali scholar, in downtown Nairobi during daylight hours. NGOs expressed concern he had been taken by security forces. Abdiwahab was reunited with his family two weeks later.

In August, NGOs again commemorated the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances and called on the government to enact a comprehensive law on enforced disappearances and investigate disappearances allegedly committed by security force members.

Media also reported on families on the coast and in northeastern counties searching for relatives who disappeared following arrest and of authorities holding individuals incommunicado for interrogation for several weeks or longer (see section 1.d.). HAKI reported authorities in Garissa County found 11 unidentified bodies in the Tana River from June to September. HAKI confirmed that some of the bodies had signs of torture, including hands tied with rope and large stones tied to the bodies.

Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups reportedly continued to abduct civilians in areas bordering Somalia. In August al-Shabaab militants abducted a local government official in Mandera County, whose whereabouts were unknown.

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

The law includes provisions to apply articles of the constitution, including freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; respect and protection of human dignity; and freedom and security of the person. The law brings all state agencies and officials under one rather than multiple legislative mandates. Additionally, the law provides protections to vulnerable witnesses and officials who refuse to obey illegal orders that would lead to torture. The law also provides a basis to prosecute torture but was rarely used. The government had not instituted the regulations required to implement fully the law’s provisions.

NGOs continued to receive reports of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by government forces. As of December 21, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit documented 109 cases of torture and other inhuman treatment allegedly perpetrated by police during the year.

Police and prison officials reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed indiscriminate violence with impunity.

Police used excessive force in some cases when making arrests. For example, there were numerous press and NGO reports of police brutality against protesters and unarmed citizens (see sections 2 and 5), particularly related to the enforcement of COVID-19 public health measures.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported police violence was especially prevalent in informal settlements. The most prevalent form of violence was beatings to disperse traders and other persons in markets after curfew. Monitors also documented incidents involving use of live ammunition, tear gas, sexual violence, and property damage.

In July 2020 four police officers assaulted Nairobi Member of County Assembly Patricia Mutheu at Nairobi’s City Hall. Video of the incident received significant coverage in traditional and social media. IPOA investigated the incident and forwarded recommendations to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), which by year’s end had not announced whether it would charge the officers involved.

Impunity remained a serious problem. Authorities investigated and prosecuted several police officers for committing killings, which resulted in one new murder conviction during the year. Four additional police officers were convicted of manslaughter and sexual assault. In February the Gatundu Law Courts sentenced Constable Paul Kipkoech Rotich to 40 years in prison for sexual offenses against a minor. In February the Busia Law Courts sentenced Constable James Kinyua to 10 years’ imprisonment for raping a high school student. In June the Garissa High Court convicted Officers Dennis Langat and Kennedy Okuli of manslaughter in the death of a woman whose son was accused of possessing and selling marijuana. As of November, Langat and Okuli were awaiting sentencing. In July the Naivasha High Court sentenced Constable Evans Maliachi to 20 years in prison for the 2016 murder of a fisherman in Naivasha.

Since its inception in 2012, IPOA has investigated 887 deaths allegedly caused by police. These investigations have led to nine murder convictions. Additionally, IPOA conducted investigations that led to four additional convictions for crimes such as attempted murder and rape, for a total of 13 police officer convictions since 2012.

Human rights groups also noted the government failed to provide compensation and redress to families of victims. In September 2020 several human rights groups filed a suit against the government on behalf of victims of police brutality, including Yassin Moyo, to seek compensation for deaths and injuries resulting from police abuses during the enforcement of COVID-19 measures. The petition, which remained pending in court, also called on the government to implement laws intended to address human rights violations and protect victims.

Victims of police abuse may file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit and its hotline, and through the IPOA website and hotline (see section 5). IPOA investigated allegations of excessive force that led to serious injuries, but few led to prosecutions. Police officials at times resisted investigations and detained some human rights activists who publicly registered complaints against government abuses. Authorities sometimes attributed the failure to investigate a case of police corruption or violence, including unlawful killings, to the failure of victims to file official complaints. Human rights activists reported that at times police officers in charge of taking complaints at the local level were the same ones who committed abuses. Sometimes police turned away victims who sought to file complaints at police stations where alleged police misconduct originated, directing them instead to other area stations. This created a deterrent effect on reporting complaints against police. Human rights NGOs reported police used disciplinary transfers of officers to hide their identities and frustrate investigations into their alleged crimes. Many media and civil society investigations into police abuse ended after authorities transferred officers, and police failed to provide any information about their identities or whereabouts.

