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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

The United States has not recognized the Taliban or another entity as the government of Afghanistan. All references to “the pre-August 15 government” refer to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. References to the Taliban reflect events both prior to and after August 15.

Prior to August 15, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The country held presidential elections in September 2019 after technical problems and security threats compelled the Independent Election Commission to reschedule the election multiple times. The commission announced preliminary election results on December 22, 2019, indicating that President Ashraf Ghani had won, although runner-up and then chief executive Abdullah Abdullah disputed the results, including after official results were announced February 18, 2020. Both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah declared victory and held competing swearing-in ceremonies on March 9, 2020. Political leaders mediated the resulting impasse, resulting in a compromise on May 17, 2020, in which Ashraf Ghani retained the presidency, Abdullah was appointed to lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, and each of them was to select one-half of the cabinet members.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three entities shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Directorate of Security. The Afghan National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, had primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police, a community-based self-defense force with no legal ability to arrest or independently investigate crimes. Civilian authorities under the Ghani administration generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently and committed numerous abuses. After August 15, security forces largely disbanded. The Taliban began to recruit and train a new police force for Kabul and announced in early October that the force had 4,000 persons in its ranks. The Taliban instructed pre-August 15 government employees to return to work, and the Ministry of Interior formally invited former police officers to return; however, returns were slow due to fear of retaliation and lack of salary payments.

The Taliban culminated its takeover on August 15 when Kabul fell to their forces. On September 7, the Taliban announced a so-called interim government made up almost entirely of male Taliban fighters, clerics, and political leaders, hailing from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. As of December, the Taliban had announced most of its “interim cabinet” but had not outlined steps or a timeline to establish a new permanent government. The Taliban is a Sunni Islamist nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s that ruled much of the country from 1996 until October 2001. The Taliban promoted a strict interpretation of Quranic instruction according to the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, seeking to eliminate secular governance.

Peace negotiations between representatives of the Ghani administration and the Taliban continued until August as the Taliban consolidated control over territory, but the talks failed to yield a political settlement or unity government. Throughout the year armed insurgents attacked Ghani administration forces, public places, and civilians, killing and injuring thousands of noncombatants. On August 15, as the Taliban approached Kabul, President Ghani fled the country, prompting an immediate collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and a political vacuum. Vice President Amrullah Saleh left the country shortly after as well.

Significant human rights issues occurred before and after August 15. Details of which group or groups perpetuated these human rights issues are addressed throughout the report. The human rights issues included credible reports of: killings by insurgents; extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances by antigovernment personnel; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; physical abuses by antigovernment entities; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances and abductions, torture and physical abuses, and other conflict-related abuses; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, including by security force members and educational personnel; serious restrictions on free expression and media by the Taliban, including violence against journalists and censorship; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on the right to leave the country; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to cases of violence against women, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; violence by security forces and other actors against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct; severe restrictions on workers’ freedom of association and severe restrictions by the Taliban on the right to work for women; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were common. The pre-August 15 government did not consistently or effectively investigate or prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces. After taking over, the Taliban formed a commission to identify and expel “people of bad character” from its ranks. On December 25, a Taliban spokesperson told media that the group had expelled 1,985 individuals, and that those accused of corruption and robbery had been referred to legal authorities. Local and provincial Taliban leaders formed similar commissions and reported rooting out corrupt members. Little information was available regarding how individuals were identified, investigations were conducted, or what their outcomes were.

On September 27, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed an application for an expedited order seeking authorization to resume the investigation of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country. The investigation had been deferred due to a request from the pre-August 15 government. The International Criminal Court prosecutor stated that the Taliban takeover represented a significant change of circumstances affecting the ongoing assessment of the pre-August 15 government’s deferral request. The prosecutor determined that there was no prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations within the country of crimes defined by Article 5 of the Rome Statute. The prosecutor announced that if he receives authorization to resume investigations, he intends to focus his efforts on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K, a terrorist group based in Salafist ideology that is an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham and which is active in South and Central Asia.

Taliban elements attacked religious leaders who spoke out against them, particularly between the February 2020 signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the August 15 Taliban takeover. During the year many Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Nonstate and armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most child recruitment and used children younger than 12 during the year. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban, used children as suicide bombers. Antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization workers, and other civilians. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported thousands of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year due to clashes between government and antigovernment actors. Many of these casualties were attributed to antigovernment actors; however, the Taliban did not claim responsibility for civilian casualties. The Taliban referred to suicide attacks as “martyrdom operations.” The Taliban engaged in targeted killings of perceived opponents in areas controlled by the pre-August 15 government and in reprisal killings as it moved across the country. After August 15, senior Taliban leadership announced a wide-ranging general amnesty that prohibited reprisals, including against officials and others associated with the pre-August 15 government, for actions before the Taliban takeover; however, credible reports were received of retaliatory acts, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, both before and after this announcement.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the pre-August 15 government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Attorney General’s Office maintained a specialized office to investigate cases involving the Ministry of Interior and its agencies, including the Afghan National Police. The Ministry of Defense maintained its own investigation and prosecution authority at the primary and appellate level; at the final level, cases were advanced to the Supreme Court.

Pajhwok News reported that on April 9 security forces manning a checkpoint in Uruzgan Province shot and killed a 10-year-old boy as he passed through the area. The father called on authorities to arrest his son’s killers and bring them to justice. There was no indication that authorities investigated the crime or brought charges against the officers involved.

Media published videos of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) personnel allegedly killing a suspected Taliban sympathizer in Paktika on July 8 by forcing him to sit on an improvised explosive device (IED) and then detonating it. According to the reports, the suspected Taliban sympathizer was a local construction worker who was nearby when the IED was discovered. He was reportedly beaten by Afghan National Police and anti-Taliban militia members before being handed over to the ANDSF. According to the reports, a Defense Ministry spokesperson denied that the incident took place and called the videos “Taliban propaganda.”

After August 15, there were numerous reports of reprisal killings by Taliban fighters as they consolidated control of the country. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) received credible reports of more than 100 individuals associated with the previous administration and its security forces as being killed, tortured, or disappeared following the Taliban leadership’s August announcement of a general amnesty. Taliban leaders denied these incidents reflected an official policy and claimed many were attributed to personal disputes. According to BBC news, Taliban fighters executed two senior police officials – Haji Mullah Achakzai, the security director of Badghis Province and Ghulam Sakhi Akbari, security director of Farah Province.

A November report by HRW documented “the summary execution or enforced disappearance of 47 former members of the ANDSF – military personnel, police, intelligence service members, and paramilitary militia – those who had surrendered to or were apprehended by Taliban forces between August 15 and October 31, 2021.” Senior Taliban leaders declared a general amnesty and forbade reprisals, although reports persisted of local Taliban leaders engaging in such actions.

In November the Taliban conducted a crackdown in ISIS-K’s stronghold province of Nangarhar, reportedly sending more than 1,300 additional fighters. These fighters arrested, killed, or disappeared scores of suspected ISIS-K collaborators in the campaign. Sources in Nangahar reported observing dozens of decapitated bodies of alleged ISIS-K sympathizers in the crackdown’s aftermath.

Thousands of those who worked for or supported the pre-August 15 government or foreign entities, as well as members of minority groups, sought to flee the country on or after August 15 due to fear of reprisals. Others left their homes to hide from Taliban conducting house-to-house searches for government officials. Unknown actors carried out numerous targeted killings of civilians, including religious leaders, journalists, and civil society advocates (see section 1.g.).

In March, three women working for a television station in Jalalabad were killed in two incidents. Mursal Wahidi was killed as she walked home while Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz were killed in a separate incident on the same night, also while returning home from work. ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for the attacks.

On May 8, a car bomb attack outside the Sayed ul-Shuhuda school in Kabul resulted in 300 casualties – mostly schoolgirls – including 95 killed. No group claimed responsibility. The attack occurred in a western district of the capital where many residents are of the mostly Hazara ethnic community.

On September 4, Taliban gunmen killed a pregnant policewoman in front of her family, according to the victim’s son. She had worked in Ghor prison and was eight months pregnant when she died. The Taliban spokesperson denied the accusation.

b. Disappearance

Both the pre-August 15 government security forces and the Taliban were responsible for forced disappearances.

UNAMA reported that the Taliban carried out abductions with 40 civilian casualties resulting from those abductions in the first six months of the year, a slight decrease from the same period in 2020 (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of enforced disappearances by the pre-August 15 government that included transnational transfers from the country to Pakistan, according to an August UN Human Rights Council report for the period of May 2020 to May 2021.

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

Although the 2004 constitution and law under the pre-August 15 government prohibited such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the security forces of the pre-August 15 government used excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. Despite legislation prohibiting these acts, independent monitors including UNAMA continued to report credible cases of torture in government detention centers.

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

On September 25, the Taliban hung a dead body in the central square in Herat and displayed another three bodies in other parts of the city. A Taliban-appointed district police chief in Herat said the bodies were those of four kidnappers killed by police that day while securing the release of two abductees.

On October 5, the Taliban hung the bodies of two alleged robbers in Herat, claiming they had been killed by residents after they attempted to rob a house.

Impunity was a significant problem in all branches of the pre-August 15 government’s security forces. Accountability of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Police (ANP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP) officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. There were numerous reports that service members were among the most prevalent perpetrators of bacha bazi (the sexual and commercial exploitation of boys, especially by men in positions of power). In May the minister of justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission reported on government efforts to stop trafficking in persons and bacha bazi, providing a readout of investigations and prosecutions, but he listed no prosecutions of security officers. The pre-August 15 government did not prosecute any security officers for bacha bazi.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons run by the pre-August 15 government were harsh due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and limited access to medical services despite the heightened risk of COVID-19. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Interior Ministry, was responsible for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate was responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually colocated with its headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense ran the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintained illegal detention facilities throughout the country prior to their takeover, with credible reports describing beatings at makeshift prisons.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem under the pre-August 15 government. According to UNAMA, in April at least 30 of 38 prisons nationwide had exceeded full capacity, with an average occupancy rate close to 200 percent. After the Taliban took over Kabul, many prisons were emptied as nearly all prisoners escaped or were released. The two largest prisons – Pul-e-Charkhi in Kabul and Parwan at Bagram – remained largely empty as of December.