The National Police Service continued efforts launched in August 2020 to digitize records held at police stations on incidents and complaints. Government officials stated one of the aims of the program was to reduce opportunities for police to alter or delete records and increase accountability.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights organizations reported prison, detention center, and police station conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, food and water shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: In February the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) reported the average daily prisoner population for 2019-20 was 41,500, of which more than 15,000 were pretrial detainees. The NCAJ reported authorities had released approximately 14,000 prisoners since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce overcrowding. Authorities also continued a prison decongestion program that entailed releasing petty offenders and encouraging the judiciary to increase use of a community service program in its sentencing. Although several new prisons were constructed since 2012, the average prisoner population remained nearly 200 percent of capacity, including a large population of pretrial detainees; some prisons held up to 400 percent of capacity. Six new women’s prisons were added since 2018 to ease congestion in facilities for women.

During the year the judiciary took steps to address overcrowding by developing alternatives to pretrial detention and promoting sentence reduction, including through the expanded use of plea bargaining.

Authorities generally separated minors from adults except during the initial detention period at police stations, when authorities often held male and female adults and minors in a single cell. Several counties lacked adequate facilities to hold minors and women apart from men in courts and police stations. According to IPOA, 73 percent of police facilities had separate cells for women, 18 percent had separate cells for female juveniles, and 41 percent had separate cells for male juveniles. IPOA reported some police facilities used offices and corridors as holding places for minors and that some facilities had converted cells into storage and office space due to space constraints. According to the prison commissioner, the Prisons Service included four correction facilities for minors. Prison officials reported that, because there were few correction facilities for minors, authorities often had to transport them long distances to serve their sentences, spending nights at police stations under varying conditions along the way.

The law allows children to stay with their mothers in certain circumstances until age four or until arrangements for their care outside the facilities are concluded, whichever is earlier.

Prisoners generally received three meals a day, but portions were inadequate. Access to water improved slightly overall, although provision of drinking water declined at some facilities. Prisoners generally spent most of their time indoors in inadequately lit and poorly ventilated cellblocks.

In September the Ministry of Interior began mass COVID-19 vaccination of the prison population and staff to facilitate resumption of family visitations and in-person trials for pretrial detainees. The prison commissioner reported, however, the prison system continued to face serious health and welfare problems due to communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. NGOs reported that women inmates sometimes performed unpaid labor, including cooking, laundry, and cleaning.

Administration: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported improved access to prisons and detention facilities to monitor human rights standards. The Commission on the Administration of Justice serves as ombudsman over government administration of prisons. It receives confidential correspondence from inmates and recommends remedies to address their concerns, including those pertaining to prison living conditions and administration. Many government-designated human rights officers lacked necessary training, and some prisons did not have a human rights officer.

Prison officials sometimes denied prisoners and detainees the right to contact relatives or lawyers. Family members who wanted to visit prisoners commonly reported bureaucratic obstacles that generally required a bribe to resolve. NGOs reported prisoners had reasonable access to legal counsel and other official visitors, although there was insufficient space in many prisons and jails to meet with visitors in private and conduct confidential conversations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers and foreign diplomats.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses, or accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed. For example, legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence” that may carry a life sentence, even when violence or threats of violence were insignificant. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.

Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judges undermined prosecutions. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.

NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, journalists, and bloggers during the year. The Defenders Coalition said it had provided support, including legal representation and bail, to 79 activists who had been arrested or detained through September. Most activists were released within short periods, usually less than 24 hours, and in most cases prosecutors either declined to press charges or courts dismissed the cases. The NGO Article 19 recorded 51 attacks against journalists, including online communicators, between May 2020 and April.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides police with broad powers of arrest. Police officers may make arrests without a warrant if they suspect a crime occurred, is happening, or is imminent. Victims’ rights NGOs reported that in some cases authorities required victims to pay bribes and to provide transportation for police to a suspect’s location to execute a legal arrest warrant.