Pre-August 15 government authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

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

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate under the pre-August 15 government. The pre-August 15 GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items.

Pre-August 15 authorities were not always able to maintain control of prisons. Dozens of prisoners escaped a Badghis central prison in July when the Taliban breached the province’s capital city. The Taliban reportedly paid off prison employees to facilitate the escape of inmates. An estimated 5,000 Taliban militants were imprisoned in provincial capitals before the Taliban took over in July and August, all of whom were released by August 15. In addition to their own imprisoned fighters, the Taliban released thousands more from prisons like Parwan and Pul-e-Charkhi, including members of ISIS-K and al-Qa’ida.

The ISIS-K suicide bomber who carried out an attack at Kabul airport in late August killing dozens of local citizens (and 13 U.S. service members) was among the thousands of prisoners released by the Taliban from Parwan Prison at Bagram Air Base just 11 days before the bombing.

Administration: In the pre-August 15 government, authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored pre-August 15 government ministries, including the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense, and NDS detention facilities. The NATO Resolute Support Mission monitored the NDS, the ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities until the start of the drawdown of NATO forces early in the year. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries.

After the Taliban takeover, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed on September 17 to renew the UNAMA mandate for another six months in an effort to continue its in-country activities, including strengthening capacity in the protection and promotion of human rights such as the protection of children affected by armed conflict and prevention of child soldier recruitment.

On September 18, the AIHRC stated their facilities and assets had been commandeered by Taliban forces, thereby rendering the commission unable to fulfill its duties to protect and monitor human rights in the country’s prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The 2004 constitution in effect until the August 15 Taliban takeover prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. In the pre-August 15 period, authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or without regard to substantive procedural legal protections. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges that lacked a basis in applicable criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly held women in prisons because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provided a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this stipulation.

There were reports throughout the year of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces by both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel under the pre-August 15 government were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law because many officials were illiterate and lacked training. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, Major Crimes Task Force, the ANP, and the ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct was limited or nonexistent. (See also section 1.g.)

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported that, under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban, arbitrary and prolonged detention occurred throughout the country, including persons being detained without judicial authorization. Pre-August 15 government authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

Justice-sector actors and the public lacked widespread understanding and knowledge of the law in effect under the pre-August 15 government. The law details due-process procedures for the use of warrants, periods of detention, investigations, bail, and the arrest of minors. Special juvenile courts with limited capacity operated in a few provinces. Some women and children caught in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crimes. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys, many of whom were victims of bacha bazi. Authorities often placed these abused boys in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they faced violence should they return to their families, and no other shelter was available. Police and legal officials often charged women (but not the men who were involved) with intent to commit zina (sex outside marriage) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from their husband or family, rejecting a spouse chosen by their families, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage.

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

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

On November 23, the Taliban’s so-called prime minister Akhund instructed the Taliban to respect and protect the rights of detained persons under sharia, including by limiting the duration of detention. Still, UNAMA continued to receive reports of detainees not being brought before courts or dispute resolutions following this announcement.

Arbitrary Arrest: Under the pre-August 15 government, arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were primarily women.

HRW reported that between August 15 and October 1, the Taliban arrested at least 32 journalists. Most were given warnings regarding their reporting and released, but some were beaten. In a September 10 statement, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that on September 7 and 8, the Taliban beat and detained protesters, including women, and up to 20 journalists, two of whom were beaten severely.

Between August 15 and December 14, UNAMA documented nearly 60 apparently arbitrary detentions, beatings, and threats of activists, journalists, and staff of the AIHRC, attributed to the Taliban.

There were reports throughout the country in July, August, and September of the Taliban conducting raids on homes and establishments and the detention of citizens as political reprisals, despite assurances from senior Taliban leaders beginning in August that nobody would be harmed and that they did not seek to take revenge. UNAMA documented 44 cases of temporary arrests, beatings, threats and intimidation between August 15 and December 31, 42 of which were attributed to the Taliban.

In November a former senior security official reported the deputy chief of the National Directorate of Security in Bamiyan, a former district police chief, the security chief of a copper mine, a former district governor, and a community activist had all been arrested by the Taliban and that their status and location were unknown.

The Afghanistan Journalists Center reported that Taliban security forces searched the home of independent television network owner Aref Nouri without a warrant on December 26 and took Nouri to an undisclosed location for two days. A Taliban spokesperson said that the detention was unrelated to Nouri’s media activities.

Reports in October described Taliban-defined “law enforcement” as lacking in due-process protections, with citizens detained on flimsy accusations and treated harshly while in detention.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions of being members of ISIS-K.” As of December the Taliban had released some of the Ahmadis while others remained in detention. Some of the released minors reported that their release was conditioned upon “repenting” their Ahmadiyya beliefs and attending a Taliban-led madrassa every day.

Pretrial Detention: The constitution in effect under the pre-August 15 government provided a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the law because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provided that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, judges must release defendants. Judges, however, held many detainees beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution under the pre-August 15 government provided for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. Corruption was considered by those surveyed by the World Justice Project 2021 report to be the most severe problem facing criminal courts.

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

Because the formal legal system often did not exist in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation.

In areas they controlled throughout the year, the Taliban enforced a judicial system devoid of due process and based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation.

Trial Procedures

The constitution under the pre-August 15 government provided the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally used an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens were entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the accused had the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. This law also required judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but judges did not always follow this requirement, and many citizens complained that legal proceedings often dragged on for years.

Under the pre-August 15 government, three-judge panels decided criminal trials, and there was no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants had the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense; however, the judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers and a lack of resources. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

The pre-August 15 constitution stipulates that a translator appointed by the Court shall be provided if a party in a lawsuit does not know the language of the court proceeding, but it does not clearly indicate whether the court must pay for the translator.

By comparison, citizens all have the right to a fair trial, which includes both the right to defense counsel and the right to an interpreter or translator if needed. But on defense counsel, the right to “free” and state-appointed counsel is limited to “indigent” defendants, not to ones who can otherwise afford to pay.

Prior to August 15, criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The law under the pre-August 15 government established time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused was in custody. The law also permitted temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely applied. The law provided for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan Province regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary did not meet the deadlines, the law required the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

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

According to HRW, the Taliban established its own courts in areas under its control prior to August 15 that relied on religious scholars to adjudicate cases or at times referred cases to traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. Taliban courts prior to August 15 included district-level courts, provincial-level courts, and a tamiz, or appeals court, located in a neighboring country.

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

In October the Taliban appointed a new “chief justice” but largely retained members of the pre-August 15 government’s judicial bureaucracy and appeared to maintain many related processes. The “chief justice” was quoted in October as stating that the Taliban would follow the country’s 1964 constitution with modifications for Islamic principles. The Taliban have not subsequently elaborated on this statement, and it remained unclear the degree to which prior elements of the legal system and constitution remain in effect. Reports described the Taliban’s approach to law enforcement as lacking procedural protections, and many Taliban fighters were undisciplined and frequently detained on criminal charges. At least 60 Taliban militants were reportedly held in a section of Pul-e-Charkhi Prison after August 15 for crimes such as raiding homes at night and robbery, according to one news report.

On November 22, the Taliban issued a decree declaring that the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association would come under control of the Ministry of Justice. On November 23, more than 50 armed Taliban gunmen forcibly took over the organization’s headquarters and ordered staff to stop their work. Taliban Acting “Justice Minister” Abdul Hakim declared that only Taliban-approved lawyers could work in their Islamic courts, effectively revoking the licenses of approximately 2,500 lawyers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports the pre-August 15 government held political prisoners or political detainees.

The Taliban detained government officials, individuals alleged to be spying for the pre-August 15 government, and individuals alleged to have associations with the pre-August 15 government.

Amnesty: In August the Taliban announced a general amnesty for those who worked for or were associated with the pre-August 15 government and those who had fought against the Taliban, saying they had been pardoned. Nonetheless, there were numerous reported incidents of Taliban reprisal killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

The law under the pre-August 15 government prohibited arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The law contained additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests, requiring the presence of a female officer during residential searches, and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Pre-August 15, government officials entered homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Likewise, numerous reports since August indicated that the Taliban entered homes and offices forcibly to search for political enemies and those who had supported the NATO and U.S. missions. On December 29, the Taliban’s “interim minister for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice” decreed all Taliban forces would not violate anyone’s privacy, including unnecessary searches of phones, homes, and offices, and that any personnel who did would be punished.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Internal conflict that continued until August 15 resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation deteriorated largely due to successful insurgent attacks by the Taliban and terrorist attacks by ISIS-K. ISIS-K terrorist attacks continued to destabilize the country after August 15, and Taliban efforts to defeat the terrorist group resulted in numerous violent clashes. According to UNAMA, actions by nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for most civilian deaths although civilian deaths decreased dramatically following the Taliban’s territorial takeover in August.

Killings: UNAMA counted 1,659 civilian deaths due to conflict from January 1 to June 30, and 350 from August 15 to December 31. Pro-Islamic Republic forces were responsible for 25 percent of pre-August 15 civilian casualties: 23 percent by the ANDSF, and 2 percent by progovernment armed groups such as militias. Antigovernment elements were responsible for 64 percent of the total pre-August 15 civilian casualties: 39 percent by the Taliban, 9 percent by ISIS-K, and 16 percent by undetermined antigovernment elements. UNAMA attributed 11 percent of pre-August 15 civilian casualties to “cross fire” during ground engagements where the exact party responsible could not be determined and other incident types, including unattributable unexploded ordnance and explosive remnants of war.

During the year antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, carried out numerous deadly attacks against religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. On January 24, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, a religious scholar, imam, and teacher. On March 3, Kabul University professor and religious scholar Faiz Mohammad Fayez was shot and killed on his way to morning prayers. On March 31, the ulema council chief in northern Takhar Province, Maulvi Abdul Samad Mohammad, was killed in a bomb blast when an explosive attached to his vehicle detonated.