The constitution’s bill of rights provides significant ‎legal protections, including provisions requiring arrested persons to be arraigned, charged, informed of the reason for continuing their detention, or released within 24 hours of their arrest as well as provisions requiring the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to allow a court to determine the lawfulness of detention. In many cases, however, authorities did not follow the prescribed time limits. While authorities in many cases released detainees held longer than the prescribed period, some cases did not result in an acquittal, and authorities provided no compensation for time served in pretrial detention.

The constitution establishes the right of suspects to bail unless there are compelling reasons militating against release. There is a functioning bail system, and all suspects, including those accused of capital offenses, are eligible for bail. Many suspects remained in jail for months pending trial because of their inability to post bail. Due to overcrowding in prisons, courts rarely denied bail to individuals who could pay it, even when the circumstances warranted denial. For example, NGOs that worked with survivors of sexual assault complained authorities granted bail to suspects even in cases in which there was evidence they posed a continuing threat to survivors.

Although the law provides pretrial detainees with the right to access family members and attorneys, family members of detainees frequently complained authorities permitted access only upon payment of bribes. When detainees could afford counsel, police generally permitted access to attorneys.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Victims of arbitrary arrest were generally poor young men, particularly those living in informal settlements. Human rights organizations complained security forces made widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions during counterterrorism operations. These arrests reportedly targeted Muslim citizens, including ethnic Somalis.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported arrests continued in informal settlements during the pandemic for noncompliance with the curfew or failure to wear masks. Individuals were asked to pay cash bail or a bribe to be released. The NCAJ directed that, during the COVID-19 period, petty offenders should not be held at police stations for more than 24 hours and should be released either on cash bail or on free police bond.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem and contributed significantly to prison overcrowding. In 2020 approximately 40 percent of total inmates were pretrial detainees. Authorities held some defendants in pretrial detention longer than the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the crime for which they were charged. The government claimed the average time spent in pretrial detention was 14 days, but there were reports many detainees spent two to three years in prison before their trials were completed. Police from the arresting locale were responsible for bringing detainees from prison to court when hearings are scheduled but often failed to do so, forcing detainees to wait for the next hearing of their case (see section 1.e.).

During the year courts procured new equipment to increase access to virtual proceedings. In-person hearings and trials resumed partially, despite many court facilities having limited capacity to fully comply with the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In March, for example, Milimani Court’s Family Division closed temporarily following an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law entitles persons arrested or detained to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but that right was not always protected.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary and at times did not respect court orders, but the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.

The Judicial Service Commission, a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure, provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. In May the president appointed 34 judges but declined to appoint six of the commission’s nominees. The chief justice called on the president to appoint the remaining six nominees.

In November the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2020-2021, which noted that the number of pending cases continued to grow, expanding by 5 percent compared with the prior year to more than 649,000 cases, primarily due to the adverse effects of the pandemic on court operations. The number of severely backlogged cases pending for more than five years fell from 35,359 to 34,648, continuing a downward trend.

The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions. In September 2020 the chief justice advised the president to dissolve parliament for its failure to adhere to four prior court orders directing the legislature to implement constitutional provisions mandating that no more than two-thirds of elected and appointed positions be persons of the same gender. A court suspended the chief justice’s advice pending a hearing by a judicial panel, and the hearing remained pending at year’s end.

Witness harassment and fear of retaliation severely inhibited the investigation and prosecution of major crimes. For example, in March an official from the National Land Commission was killed days before she was scheduled to testify in a fraud case involving 18 government officials, including a member of parliament and a former principal secretary. In May authorities charged one person not directly connected to the fraud case with murder. The Witness Protection Agency was underfunded, and doubts about its independence were widespread. Nevertheless, the Witness Protection Agency continued to work closely with IPOA and other investigative bodies to provide security for witnesses and victims.

The law provides for qadi courts that adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There are no other traditional courts. The national courts use the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters, if it does not conflict with statutory law.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although vulnerable individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; to be represented by an attorney of their choice or to have one appointed at the state’s expense if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and if convicted, to appeal to or apply for review by a higher court. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them.