On May 8, an elaborate coordinated attack on Sayed ul-Shuhuda girls’ school in Kabul deliberately targeted its female students in a mostly Hazara neighborhood, killing at least 90 persons, mostly women and girls. The Taliban denied responsibility, but the pre-August 15 government blamed the killings on the Taliban, calling the action “a crime against humanity.”

On June 12, a religious scholar in Logar Province, Mawlawi Samiullah Rashid, was abducted and killed by Taliban gunmen, according to a local Logar government official. In June, according to NGO HALO Trust, gunmen attacked a compound in Baghlan Province killing 10 de-miners. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack in which there were indications the gunmen may have sought to target Hazaras specifically. Taliban fighters killed nine ethnic Hazara men from July 4 to 6 after taking control of Ghazni Province, according to Amnesty International. On July 22, the Taliban executed a popular comedian from Kandahar, Nazar Mohammad, after beating him, according to HRW. After a video of two men slapping and abusing him appeared in social media, the Taliban admitted that two of their fighters had killed him.

A former police chief of Kandahar and a member of the High Council on the National Reconciliation on August 4 stated that the Taliban had killed as many as 900 individuals in Kandahar Province in the preceding six weeks.

On August 24, Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, stated during the 31st Special Session of the Human Rights Council that her office received credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in many areas under effective Taliban control.

An ISIS-K suicide bombing outside the Kabul Airport on August 26 killed more than 180 persons, including 169 civilians in a large crowd seeking to flee the country. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban fighters allegedly engaged in killings of Hazaras in Daykundi Province on August 30; the Taliban denied the allegations.

On September 6, Taliban fighters in Panjshir reportedly detained and killed civilians as a part of their offensive to consolidate control over the province. Reports of abuses remained unverified due to a Taliban-imposed blackout on internet communications in the province. According to Amnesty International, on the same day, the Taliban conducted door-to-door searches in the village of Urmaz in Panjshir to identify persons suspected of working for the pre-August 15 government. Taliban fighters executed at least six civilian men, with eyewitnesses saying that most had previously served in the ANSDF, but none were taking part in hostilities at the time of the execution.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using IEDs to kill or maim them. UNAMA reported the use of nonsuicide IEDs by antigovernment elements as the leading cause of civilian casualties in the first six months of the year.

A bomb attack targeting Taliban leadership at a mosque in Kabul on October 3 killed at least five civilians at the memorial service for the mother of Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid.

ISIS-K launched several attacks on mosques in October. The attacks targeted the Shia community, killing dozens of worshipers in Kunduz, Kandahar. No group claimed responsibility for two attacks on December 10 in western Kabul targeting predominantly Shia Hazara neighborhoods.

On November 2, ISIS-K suicide blasts and gunfire at the main military hospital in Kabul left at least 20 persons dead and dozens more injured.

On November 3, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders and 11 other thematic UN special rapporteurs stated that Afghan human rights defenders were under direct threat by the Taliban, including gender-specific threats against women, beatings, arrests, enforced disappearances, and killings. The report noted that defenders described living in a climate of constant fear, with the most at-risk groups being defenders documenting alleged war crimes; women defenders, in particular criminal lawyers; cultural rights defenders; and defenders from minority groups. The Taliban raided the offices of human rights and civil society organizations, searching for the names, addresses, and contacts of employees, according to the report.

According to the UN secretary-general’s report on the situation in the country, eight civil society activists were killed (three by the Taliban, three by ISIS-K, and two by unknown actors between August and December 31.

Abductions: The UN secretary-general’s 2020 Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in June, cited 54 verified incidents of the Taliban abducting children. Of those, 42 children were released, four were killed, and the whereabouts of eight children remained unknown.

Child Soldiers: Under the pre-August 15 government’s law, recruitment of children in military units carried a penalty of six months to one year in prison. The Children and Armed Conflict Report verified the recruitment and use of 196 boys, of whom 172 were attributed to the Taliban and the remainder to pre-August 15 government or progovernment forces. Children were used in combat, including attacks with IEDs. Nine boys were killed or injured in combat. Insurgent groups, including the Taliban and ISIS-K, used children in direct hostilities, to plant and detonate IEDs, carry weapons, surveil, and guard bases. The Taliban recruited child soldiers from madrassas in the country and Pakistan that provide military training and religious indoctrination, and it sometimes provided families cash payments or protection in exchange for sending their children to these schools. UNAMA verified the recruitment of 40 boys by the Taliban, the ANP, and progovernment militias half in the first half of the year. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and to place IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. UNAMA reported the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used 11 children during the first nine months of the year, all for combat purposes. Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. NGOs reported security forces used child soldiers in the practice of bacha bazi.

The country remained on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List in the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior took steps to prevent child soldier recruitment by screening for child applicants at ANP recruitment centers, preventing 187 child applicants from enrolling in 2020. The pre-August 15 government operated child protection units (CPUs) in all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight. The difficult security environment in most rural areas prevented oversight of recruitment practices at the district level; CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes. Pre-August 15 government security forces reportedly recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazi in every province of the country.

While the pre-August 15 government protected trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed because of being subjected to trafficking, there were reports the government treated child former combatants as criminals as opposed to victims of trafficking. Most were incarcerated alongside adult offenders without adequate protections from abuse by other inmates or prison staff.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: After the August 15 Taliban takeover, there were fewer security and security-related incidents throughout the rest of the year. According to UNAMA, between August 19 and December 31, the United Nations recorded 985 security-related incidents, a 91 percent decrease from the same period in 2020. Security incidents also dropped significantly as of August 15 from 600 to less than 100 incidents per week. Available data indicated that armed clashes also decreased by 98 percent as of August 15 from 7,430 incidents to 148; airstrikes by 99 percent from 501 to three; detonations of IEDs by 91 percent from 1,118 to 101; and killings by 51 percent from 424 to 207.

The security environment continued to make it difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country through August. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts throughout the year. Prior to August 15, insurgents, such as the Taliban, targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local elites, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into their areas and distribute them. After the Taliban takeover, a lack of certainty regarding rules and the prevalence of conservative cultural mores in some parts of the country restricted operation by humanitarian organizations.

The period immediately following the Taliban takeover in mid-August was marked by general insecurity and uncertainty for humanitarian partners as Taliban operations included searches of NGO office premises, some confiscation of assets and investigation of activities. According to UNAMA, challenges to humanitarian access increased from 1,104 incidents in 2020 to 2,050 incidents during the year, the majority occurring in the pre-August 15 period at the height of fighting between the Taliban and government forces.

The cessation of fighting was associated with a decrease in humanitarian access challenges with only 376 incidents reported between September 17 and December 17, according to UNAMA. The initial absence of a clear Taliban policy on humanitarian assistance; lack of awareness of the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence; sweeping albeit varied restrictions on women in the workplace; access problems; and banking challenges were also significant impediments to aid groups’ ability to scale up response operations.

After mid-August, geographic access by humanitarian implementing partners improved significantly, allowing access to some rural areas for the first time in years. Taliban provincial and local leaders expressed willingness to work with humanitarian partners to address obstacles to the principled delivery of humanitarian assistance. In September the Taliban provided written and oral assurances to humanitarian partners and increasingly facilitated access for the provision of humanitarian goods and services from abroad and within the country. Nonetheless, impediments to the full participation of women in management, delivery, and monitoring of humanitarian assistance programs remained a concern.

In October a Taliban official reportedly declared a prominent U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization an “enemy of the state.” Taliban forces occupied the organization’s Kabul offices, seized their vehicles, and warned that NDS officials were determined to “punish” the organization on alleged charges of Christian proselytization. Faced with mounting hostility and threats to arrest staff, the organization suspended its operations. The organization’s Kabul offices remained occupied by the Taliban.

In its campaign leading up to the August 15 takeover, the Taliban also attacked schools, radio stations, public infrastructure, and government offices. An explosives-laden truck destroyed a bridge in Kandahar’s Arghandab district on March 23. While the blast inflicted no casualties, part of the bridge used to connect the district with Kandahar city was destroyed. Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s deputy minister of interior affairs for strategy and policies, accused the Taliban of destroying the bridge, which Taliban spokesperson Mujahid denied.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provided for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the pre-August 15 government sometimes restricted this right. Following August 15, the Taliban used force against protesters and journalists and suppressed political discussion and dissent. Journalists reported a chilling effect on free speech and press in the country as a result of the Taliban’s policies, particularly following media reports of torture of two local journalists covering women’s protests after the Taliban takeover. The Taliban announced restrictive media regulations in September and additional guidelines in November, in line with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provided for freedom of speech under the pre-August 15 government. There were reports that the pre-August 15 government officials at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the pre-August 15 government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of a law that provides for public access to government information remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the pre-August administration to meet the requirements of the law. Pre-August 15 government officials often restricted media access to official government information or simply ignored requests for information. UNAMA, HRW, and Reporters without Borders reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated pre-August 15 government sources shared information with only a few media outlets.

On September 16, Reporters Without Borders said that 103 journalists signed a joint statement asking the international community to take urgent action to help protect press freedom in the country. The journalists pled for international action to guarantee the protection of female journalists who sought to continue their work, resources for local media outlets to remain open, and material assistance for those who have fled abroad.

Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association reported that approximately 200 media outlets have shut down, leaving almost 60 percent of journalists unemployed. Various factors, including financial constraints, fear, and departure of staff, also contributed to closures.

Violence and Harassment: Pre-August 15 government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. The Taliban insurgency continued to threaten, attack, and kill journalists and media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.” Increased levels of insecurity until August 15 created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation, especially after the Taliban takeover in August.

Many media workers fled to safe havens starting in January after the Taliban launched a campaign of violence against journalists in late 2020, as reported by UNAMA and independent media. Taliban violence continued to escalate against journalists throughout the year, and frequent reports of attacks continued after their occupation of the country in August. According to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, seven journalists were killed between January 1 and August 8, including four women.