The NCAJ and the ODPP continued efforts to disseminate speedy case resolution techniques to reduce case backlog and ease prison congestion. In July 2020 the ODPP published decision to charge guidelines, which encourage use of plea bargaining and diversion to resolve cases. It also continued to educate prosecutors, judges, court user committees, civil society members, and others on the role of speedy resolution mechanisms in enhancing efficiency. In July the ODPP conducted decision to charge training for 54 prosecutors in the Coast region.

Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try most defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.

By government order the judiciary continued to suspend all but urgent operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020 the judiciary commenced virtual court sessions. NGOs, including the Legal Resources Foundation and Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, provided computers and internet connectivity to enable remandees to connect with courts virtually. Most litigants, however, did not have the ability to participate in the virtual court sessions, and many cases could not proceed to trial because witnesses lacked the ability to connect with the courts virtually.

The National Legal Aid Service facilitates access to justice, with the goal of providing pro bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the NGO Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya provided services. The Prisons Service collaborated with various paralegal organizations such as Kituo Cha Sheria and Legal Resources Foundation Trust to establish justice centers within prisons to facilitate delivery of legal aid. Pretrial detainees also received instructions on how to self-represent in court. Government-established special committees, which included paralegals and prison officials, also served to increase prisoners’ access to the judicial system. NGOs noted no single system provides “primary justice” to prisoners and detainees, who instead relied on a patchwork of services largely provided by NGOs.

Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.

Defendants may appeal a verdict to the High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may use the civil court system to seek damages for violations of human rights and may appeal decisions to the Supreme Court as well as to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

According to human rights NGOs, bribes, extortion, and political considerations influenced the outcomes in some civil cases. Court fees for filing and hearing civil cases effectively barred many from access to the courts. NGOs reported the government was slow to comply with court orders requiring compensation for victims of torture and other police abuses in some cases. Groups also reported victims relied on civil society organizations for rehabilitative services.

Property Seizure and Restitution

There is no established system for restitution or compensation for those declared to be squatters and ordered to vacate land. Both private and communal clashes were common because of land disputes. The government used forced eviction and demolition to regain what it claimed was illegally occupied public land. Reports of evictions continued despite a May 2020 government declaration of a moratorium on forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the governmental Kenya Railways Corporation forcefully evicted 3,500 members of the Nubian community in Kisumu. One child reportedly died after being trapped under the rubble of razed homes. Human rights organizations claimed the evictions were carried out in violation of a presidential moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August the Environment and Land Court ruled the eviction was illegal and that victims could file civil suit against the Kenya Railways Corporation for compensation.

In April approximately 5,000 persons in Embu were forcefully evicted from a piece of land allegedly owned by the governmental Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority. Police arrested one member of parliament, who was protesting the evictions, and nine journalists covering the incident.

In August the Environment and Land Court barred the National Land Commission from evicting 1,000 squatters from Nairobi’s Mathare Mabatini informal settlement. The court ruled the commission’s commercial development plan was unlawful and violated the government’s policy of upgrading informal settlements.

In 2017 the African Union Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled in favor of the indigenous Ogiek community evicted in 2009 from the Mau Forest. The court ruled government actions had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which the country is a signatory. The government-appointed task force established to implement the decision provided its final report to the cabinet secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry in January 2020 but did not release the report publicly. The government task force appointed in 2020 to review the Mau Forest boundaries did not make substantive progress during the year.

In March the Sengwer community appealed a 2020 ruling that dismissed petitions filed in 2013 and 2018 protesting evictions from Embobut Forest in Elgeyo Marakwet County. The court halted further evictions. In October the East African Court of Justice began hearing a case filed in 2018 against the government by victims of unlawful evictions from the Mau Forest seeking compensation.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, except “to promote public benefit,” but authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The law permits police to enter a home without a search warrant if the time required to obtain a warrant would prejudice an investigation. Although security officers generally obtained search warrants, they occasionally conducted searches without warrants during large-scale security sweeps to apprehend suspected criminals or to seize property believed stolen.

Human rights organizations reported police officers raided homes in informal settlements in Nairobi and communities in the coast region in search of suspected terrorists and weapons. The organizations documented numerous cases in which plainclothes police officers searched residences without a warrant, and household goods were confiscated when residents were unable to provide receipts of purchase on demand. Rights groups reported police in numerous locations broke into homes and businesses and extorted money from residents while enforcing measures to control the pandemic. The government continued efforts to implement the law that requires citizens to register their personal details, including biometrics, to receive a card with a unique identifier number required to access public services, widely known as a Huduma Namba card. By September the government had created 10.5 million cards, but only 7.3 million had been collected by citizens. In October the High Court declared the Huduma Namba system invalid because the government failed to conduct a data impact assessment prior to rolling out the new cards. Legal activists had challenged the Huduma Namba system on the grounds it lacked sufficient data protection safeguards.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional the section of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict freedom of expression for members of the press, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers were free to publish opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of expression for members of the press. As of year’s end, the government had not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated or assaulted them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media or failed to provide victims access to information about their cases. The NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were 51 attacks against journalists between May 2020 and April, including nine female journalists, compared with 59 such incidents during the prior year. Attacks included threats, intimidation, online and offline harassment, invasion of media houses, and physical assaults resulting in some journalists seeking self-exile or engaging in self-censorship.

In March journalists Regina Wangui, Kigotho John Mwangi, Evans Asiba, and Elijah Cherutich sustained serious injuries from attacks by supporters of the United Democratic Alliance party while covering voting in a by-election at Milimani Primary School in Nakuru County. One of the victims of the incident told Article 19 Eastern Africa that despite filing a report at the Nakuru central police station, there was no evidence of an investigation into the attacks, and that police were unable to provide information on the status of the case.

In April police assaulted nine journalists in Embu County who were covering a story regarding the forceful eviction by police officers of families from contested land allegedly belonging to the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA). In May police again beat and arrested three journalists reporting on a demonstration by residents who opposed a land demarcation claimed by TARDA.

In April police officers beat and arrested Milele FM journalist David Omurunga for violating the COVID-19 curfew while walking home after work, although he presented his national identification card and official press card.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists were fired due to pressure from government officials seeking to sway editorial content. This caused some journalists to avoid covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.

In April the director of criminal investigations (DCI) issued a summons to Royal Media Services journalists in response to the broadcast of a television expose on the sale and rental of firearms and other equipment from police officers. The DCI accused Royal Media Services of “abuse of media freedom” and called the program, which was shown on April 18, “a malicious attempt to discredit the National Police Service.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.

In August the cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government threatened to sue political strategist Dennis Itumbi for libel stemming from a series of tweets in which Itumbi accused the cabinet secretary of stealing land. The cabinet secretary threatened legal action if Itumbi did not issue an unconditional apology and retract the tweets.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In March 2020 the government began enforcing government directives to stem the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew and restrictions on public gatherings.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. In May police used tear gas against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and COVID-19 lockdown measures. Police arrested at least one protester and reportedly shot a journalist twice with teargas cannisters.

The NGO Defenders Coalition recorded 31 arrests of human rights defenders through September, mostly for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity (see section 5).

There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights (see section 7.a.).

The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the registrar of societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected these rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.

In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers were required to register with the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The RAS is responsible for refugee management in the country and continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a 2017 Court of Appeal decision to the contrary.

Typically, the RAS issued newly arrived asylum seekers registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. The government, however, declined to provide registration services to asylum seekers from Somalia, leaving an estimated 19,000 Somali asylum seekers vulnerable to harassment from law enforcement officials due to irregular immigration status in the country.

Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) had to obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.

Given the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff, the RAS continued significantly reduced client-facing activity in its Nairobi office, including reducing the registration of new arrivals, which further influenced refugee movement. The Nairobi RAS office also moved locations and underwent a period of closure for several weeks during the transition, further restricting refugees’ access to government officials responsible for providing documents and other services to refugees.

The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced restrictions on their movement (see section 2.g.).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated there were 394,000 IDPs in the country and 3,900 new displacements at the end of 2020. Communities were sometimes displaced due to interethnic violence and conflict, as well as natural disasters such as flooding.

State and private actors caused some displacements, usually during the construction of dams, railways, and roads. There is no mechanism to provide compensation or other remedies to victims of these displacements. Additionally, some residents remained displaced during the year due to land tenure disputes, particularly in or around natural reserves (see section 1.e.).