On January 1, gunmen in Ghor Province opened fire on the car of journalist Bismillah Adil, killing him in an attack for which no one has claimed credit. On February 25, gunmen stormed Adil’s family home and killed three of his family members and wounded five children.

On June 3, unidentified assailants in Kabul detonated an explosive device attached to a van in which Ariana News TV Kabul anchor Mina Khairi was a passenger, killing her and two family members. An Ariana News TV manager said other station employees had received threats.

In response to increased concern regarding the targeting of journalists following the Taliban’s takeover in August, the UN Human Rights Council held an emergency session, and a group of UN human rights experts convened to issue a statement through the OHCHR. On September 3, the statement called on all member states to provide urgent protection to Afghan journalists and media workers who fear for their lives and are seeking safety abroad. Many of those journalists who remained in the country ceased their work and reported living in hiding to avoid targeted attacks. According to an al-Jazeera report in October, more than 30 instances of violence and threats of violence were reported by the Afghanistan National Journalists Union. Many journalists fled the provinces to Kabul and others departed the country.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and pre-August 15 government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. With the Taliban takeover of the country, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in September reported numerous instances of Taliban physical violence against and detention of journalists, warning that an entire generation of reporters was at risk in the country.

On September 7, Taliban fighters detained a freelance photographer after he covered a protest in the western city of Herat, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the end of the year, he had not been released.

On September 8, according to the CPJ, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul. According to media sources, at least nine of the journalists were subjected to violence during their arrests or detention.

On September 18, an unidentified man shot journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi after accusing him of working for an “American radio station.” Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar in Kabul, was shot twice in the leg and hospitalized.

CPJ reported in October that Taliban fighters assaulted at least three journalists covering a women’s protest in Kabul for demanding “work, bread, and education.” The fighters also attacked a photographer working with a French news agency, who captured some of the violence on camera.

According to UNAMA, two journalists were killed after August 15 – one by the ISIS-K and another by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the pre-August 15 government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified.

On September 19, the Taliban issued a set of 11 media directives including a requirement that media outlets prepare detailed reports in coordination with the new “governmental regulatory body.” The directives prohibit media from publishing reports that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or “distort news content.” The directives also included prohibitions on “matters that could have a negative impact on the public’s attitude or affect morale should be handled carefully when being broadcast or published.” Journalists in Kabul reported being turned away from covering events of interest and being told to obtain individual permits from local police stations with jurisdiction over the area of reporting activity.

Tolo TV, a commercial television station broadcasting programming through major cities across the country, scaled back programming in September in an act of self-censorship with the Tolo TV CEO, saying, “we had to sacrifice music for survival,” with the process of self-censorship entailing the elimination of Turkish soap operas, adding programming featuring women scarved, and replacing musical programming with religious chants.

Journalists called the restriction and censorship of information by the Taliban the primary obstacle to reporting and said many media organizations stopped their activities in an act of self-censorship after the collapse of the pre-August 15 government.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced eight restrictive “religious guidelines” on November 21, including one recommending that women should not appear in television dramas or entertainment programs and another indicating that female journalists should wear head coverings. As of December the guidelines were not being enforced consistently.

Libel/Slander Laws: The pre-August 15 government’s laws prescribed prison sentences and fines for defamation. Pre-August 15 authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained pre-August 15 government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the relevant law to avoid disclosing information.

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

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

Internet Freedom

The pre-August 15 government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages.

There were many reports of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information.

During its offensive on Panjshir in August and September, the Taliban shut down the internet in the province to restrict the transmission of information regarding fighting and communication between residents and the outside world. Reports indicated that, with limited exceptions in the days before the Taliban seized control in Kabul, access to the internet remained available throughout the country, including access to social media and messaging apps such as Twitter and WhatsApp. On September 9, the Taliban reportedly turned off internet service in parts of Kabul following a series of large anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan street demonstrations.

Human rights groups encouraged human rights defenders to delete or modify their online presence to minimize the risk that the Taliban would link them to the former regime or NATO forces.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom was largely exercised under the pre-August 15 government. In addition to public schooling, there was growth in private education, with new universities enjoying full autonomy from the government. Both government security forces and the Taliban took over schools to use as military posts.

The expansion of Taliban control in rural areas before the group’s takeover left an increasing number of public schools outside of pre-August 15 government control. The Taliban operated an “education commission” in parallel to the pre-August 15 Ministry of Education. Although their practices varied among areas, some schools under Taliban control reportedly allowed teachers to continue teaching but banned certain subjects and replaced them with Islamic studies; others provided only religious education, and only for male students.

In September the Taliban announced it would review subjects to be taught to ensure compliance with the Taliban interpretation of sharia, while also committing in October and November not to change the curriculum to a madrassa-style education. Public universities did not open for the academic year starting in September and remained closed as of December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provided for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights; however, the pre-August 15 government limited these freedoms in some instances. The Taliban generally did not respect freedom of peaceful assembly and association, although they allowed some limited protests and demonstrations to take place without interference.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The pre-August 15 government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year; however, police sometimes fired live ammunition into the air when attempting to break up demonstrations. On January 29, at least 10 civilians were killed and 20 others injured when police fired upon a protest in the Behsud district of Maidan Wardak Province, according to Etilaatroz news. The Ministry of Interior stated the protesters were armed. On June 8, the Badakhshan Province governor allegedly ordered police to shoot demonstrators who had entered the governor’s compound, resulting in four deaths.

Protests and rallies were also vulnerable to attacks by ISIS-K and the Taliban. The August Taliban takeover prompted numerous, small-scale protests by women demanding equal rights, participation in government, and access to education and employment. Taliban fighters suppressed several women’s protests by force.

In the weeks immediately following the August 15 Taliban takeover, several peaceful protests were staged in cities throughout the country, primarily by women activists, without interference by the Taliban. Further protests were increasingly met with resistance and violence by the Taliban, however, and as of December the Taliban suppressed protests against the group and its policies.

On September 5, a march by dozens of women towards the presidential palace calling for the right to work was broken up by the Taliban with tear gas and pepper spray. In a similar incident three days later in Kabul, the Taliban reportedly used whips and batons to suppress a group of women demonstrating for equal rights. On September 8, the Taliban issued instructions banning unauthorized assemblies, motivating civil society, particularly women, to shift their efforts behind closed doors and to online platforms. The UN Human Rights Commission stated on September 10 that peaceful protests in many parts of the country were met with an increasingly violent response by the Taliban after their takeover. The Taliban frequently used force to suppress protests, including firing live ammunition overhead to disperse crowds.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provided for the right to freedom of association, and the pre-August 15 government generally respected it. The pre-August 15 government’s law on political parties required political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. The same law prohibited employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and NDS, from political party membership. Noncompliant employees were subject to dismissal.

After August 15, the Taliban generally did not respect freedom of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The pre-August 15 government’s law provided for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The pre-August 15 government generally respected these rights. The Taliban generally respected these rights for citizens with sufficient identity documentation, including passports, but they prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad. Restrictions were also placed on women’s in-country movements.

In-country Movement: The pre-August 15 government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Social custom limited women’s free movement in some areas without a male family member’s consent or a male relative chaperone (mahram). Prior to August 15, the greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country remained the lack of security. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. Prior to August 15, the Taliban regularly blocked highways completely or imposed illegal taxes on those who attempted to travel.

Through the year, Taliban checkpoints increasingly dotted the main highways leading in and out of Kabul, since many outposts were abandoned by pre-August 15 government security forces. Media workers and officials of the pre-August 15 government avoided in-country travel because they feared being identified by the Taliban and subjected to reprisals.

After the Taliban takeover in August, intercity travel was generally unobstructed. On December 26, the Taliban announced that women could not engage in long-distance travel without a mahram. Within populated areas, women could move more freely, although there were increasingly frequent reports of women without a mahram being stopped and questioned.

Foreign Travel: The country’s neighbors closed land borders to regular traffic after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August, and travel by air decreased significantly due to capacity constraints and lack of functionality at the country’s airports. The Taliban stated they do not want citizens to leave the country but that those with foreign travel authorization and required documentation would be allowed to depart; Taliban leaders stated the right to travel is guaranteed by Islam. Enforcement of these “regulations” was inconsistent. Citizens with passports and visas for third countries were generally permitted to depart the country, and Pakistan was allowing pedestrians from Kandahar Province to cross into Pakistan and back for trade and day labor using only identity cards. The Taliban prevented certain political figures associated with previous administrations from travelling abroad due to concerns regarding possible political activities abroad. After August 15, most airlines flying commercial routes to and from Kabul International Airport cancelled flights, although Afghan airlines (Ariana and Kam) continued to fly commercial routes. Damaged equipment at Kabul International Airport limited aircraft takeoffs and landings to daylight hours under visual flight rules, which also required clear weather; these limitations made insurance costs for airlines prohibitive to operate and prevented the return of many commercial routes that existed prior to August 15.

In October the Taliban stated they would resume issuing passports, ending a months-long suspension that had diminished the limited ability of citizens to depart the country. According to local media, more than 170,000 passport applications received in August and September remained unadjudicated as of December 31. In December the Taliban announced that passport offices had opened in 25 provinces. Anecdotal reports suggested passports were not always issued impartially but rather reserved for individuals whom the Taliban deemed “unproblematic” or who could pay substantially higher prices for the passport. Some individuals associated with the previous administration reported being detained and beaten following their visit to passport offices.

In October Taliban authorities closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing into Pakistan. After a 27-day closure, the crossing reopened to pedestrians and trade. After the reopening, Pakistan reportedly permitted Kandahar tazkira (national identification card) holders – as well as individuals with medical reasons but without documentation – to cross the border.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Internal population movements continued because of armed conflict and natural disasters, including avalanches, flooding, and landslides. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that widespread intense fighting between pre-August 15 government security forces and the Taliban between May and August forced approximately 250,000 citizens to flee their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated a total of 669,682 persons were displaced between January and December 19, of whom 2 percent were displaced following August 15. Most internally displaced persons (IDPs) left insecure rural areas and small towns to seek relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. UNHCR estimated that 158,000 displaced persons returned home since fighting subsided following the Taliban takeover in August.