Water and pasture scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced, especially in arid and semiarid areas. IDPs generally congregated in informal settlements and transit camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.

f. Protection of Refugees

The national government’s relationship with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worsened during the year, making it more difficult for UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In March the government called on UNHCR to close all refugee camps in the country by June 30, 2022, citing national security concerns. The government requested UNHCR develop a plan of action to promote large-scale refugee repatriation within 114 days of its call to close all camps. The government previously called for the closure of Dadaab camp, but the High Court blocked the plan, determining it violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional right to fair administration action.

In April the High Court issued a temporary stay against the government’s call for camp closures but did not rule on the legality of the plan. The plan put into jeopardy the protection of approximately 440,000 camp-based refugees living in the country. In May the government and UNHCR launched a National Joint Commission to discuss the future of camp-based refugees in the country. The government said it would respect its international obligations but declined to commit to providing protections for refugees in the country or future new asylum seekers after the government-declared deadline of June 30, 2022.

The government issued a plan to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in February, which would enhance refugee self-reliance, but the March announcement about camp closures stalled CRRF implementation indefinitely. In August President Kenyatta declined to assent to the National Assembly-approved Refugee Bill, sending it back to parliament for further revision. President Kenyatta subsequently signed the bill into law on November 17 following amendments by the National Assembly, which could help some refugees gain greater access to employment opportunities and improved freedom of movement.

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 camp-based refugees. The government generally coordinated with UNHCR to assist and protect refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and urban areas. The government had yet to register nearly 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab. South Sudanese refugees received prima facie refugee status.

According to UNHCR, as of September 30, the country hosted 534,622 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 230,137 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 177,126 in Kakuma camp, 43,787 in Kalobeyei settlement, and 83,572 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (274,499), with others coming from South Sudan (135,771), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (30,576), Ethiopia (20,668), and Burundi (7,160). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was 96 percent Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in 2018, although the spirit of the agreement and coordination remained.

The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a generally cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide it with technical support and capacity building.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to those holding refugee or asylum-seeker documentation or those who entered the country and were apprehended before obtaining asylum seeker documents. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by local legal aid organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya or Kituo Cha Sheria.

During the year the security situation in Dadaab remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives. UN security teams reported unspecified kidnapping threats against humanitarian workers during the year, but no humanitarians were attacked or abducted.

Gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls (see section 6, Women). Most urban refugees resided in informal settlements, where insecurity and gender-based violence were rampant. Although there was increased community engagement to reduce gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, women in female-headed households, young girls separated from families due to conflict, and women and girls of lower social and economic status were most at risk. Girls and boys out of school were at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited awareness of what constitutes gender-based violence among vulnerable populations; and barriers to meeting the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.

Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law, although following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts scaled down operations, prioritizing urgent cases and deferring nonurgent cases. Refugees were often unable to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR, through its partners, continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, had not been fully operationalized.

Many refugees dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices, although some opted to go through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, and ethnic violence, according to UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies as well as COVID-19 (see section 2.d.).

Employment: By law refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country. While the law allows recognized refugees to engage in any occupation, trade, business, or profession upon approval of applications for a Class M work permit, many barriers and red tape hindered refugees’ ability to secure work permits. Only refugees with specialized skills or those who could invest were successful in obtaining a work permit from the Immigration Department.

Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Hospital Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. Additionally, they were vulnerable to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.

Durable Solutions: During the year UNHCR assisted 1,461 refugees with voluntary repatriation to their places of origin, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Burundi. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan and Somalia limited the desire among refugees for voluntary repatriation assistance.

g. Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. UNHCR estimated 15,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.

In July the government formally granted citizenship to 1,670 Shona and 1,300 individuals of Rwandan descent who were previously stateless.

Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 7,000 persons) and persons of Burundian or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees from Somalia (the Sakuye) residing in Isiolo. The Pare are a group who intermarried with Kenyans for many years who reside at the border with Tanzania but are at risk of statelessness since they do not hold marriage certificates or other identity documents. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom, although the estimated affected population size was unknown.

The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens so long as the individual was a resident in the country at the time of its independence.

Stateless persons had limited legal protection, and many faced social exclusion. Others encountered travel restrictions and heightened vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births under the late birth registration procedures, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.

National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau (NRB). Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments UNHCR conducted in 2018 and 2019, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates because they lacked supporting documents. The lack of permanent NRB offices near refugee camps also made it more difficult for refugees to register births, leading to an increased risk of statelessness. UNHCR and NGO partners worked with the government during the year to facilitate regular missions to the camps by NRB officials to conduct birth registrations. A backlog of older cases remained, but all refugees became able to register births within six months.

Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services, and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach for stateless persons due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Hospital Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.

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: In August 2017 citizens voted in the second general election under the 2010 constitution, electing executive leadership and parliamentarians, county governors, and members of county assemblies. International and domestic observers, such as the Kenya Elections Observation Group, African Union Observer Mission, and Carter Center, judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups raised concerns regarding irregularities. In the presidential election, Jubilee Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta won with a margin significantly above that of runner-up candidate Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance. The National Super Alliance challenged the results in a petition to the Supreme Court. In September 2017 the court ruled in the National Super Alliance’s favor, annulling the presidential elections and citing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for irregularities in voter registration and technical problems with vote tallying and transmission. The court ordered a new election for president and deputy president, which was held on October 26, 2017.

On October 10, 2017, Odinga announced his withdrawal from the new election, asserting the IEBC had not taken sufficient steps to ensure a free and fair election. The October 26 vote was marred by low voter turnout in some areas and protests in some opposition strongholds. Human Rights Watch documented more than 100 persons badly injured and at least 33 killed by police using excessive force in response to protests following the August election, and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported another 13 deaths before, during, and after the October vote.

On October 30, 2017, the IEBC declared Kenyatta the winner of the new election. On November 20, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected petitions challenging the October 26 elections and upheld Kenyatta’s victory. Odinga refused to accept Kenyatta’s re-election and repeated his call for citizens’ assemblies across the country to discuss constitutional revisions to restructure the government and the elections process. On January 30, 2018, elements of the opposition publicly swore Odinga in as “the People’s President,” and the government shut down major public media houses for several days to prevent them from covering the event.

Kenyatta and Odinga publicly reconciled in March 2018 and pledged to work together towards national unity. In May 2018 the president established the Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce as part of this pledge. The task force issued a report with proposed constitutional, legislative, and policy reforms, which led to passage of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020. Civil society organizations challenged the bill and the so-called Building Bridges Initiative’s constitutionality in court. In August the Court of Appeal ruled the bill and overall initiative were unconstitutional, in part because the court found the president lacks authority to initiate a popular initiative to amend the constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To reduce voter fraud, the government used a biometric voter registration system, first employed in 2013. Possession of a national identity card or passport was a prerequisite for voter registration. In June some voters found their names on the membership lists of parties for which they had not registered, sparking concerns about voters’ data privacy. In October the IEBC reduced a three-month-long voter registration drive to one month, reportedly due to a lack of funding. The IEBC aimed to register more than six million new voters, but at the conclusion of the drive on November 2 had registered approximately 1.4 million new voters.

The country’s five largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Luo, and Kamba, continued to hold most political positions. Civil society groups raised concerns regarding the underrepresentation of minority ethnic groups, including indigenous communities and women.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Voting rates and measures of other types of participation in the political process by women and members of minority groups remained lower than those of nonminority men.

The constitution provides for parliamentary representation by women, youth, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities. The constitution specifically states no gender should encumber more than two-thirds of elective and appointed offices. Parliament had not enacted legislation to implement this provision, despite four court orders to do so (see section 1.e.). As of year’s end, men made up nearly the entire leadership of the National Assembly and the Senate, except for a female deputy speaker of the Senate. President Kenyatta appointed one additional woman to the cabinet in January, for a total of seven women in the cabinet.

Female leaders and advocacy groups continued to cite inadequate political support from their parties, particularly in the primaries; a lack of financial resources; gender-based violence, including rape and sexual harassment; gender stereotyping; and patriarchal structures across society as significant barriers to women’s participation in political processes.

The overall success rate of female candidates who ran for positions in the 2017 national elections was 16 percent, with 23 women elected and 52 women nominated to the 349-member National Assembly, and three women elected and 18 women nominated to the 67-member Senate. Women were elected to three of the 47 governorships, although there were only two female governors during the year. Compared with 2013, the number of women elected to office increased by almost 19 percent. The constitution provides for the