Limited humanitarian access due to the poor security situation caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs, who continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived at constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. in IDP sites reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

Protection concerns were increasingly reported to humanitarian partners, with growing protection needs for persons with disabilities, the elderly, female-headed households, and sexual and gender minorities. By October, food shortages and lack of access to basic services contributed to a widespread humanitarian crisis, with millions of individuals lacking basic life necessities as the country faced the onset of winter. The economic and liquidity crisis since the Taliban takeover, lower agricultural yield due to drought conditions, unreliable electricity supply and deteriorating infrastructure, and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic all combined to worsen the humanitarian crisis.

f. Protection of Refugees

The pre-August 15 government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The Taliban has cooperated to a limited extent with UNHCR, the IOM, or other humanitarian organizations. On September 13, UN Refugee Commissioner Filippo Grandi visited the country and met with the Taliban’s so-called interim minister of refugees and repatriation affairs Khalil-ur-Rahmen Haqqani. In an interview with the Washington Post, Grandi noted that humanitarian access had increased since August due to the cessation of hostilities and improved security.

Access to Asylum: The pre-August 15 government did not create a legal and programmatic framework for granting asylum or refugee status and had not established a legal framework for providing protection to refugees. Since the takeover, the Taliban also have not created a legal and programmatic framework for granting of asylum or refugee status.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The pre-August 15 government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance. The Taliban’s “Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation Affairs” repatriated approximately 4,000 IDPs to their communities of origin, although the IOM estimated there were more than five million IDPs in the country. “Interim Minister” Khalil Haqqani told al-Jazeera that the Taliban had a plan to return all IDPs to their homes, assist in repairing damaged homes, and designate provincial support zones to assist returnees.

The IOM estimated that all returning migrants required humanitarian assistance. Between January and September, the IOM recorded a total of 866,889 undocumented Afghans returning or being deported from Iran and Pakistan. In the same time period, the IOM recorded 40,089 assisted returnees. UNHCR reported the number of registered refugees returning remained lower than in 2020, mainly due to the Taliban takeover. The country lacked the capacity to reintegrate successfully large numbers of returnees due to continuing insecurity, poor development, and high unemployment, exacerbated by COVID-19. Insecurity and lack of services meant most recent returnees could not return to their places of origin. While numbers of deportations or spontaneous voluntary returns were trending upwards, the seizure of Kabul by the Taliban in August disrupted accurate tracking of returnees.

g. Stateless Persons

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2004 constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not prevent, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019. In September, after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban’s so-called chief justice was quoted as saying that the country would follow the 1964 Constitution with modifications until it drafted a replacement document. There was no further clarification, leaving uncertain whether there would be future elections or other democratic processes. The Taliban announced on December 27 that it was disbanding the Independent Election Commission, the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stating they were “unnecessary for current conditions.”

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections were last held in 2019, and President Ghani’s second five-year term began in April 2020. President Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban approached Kabul. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh under President Ghani announced a government in exile in September. In September the Taliban’s spokesperson said future elections would be considered in the process of establishing a new constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Under the pre-August 15 government, the constitution granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provided that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The same law required parties to have at least 10,000 members nationwide to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote were permitted to join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions were prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

Before August 15, in large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity. After August 15, the Taliban engaged with some political parties, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Senior leaders of other key parties left the country as the Taliban seized Kabul, including most notably the predominantly ethnic Tajik Jamiat Islami, the predominantly ethnic Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat, the predominantly Pashtun Islamic Dawah Organization, and the predominantly ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli. Taliban representatives reportedly maintained communication with those parties, but their ability to operate in the country was limited.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws under the pre-August 15 government prevented women or members of religious or ethnic minority groups from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

The 2004 constitution specified a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the national assembly), the constitution mandated that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The Independent Election Commission finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandated one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also set aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees were required to include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and one-half of the president’s nominees were required to be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga were reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this was not mandated by the constitution.

In many regions traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. The 2016 electoral law mandated that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics before August 15 continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

In September the Taliban announced a “caretaker government,” dominated by ethnic Pashtun members with no women and only a few members of minority groups, none at the cabinet level. In late December the Taliban announced that a second member of the Hazara minority had been appointed to the government, this time as deputy minister for economic affairs.

On September 17, the Taliban closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and announced that the reconstituted “Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” would be housed in its building. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was founded in 2001 with a mandate to “implement government’s social and political policy to secure legal rights of women in the country.” The ministry often struggled with a lack of influence and resources.

According to media reports, the Taliban repressed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community and would not allow members of historically marginalized minority groups to participate in ministries and institutions (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law under the pre-August 15 government provided criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. The pre-August 15 government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Local businessmen complained that government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system during the pre-August 15 government, particularly regarding the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.

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

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

Corruption: Under the pre-August 15 government, the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) had jurisdiction over corruption crimes allegedly committed by high-ranking government officials. Between January 2020 and February 2021, a total of 10 military officials of the rank of general were tried by the ACJC Primary Court. The ACJC Primary Court conducted trials in 95 cases involving 384 defendants. The court convicted 302 defendants, acquitted 77, and returned cases of two defendants to the prosecutor for further investigation. Since August the ACJC ceased to operate.

In January, three parliamentarians were arrested for bribery. Per parliamentary rules, the members were released from detention. They were indicted in February and convicted in a trial during which the defendants were absent but represented by counsel. The court sentenced each to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of three million afghanis ($40,000). The Senate wrote to the Supreme Court committing not to arrest the defendants pending their appeal to the ACJC appellate court. The defendants neither surrendered nor were arrested.

Local news agencies reported in February that the pre-August 15 government Ministry of Interior had removed 321 personnel from their posts as a part of the ministry’s campaign against extortion on the country’s highways. Also in February the Attorney General’s Office stated three members of the Meshrano Jirga were sentenced to prison for corruption.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. Justice-sector professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases, particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many pre-August 15 government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Pre-August 15 government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. There were allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Interior Ministry officials of the pre-August 15 government also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

The Taliban announced anticorruption policies following their takeover, including creating commissions in Kabul and at the provincial level to identify corrupt or criminal officials and taking a hardline stance against bribery. The Taliban launched a commission through the “Ministry of Defense” to identify members who were flouting the movement’s directives. A ministry spokesman stated that 2,840 Taliban members were dismissed on charges of corruption and drug use. Reporting from multiple local businessmen revealed that cross-border trading had become much easier under Taliban stewardship with elimination of the “gifts” usually required for Customs officials.

On December 8, Taliban officials in Herat announced that 100 Taliban security personnel were arrested and dismissed on charges of misconduct and illegal activity. They also reported a revenue of 100 million afghanis ($1.3 million) collected over three months due to reduced corruption. Local Taliban leaders in Balkh began investigations into allegations of corruption involving disability benefits, and leaders in Nangarhar established special units to prevent the illegal occupation of land and deforestation.

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

As the conflict intensified in the lead-up to the Taliban takeover, the pre-August 15 government came under increasing criticism for being either incapable or unwilling to act upon reports of human rights abuses, especially regarding targeted killings by the Taliban of journalists and civic activists. Media also came under increasing pressure to restrict coverage of the government’s responsibility for civilian victims of the conflict.

Since their takeover in August, the Taliban has intervened in the operations of international and nongovernmental organizations. Staff from several organizations reported the Taliban asked that staff obtain a security clearance from them and pay a 30 percent tax on salaries received by employees.

On September 15, Taliban falsely claiming to be acting under the authority of the Ministry of Interior conducted a search of the country office premises of an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of rule of law in Kabul, seizing assets and stating an intent to return to conduct further searches.

International NGOs reported in August and September that the Taliban conducted house-to-house searches for pre-August 15 government officials and others who worked for international and human rights organizations.

The Taliban takeover and the ensuing turmoil created an immediately nonpermissive environment for many international and nongovernmental entities, including human rights organizations. Historic Taliban practices and post-August 15 actions created a climate of uncertainty and fear, which curtailed the work of journalists, civic activists, and human rights defenders, many of whom left the country due to retaliation. Investigations and reports by journalists and human rights organizations, however, continued to bring to light human rights abuses and atrocities, including allegations of summary executions of persons associated with the previous government, as well as extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists. Taliban authorities often denied that those abuses were taking place.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Under the 2004 constitution, the pre-August 15 government was required to support the AIHRC. The AIHRC highlighted human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees dealt with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addressed human rights concerns. The Taliban takeover effectively curtailed almost all AIHRC operations and the operation of the pre-August 15 government’s parliament.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Implementation and awareness of a government decree regarding violence against women remained a serious problem under the pre-August 15 government. The decree criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery or beating, forced marriage, humiliation, intimidation, and deprivation of inheritance. The law criminalizes rape against both women and men. The law provides for a minimum sentence of five to 16 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape, or up to 20 years if one or more aggravating circumstances are present. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law criminalizes statutory rape and prohibits the prosecution of rape victims for zina. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for conviction of “aggression to the chastity or honor of a female [that] does not lead to penetration to anus or vagina.” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. Pre-August 15 government authorities did not always enforce these laws, although the government was implementing limited aspects of the decree, including through dedicated prosecution units. Women and girls with disabilities were at increased risk for sexual abuse.

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

The law criminalizes forced gynecological exams, which acted as “virginity tests,” except when conducted pursuant to a court order or with the consent of the subject. Awareness and enforcement of the restrictions on forced gynecological exams remained limited. There were reports police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order the exams in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Pre-August 15 government doctors, frequently men, conducted these exams, often without consent. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subjected to the exams.

The law for the pre-August 15 government criminalized assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the “injury and disability” and beating provisions in the relevant decree. According to NGO reports, millions of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, and other individuals. The AIHRC announced that of 3,477 cases of violence against women recorded with its organization in the first 10 months of 2020, 95.8 percent of cases involved a family-member perpetrator and that the home environment was the most dangerous place for women in the country. State institutions, including police and judicial systems, failed to adequately address such abuse. Lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced women to spend more time at home, reportedly resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence as well as additional stress on already limited victim-support systems. One such incident included a man from Paktika Province who cut off his wife’s nose with a kitchen knife in May. The woman, who regularly faced physical abuse by her husband, was reportedly seeking to leave the abusive relationship when her husband attacked her.

Due to cultural normalization and a view of domestic violence as a “family matter,” domestic violence often remained unreported. The justice system’s response to domestic violence was insufficient, in part due to underreporting, a preference for mediation, sympathy toward perpetrators, corruption, and family or tribal pressure. According to an HRW report published in August, there were dedicated prosecution units in all 34 provinces as of March and specialized courts – at least in name – with female judges in 15 provinces, and dedicated court divisions expanded to operate at the primary and appellate levels in all 34 provinces.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country, under the pre-August 15 administration. Some women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or to the perpetrator. Cultural stigmatization of women who spent even one night outside the home also prevented women from seeking services that may bring “shame” to herself or her family.

At times, women in need of protection ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or because “running away” was interpreted as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away from home is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families (see also section 6, Children, Child, Early, and Forced Marriage).

On September 19, Taliban gunmen entered a women’s shelter in Kabul by force, interrogated staff and residents for several hours and forced the head of the shelter to sign a letter promising not to allow the residents to leave without Taliban permission. The Taliban told the shelter operator they would return married shelter residents to their abusers and marry the single residents to Taliban soldiers.

Additionally, sources in September reported the Taliban were conducting “audits” of women’s shelters and women’s rights organizations, including those that provided protection services. These audits were enforced with intimidation through the brandishing of weapons and threats of violence. Equipment, including computers, paper files, and other documentation, was confiscated, and staff reported being aggressively questioned regarding their activities and possible association with the United States. Essential service providers either reduced or ceased their services altogether, citing fear of putting battered women, an already vulnerable demographic, at greater risk of violence and harm.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the 2004 constitution, the law criminalizes forced, underage, and baad marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. NGOs reported instances of baad were still practiced, often in rural areas. The practice of exchanging brides between families was not criminalized and remained widespread. “Honor killings” continued throughout the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law under the pre-August 15 government criminalized all forms of harassment of women and children, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual harassment. By law all government ministries are required to establish a committee to review internal harassment complaints and support appropriate resolution of these claims. Implementation and enforcement of the law under the pre-August 15 government remained limited and ineffective. Media reported that the number of women reporting sexual harassment increased compared with prior years, although some speculated this could be an increased willingness to report cases rather than an increase in the incidence of harassment. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping, catcalling, and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Prior to the August 15 Taliban takeover, businesswomen faced a myriad of challenges from the “traditional” nature of society and its norms regarding acceptable behavior by women. When it was necessary for a businesswoman to approach the government for some form, permit, or authorization, it was common for a male functionary to ask for sexual favors or money in exchange for the authorization.

After the Taliban takeover, most women-led businesses suspended operations due to the ongoing liquidity crisis and fear of violating Taliban edicts against women in the marketplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Under the pre-August 15 government, married couples had the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The Family Law (2019), which was in effect by promulgation of a presidential proclamation (although parliament never passed it), outlines individuals’ rights to reproductive health. There were no recent, reliable data regarding reproductive rights. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey, only 5 percent of women made independent decisions concerning their own health care, while 44 percent reported that their husbands made the decisions for them.

According to UNICEF, more than 50 percent of girls in the country started their period without knowing what to expect or understanding why it was happening, and 30 percent of female students in the country were absent during menstruation because schools did not have adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities.

Having a child outside of wedlock is a crime according to the pre-August 15 government’s penal code and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment for both men and women. Mothers faced severe social stigma for having a child out of wedlock, even when the pregnancy was a result of rape. Abortion or ending a pregnancy was classified as a crime under the law and was punishable by three months’ to one year’s imprisonment.

Women must obtain their husband’s consent to use contraception under the law. Barriers impacting reproductive health care or obstetrical care included many men preventing their wives from receiving care from male doctors or from having a male doctor in attendance at the birth of a child. Sources in October reported continued availability of contraceptives after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Persons with disabilities faced increased barriers to reproductive health resources as a result of decreased access to transportation, education, and social support. LGBTQI+ persons, already disadvantaged prior to August 15, faced further barriers to accessing reproductive health resources after the Taliban takeover. The already fragile community, which provided some resources to its members, largely disintegrated as members either fled the country or went into deep hiding. Widespread discrimination and abuse prevented most members from seeking reproductive or sexual-health assistance from all but the most trusted confidants.

Families and individuals in cities generally had better access to information than did those living in rural areas. According to the United Nations, the rate of contraceptive use among married women was 35 percent for those living in urban areas compared with 19 percent in rural areas. According to the pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Public Health, while there was wide variance, most clinics offered some type of modern family planning method.

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

Since their takeover, the Taliban permitted women to continue their roles as health practitioners, but many women were afraid to return to work due to safety and security concerns related to the Taliban’s stated policies restricting women in the workplace. After August 15, the ever-smaller number of qualified female health practitioners steeply increased the risk of poor health outcomes for women.

Discrimination: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the justice system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system. Women do not have equal legal rights, compared to men, to inherit assets as a surviving spouse, and daughters do not have equal rights, compared to sons, to inherit assets from their parents. By law women may not unilaterally divorce their husbands but must obtain their husband’s consent to the divorce, although men may unilaterally divorce their wives. Many women petitioned instead for legal separation. According to the family court in Kabul, during the year women petitioned for legal separation twice as frequently as in the previous year.

Prosecutors and judges in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the decree related to domestic violence, and judges sometimes replaced those charges with others based on other legal provisions.

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

After August 15, the Taliban prohibited most female government employees from working, although the Taliban claimed they continued to pay their salaries. Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI) executives sought meetings with the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Economy after the takeover to get clarity on whether the Taliban would allow the estimated 57,000 women-led private businesses in the country to remain open. The AWCCI stated they failed to get a formal meeting with high-level Taliban decisionmakers but were assured informally that women would be allowed to work “if that work conformed with Islamic law.”

Prior to August 15, in the Taliban-controlled areas of the country many women and girls could not decide whom they would marry or at what age, or object to beatings by their husbands. In Jowzjan’s Darzab district, a Taliban commander raped and killed a 16-year-old girl when the family refused to allow her to marry a Taliban fighter.

On April 28, the Taliban published an article, “Feminism as a Colonial Tool,” on its website, accusing the West of using feminism to justify its “invasion, subjugation and bullying of Muslims.” The article asserted the “man-made” concept of women’s rights has “destructive effects on human society” and that women’s rights must be defined by Islam.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Ethnic tensions continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Hazaras continued in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the pre-August 15 government frequently assigned Hazara police officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior.

ISIS-K continued attacks against Shia, predominately Hazara, communities. On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed at least 50 members of the minority Shia community at a mosque in Kunduz. On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting a Shia community mosque in Kandahar killed more than 30 worshippers. Following attacks and threats, Taliban security forces augmented protective operations at Shia mosques.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs, harassment in school, and verbal and physical abuse in public places. The pre-August 15 government delivered meals and aid to approximately 200 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families who returned from India in mid-May after facing financial hardship and COVID outbreaks in India. The government also directed increased security for the Sikh and Hindu communities and the deputy minister of Haj and religious affairs said in June that the ministry had undertaken 14 reconstruction projects for temples in view of their central role in the community. With the Taliban takeover, many of the estimated several hundred Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the country may have fled to India and other countries.

According to HRW, Taliban representatives in early October forcibly displaced hundreds of Hazara families from southern Helmand Province to the northern Balkh Province, in part to distribute land to their own supporters. The Taliban carried out the evictions at gunpoint and with little notice, preventing families from taking their belongings or finishing harvesting their crops. An HRW report stated that the largest displacements took place in 15 villages in Daikundi and Uruzgan Provinces where the Taliban evicted at least 2,800 Hazara residents in September.

UNHCR reported that approximately 40 percent of Afghan arrivals to Iran were Hazaras.

In December senior Taliban representatives held a series of engagements with Shia Hazara leaders. On December 26, “interim Deputy Prime Minister” Maulavi Mohammed Abdul Kabir hosted a meeting of Shia leaders from around the country, and “interim Deputy Foreign Minister” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai spoke at a December 29 meeting of the Shia Ulema Council in Kabul. In these meetings the Taliban officials expressed their commitment to provide security for all citizens and a desire to avoid sectarian division.

In November and December, Taliban intelligence officials targeted Ahmadi Muslims for arrest. According to reports from international Ahmadiyya organizations, the detainees were physically abused and coerced into making false “confessions” of being members of ISIS-K and subsequent releases required recanting their faith. In October Sikhs reported harassment by armed Taliban representatives at their central temple in Kabul. In late November more than 80 Sikhs and Hindus departed for India.

After August 15, ISIS-K’s heightened activity further increased the targeting of non-Sunni groups. At least four attacks by ISIS-K targeted Shia and Hazara communities between October and December.

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked, making it difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment and repression under both the pre-August 15 government and the Taliban.

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

Children

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

Education: Under the pre-August 15 government, education was mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years in primary school and three years in lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. UNICEF reported that approximately 3.7 million children, 60 percent of them girls, were not in school due to discrimination, poverty, lack of access, continuing conflict, and restrictions on girls’ access to education in Taliban-controlled areas, among other reasons. Under the pre-August 15 government, only an estimated 16 percent of the country’s schools were for girls, and many of them lacked proper sanitation facilities. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, a lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools.

An education director in Jawzjan Province said in March that Taliban militants stopped an estimated 20,000 female students from studying beyond sixth grade. Even before their takeover of Kabul, in Taliban-controlled districts within the provinces of Kunar, Helmand, Logar, and Zabul, the Taliban had largely prohibited women and girls from attending school as provincial education officials attempted in vain to negotiate with the Taliban for girls to have access to education.

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

There were reports that both insurgent groups and government forces used school buildings for military purposes. School buildings were damaged, and students were injured in Taliban attacks on nearby government facilities.

Following their takeover, the Taliban severely restricted or prohibited female education across all age levels, citing a need to ensure proper facilities were in place for segregated education in line with the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia.

The Taliban’s lack of a clear education policy regarding women’s ability to teach and girls’ ability to attend schools, combined with nonpayment of teachers’ salaries, led to low enrollment rates even where schools were open.

In September the Taliban stated that girls would be able to go to school in line with Islamic law, without further clarifying how it would respect their access to education. According to UNICEF, the Taliban instructed primary schools in late August to reopen for both girls and boys.

On September 18, the new Taliban ministry of education issued a statement resuming secondary education for boys but gave no indication as to when girls might return to classes. As of December schools in nine of the country’s 34 provinces – Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kunduz, Urozgan, Ghazni, Faryab, Zabul, and Herat – had allowed girls to attend secondary school before closing for the winter break, according to UNICEF and other reports. In December the Taliban asserted that this number had grown to 12 provinces and pledged that all girls could return to school in March 2022 after the break.

As of December all public universities remained closed. Several private, all-female universities reopened for fall classes in October.

Taliban leaders stated they were committed to allowing girls and women access to education through the postgraduate level, although only in accordance with their interpretation of sharia and within the confines of Afghan culture, which includes segregation of genders and strict behavioral and dress codes.

On November 16, the head of the so-called Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated there was no theological basis in Islam for preventing girls and women from having access to all levels of education. Other Taliban representatives expressed the group’s intent to provide educational access at all levels to women and girls. At year’s end many Afghan girls remained excluded from the educational system.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and neglect. The penalty for beating, or physically or mentally disciplining or mistreating a child ranges from a fine of 10,000 afghanis ($130) to one year in prison if the child does not sustain a serious injury or disability. Conviction of endangering the life of a child carries a penalty of one to two years in prison or a fine of 60,000 to 120,000 afghanis ($780 to $1,560).

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

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, there was an uptick in arrests, prosecutions and prison sentences given to perpetrators of bacha bazi, including members of the military and security forces. Kandahar’s governor sent seven members of the ANP suspected of sexually abusing and killing a 13-year-old boy in Kandahar to trial in Kabul. One of the seven was given the death penalty, and the others were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges including rape, as well as bacha bazi (two of them received sentences of 30 years’ imprisonment and the other four were sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment).

Despite consistent reports of bacha bazi perpetrated by the Afghan National Army, the ANP, and ALP officials, the government has only once (in September 2020) prosecuted officials for bacha bazi. The government denied that security forces recruited or used child soldiers. Some victims reported that authorities perpetuated abuse in exchange for pursuing their cases, and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and penalize survivors.

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

There were reports some members of the pre-August 15 government military and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. UNAMA reported children continued to be subjected to sexual violence by parties to the conflict at an “alarming rate.” According to media and NGO reports, many of these cases went unreported or were referred to traditional mediation, which often allowed perpetrators to reoffend. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The pre-August 15 government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubts that the judicial system would respond.

On May 4, the pre-August 15 government’s Minister of Justice and head of the Trafficking in Persons High Commission, Fazil Ahmad Mannawi, shared the pre-August 15 government’s statistics on trafficking in persons for the year 2020: He reported that the ministry arrested 70 suspects, the Attorney General’s Office launched investigations of 50 suspects, and courts were reviewing 235 cases of trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, and bacha bazi at the end of 2020. Six hundred victims were provided with medical, psychological, and educational services in 2020. The pre-August 15 government held more than 200 trafficking-in-persons awareness-training sessions for more than 8,000 citizens, government officials, and ANDSF personnel. There was an increase of bacha bazi cases investigated, prosecuted, and convicted.

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

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministry of Interior operated CPUs throughout the country to prevent the recruitment of children into the ANP, although the CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Nevertheless, recruitment of children continued, including into the ANP, the ALP, progovernment forces, and the Taliban. Additionally, the government did not have sufficient resources to reintegrate children into their families once they had been identified by the CPUs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite a law under the pre-August 15 government setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 years for girls (15 years with the consent of a parent or guardian or the court) and 18 years for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early and forced marriages throughout the country. A 2017 UNICEF study found that 28 percent of women were married by age 18. Those convicted of entering into or arranging forced or underage marriages are subject to at least two years’ imprisonment; however, implementation was limited. By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is age 16 (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

After the August takeover by the Taliban, due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, widespread reports surfaced suggesting that some families were selling their young children, usually daughters for early marriage, to afford food.

Societal pressures and the Taliban practice of arranging marriages for widows forced women into unwanted marriages. HRW conducted telephone interviews with residents in Herat in September and found that women in Taliban-controlled areas increasingly felt pressured to marry for their own safety in view of restrictions upon their movements and activities imposed by the Taliban.

On August 13, the Taliban entered Herat, seizing government offices and the police station. A Taliban fighter reportedly threatened to kill a widowed mother of five if she did not marry him, and she was forced to do so in September with the consent of a mullah. She has said that her life is a nightmare and “it is like he is raping me every night.”

On December 3, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada announced a public decree banning the forced marriage of women. The decree set out the rules governing marriage and property for women, stating that women should not be forced into marriage and widows should have a share in their late husband’s property. The decree mandated that courts should consider these rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The pre-August 15 government criminalized sexual exploitation of children. In addition to outlawing the practice of bacha bazi, a practice common in parts of the country in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment, the law provides that, “[i]f an adult male has intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, his act shall be considered rape and the victim’s consent is invalid.” In the case of an adult female having intercourse with a person younger than the legal age, the law considers the child’s consent invalid, and the woman may be prosecuted for adultery. The law prescribes a penalty of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for forcing an underage girl into commercial sexual exploitation. Taking possession of a child for sexual exploitation or production of pornographic films or images constitutes trafficking in persons under the Trafficking in Persons law regardless of whether other elements of the crime are present.

Displaced Children: NGOs and government offices reported high numbers of returnee families and their children in border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. The pre-August 15 government attempted to follow its policy and action plan for the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPs, in partnership with the United Nations; however, the government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, many of them unaccompanied minors, remained limited, and it relied on the international community for assistance. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

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

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts. The one confirmed Afghan Jew residing in the country departed the country when the Taliban took over Kabul.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, difficulty in acquiring government identification required for many government services and voting, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion due to stigma. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The World Institute on Disability (WID) estimated that 90 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed as a result of entrenched social biases and faced barriers to accessing public services including health and education. According to WID, persons with disabilities also faced barriers to accessing education, transportation, and health care.

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

Before the August takeover, the Taliban attacked the Special Olympics headquarters in Kabul with at least two separate bombing attempts. On August 15, Taliban gunmen entered the headquarters and seized the office director’s laptop and credentials, prompting the director to flee the country due to repression.

The 2004 constitution prohibited any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the government to adopt inclusive measures and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The law under the pre-August 15 government also provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, persons with disabilities. Observers reported that both the constitutional provisions and disability rights law were mostly ignored and unenforced.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. By law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but pre-August 15 government officials acknowledged the law was not enforced.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV or AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS. While the law allows for the distribution of condoms, the pre-August 15 government restricted distribution to married couples.

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

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

The Taliban takeover of the country increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban. Many fled the country after the takeover. After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors, and family members.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Taliban members, and many reported living in physically and economically precarious conditions in hiding. In July a Taliban judge stated that gay men would be subject to death by stoning or crushing. In August a gay man was reportedly tricked into a meeting by two Taliban members and then raped and beaten. There were also reports from members of civil society that LGBTQI+ persons were outed purposely by their families and subjected to violence to gain favor with the Taliban. There were reports of LGBTQI+ persons who had gone missing and were believed to have been killed.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Under sharia, conviction of same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death, flogging, or imprisonment. Under the law, sex between men is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and sex between women with up to one year of imprisonment. Individual Taliban members have made public statements confirming that their interpretation of sharia allows for the death penalty for homosexuality.

The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced societal and governmental discrimination both before and after the Taliban takeover.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The pre-August 15 government’s law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provided no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor did it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law did not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provided no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize. International NGOs noted that unions were largely absent from the informal and agricultural sectors, which accounted for the majority of Afghan workers.

Although the law identifies the Labor High Council in the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (Ministry of Labor) as the highest decision-making body on labor-related matters, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. The ministry contained an inspection office, but labor inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. Inspectors lacked the authority to enter workplaces freely, conduct inspections, and assess fines for violations. As a result, application of the law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will. The Taliban’s so-called interim minister of labor and social affairs has not made any statements on workers’ unions since he assumed the office.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 but permits 14-year-old children to work as apprentices, allows children ages 15 and older to do light, nonhazardous work, and permits children 15 to 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working under any circumstances. The law was openly flouted, with poverty driving many children into the workforce. The law also bans the employment of children in hazardous work that is likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security-guard services; and work related to war. The Taliban made no public statements on child labor and has not purported to alter the existing labor law, but reports indicated that child labor continued in poverty-stricken areas.

Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the law. Labor inspectors had legal authority to inspect worksites for compliance with child-labor laws and to impose penalties for noncompliance. But deficiencies included the lack of authority to impose penalties for labor inspectors, inadequate resources, labor inspector understaffing, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations.

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

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

According to the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, millions more children were at risk of child labor due to COVID-19 because many families lost their incomes and did not have access to social support. Child labor was a key source of income for many families and the rising poverty, school closures, and decreased availability of social services increased the reliance on child labor. Many children already engaged in child labor experienced a worsening of conditions and worked longer hours, posing significant harm to their health and safety. Aid and human rights groups reported child labor laws were often violated, and noted that children frequently faced harassment and abuse and earned very little or nothing for their labor. In November UNICEF reported 9.7 million children needed humanitarian assistance and that child labor was likely to increase as humanitarian coping mechanisms were exhausted. The number of child laborers increased both due to general impoverishment of families and the arrival of more IDPs, according to a December statement by a Social Affairs Directorate officer in Herat Province.

Gender inequities in child labor were also rising, since girls were particularly vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture and domestic work. The UN Security Council reported that nine violent attacks against schools occurred between April 1 and June 30. Poverty and security concerns frequently led parents to pull girls out of school before boys, further increasing the likelihood that girls could be subjected to child labor.

In August international aid organizations noted that, without sufficient humanitarian aid, families would be forced to resort to child labor and child marriage. In November UN officials noted that a worsening economic situation was leading households to resorting to dangerous practices, such as child labor and early marriage, in order to survive.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 2004 constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The law prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism, which was commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. A 2018 law criminalizes physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment, punishable with a fine, but the law remained largely ineffective due to underreporting.

Under the pre-August 15 government, women faced discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 22 percent of the workforce. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Gender-based violence escalated with targeted killings of high-profile women in the public sector. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Men earned 30 percent more on average in the same occupations as women and 3.5 times more in agriculture and forestry, where women occupied two-thirds of the workforce. Female journalists, social workers, LGBTQI+ persons, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused. Persons with disabilities also suffered from discrimination in hiring.

The pre-August 15 government’s Ministries of Labor and Public Health jointly adopted a regulation listing 244 physically arduous and harmful occupations prohibited to women and children, of which 31 are identified as the worst forms of child labor that are prohibited to children younger than 18. Under the regulation, it is not permissible for women and children to engage in types of work that are physically arduous, harmful to health, or carried out in underground sites, such as in the mining sector.

In September the Taliban-appointed “Kabul mayor” instructed the city’s female staff (amounting to approximately one-third of Kabul’s 3,000 municipal employees) to stay at home, with the exception of women whose jobs could not be replaced by men. Taliban leaders stated they would implement their version of sharia, prohibiting women from working alongside men, but gave no indication when female employees would be able to return to work. A similar Taliban ruling kept public universities from opening in September, as they were not configured to meet the Taliban’s gender-segregation standards, which effectively barred women from obtaining a secondary education, disenfranchising them from professional employment.

In October, media reported Taliban representatives stated women would continue to work at police stations and in passport offices. The Taliban further stated they were trying to provide working conditions for women in the sectors where they were needed, according to Islamic law. Taliban representatives also stated women were banned from most employment while saying women could keep their jobs only if they were in a role a man could not fill. In a December 16 interview, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed no women had been fired from public-sector jobs and that they continued to receive salaries at home.

As of December the UN OCHA mapped the agreements between aid agencies and the Taliban in each of the country’s 34 provinces, showing where female staff members would be permitted to work. The document, reviewed by HRW, indicated that, as of October 28, Taliban representatives in only three provinces had provided a written agreement unconditionally permitting women aid workers to do their jobs. Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law for the pre-August 15 government established a minimum wage of 6,000 afghanis ($78) per month for permanent (unlimited duration, paid leave) government employees and 5,500 afghanis ($71) per month for workers in the nonpermanent private sector (fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work and casual or seasonal work). The country did not have minimum wage rules for permanent workers in the private sector. In 2020 the Ministry of Economy established a poverty line of two dollars per day. The afghani devalued from 77 afghanis per U.S. dollar to more than 105 afghanis per U.S. dollar from June to year’s end, putting all minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

The law for the pre-August 15 government defined the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The government regulated night and overtime work. Night work (between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.) qualified production workers for a 25 percent increase in wages; service and administrative workers earned a 15 percent increase. Overtime work earned employees a 25 percent increase in wages for the hours worked, 50 percent if those hours were during a public holiday. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work without establishing penalties and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, was responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The Ministry of Labor was responsible for conducting inspections and responding to complaints; the Interior Ministry would enforce the law with fines and prison sentences. In 2020 the government did not report the number of labor inspectors; however, as of December 2018 the Labor Ministry had 27 inspector positions, 21 of which were filled. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce, which included more than 7.9 million workers. According to the International Labor Organization’s technical advice of a ratio approaching one inspector for every 40,000 workers in less developed economies, the country should employ more than 200 labor inspectors. Government officials and NGOs acknowledged the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Officials within the Ministry of Labor indicated that labor inspections took place only in Kabul. Ministry inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections but could not initiate sanctions or assess penalties themselves. The Labor Ministry would pass findings to the Interior Ministry, whose prosecutors would decide how and whether to prosecute. No data were available on Labor Ministry funding or the number of inspections conducted during the year.

The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. Neither the Ministry of Labor nor the Ministry of Interior made data available on penalties assessed for violation of labor laws, making comparisons with similar crimes (fraud) impossible. Media reporting suggested the Labor Ministry had focused its inspections on public organizations, ignoring worksites in the private sector as well as in the informal economy. International NGOs and Afghan media reported that violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were especially prominent in the brickmaking and carpet-making sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: The country has no occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations or officially adopted standards. There were no government inspectorates to investigate unsafe conditions or respond to workers’ complaints. Workers could not remove themselves from health-endangering situations without risking their employment.

The law provides for reduced standard workweeks for children ages 15 to 17, pregnant women, nursing mothers, miners, and workers in other occupations that presented health risks. Inspectors for compliance for reduced hours for at-risk employees were the same as those responsible for wage enforcement. The pre-August 15 government did not effectively enforce wage, workweek, or OSH laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance, and inspectors have no legal authority to impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were nonexistent.

With no formal OSH laws in place, the government did not track sector-specific deaths and injuries. Media reports suggested that workers in the construction, metalworking, and mining industries were especially vulnerable to death or injury, because adherence to OSH principles was not compulsory.

Informal Sector: Even before August 15, employers often chose not to comply with the pre-August 15 government labor requirements and often preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. In October the UN secretary-general noted 80 percent of the country’s economy was informal, with women dominating the informal economy. Workers in the informal sector were covered by minimum wage and workweek-hour laws, but informal workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights.

The pre-August 15 government did not provide additional social protections for workers in the informal economy. The Labor Ministry, however, was responsible for the operation of Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) units, a coalition of government agencies, NGOs, and community and religious leaders designed to combat child labor which occurred primarily in the informal sector. CPAN units received complaints of child labor, investigated, and referred cases to NGO and government shelters that provided social services. CPAN operated in 171 districts and processed more than 3,500 cases in 2020. No data were available on cases during the year or whether CPAN would continue under the Taliban.

Bahamas

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

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

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts. There were reports of government corruption during the year where officials sometimes engaged in cronyism and accepted small-scale “bribes of convenience” with impunity.

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

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

The local Jewish community consisted of approximately 500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president for a second five-year term in the first round during December 2020 presidential and legislative elections marred by widespread violence. In December 2020 six armed groups formerly in the peace process combined to form a new alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change, led by former president Francois Bozize, and called for a suspension of the electoral process and the establishment of national consultations. These groups significantly disrupted the presidential and legislative elections. More than half of the country’s polling stations were unable to return results primarily due to insecurity, and only an estimated 37 percent of all registered voters were able to cast votes for the presidential elections. As a result of election-related insecurity, President Touadera requested support from the Russian Federation government, which facilitated the deployment of a Russian private military company, Wagner Group, and Rwandan forces. Several opposition leaders denounced irregularities in the elections. International observers found the elections not to be free and fair due to an increased level of violence and intimidation by armed groups. On June 11, President Touadera appointed Henri Marie Dondra as prime minister

Police and gendarmes are responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have the primary role of maintaining internal security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over security forces continued to improve but remained weak. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, along with Russian private military company elements from the Wagner Group, engaged in active combat and committed human rights abuses at a rate comparable to armed groups.

State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled some portions of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in the context of an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture and physical abuse or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles to citizens’ ability to obtain formal justice.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators. (Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic and the Union for Peace, which were formed after Seleka was dissolved in 2013. The armed group known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” also committed serious human rights abuses 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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. The Ministry of Justice investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions. In an August joint report by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covering the electoral period of July 2020 through June, the UN agencies cited 59 instances of extrajudicial killings committed by state security forces, along with “other security forces,” including Russian private military company (PMC) elements from the Wagner Group who have been engaged in active combat. Many of these killings occurred when security forces and Russian elements suspected civilians of being affiliated with armed groups. On April 30, MINUSCA shared with authorities a list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the national defense forces and “bilaterally deployed and other” security personnel. Subsequently, in May the government announced the creation of a special commission of inquiry to shed light on alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law from December 2020 to April. Government authorities investigated these incidents and released preliminary findings in an October 2 report synopsis, although as of year’s end, the official report had not been released to the public. The government report synopsis accused armed rebel groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity; additionally, it acknowledged that extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, occupation of public buildings, and hindrances to humanitarian access were also committed by the Central African Army (FACA), internal security forces, and Russian “instructors.” As of year’s end there was no indication authorities had taken action to hold responsible officials accountable.

The United Nations reported that in the Ombella M’Poko Prefecture, from December 30, 2020, to January 20, 10 civilians were victims of summary and extrajudicial killings by the country’s armed forces and “other security forces,” a term that includes Russian PMC elements affiliated with the sanctioned Wagner Group. Killings by PMC elements of the Wagner Group were reported in local and international press by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. According to local official sources, on June 12, Wagner Group elements summoned the sultan mayor of the town of Koui, Lamido Souleymane Daouda, his deputy, and his bodyguard to accompany them to seize weapons from a rebel group. Hours later the Wagner elements returned to Koui to inform Daouda’s family that he, his deputy, and his bodyguard were killed in a landmine explosion. After discussions with his family, the Wagner elements handed over the remains of all three deceased, which observers noted showed bullet wounds and no trace of explosives. The UN’s report corroborated allegations that Daouda and his entourage were killed by Wagner Group elements.

The report also stated that Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels were responsible for approximately 61 killings targeting civilians for party affiliation or participation in the elections. On July 31, Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) rebels attacked the northwestern village of Mann near the borders of Chad and Cameroon, killing at least six civilians, according to MINUSCA sources.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances committed by or on behalf of government authorities. According to a local news report, in December 2020 members of a government-sponsored militia commonly known as the Sharks, while disguised as presidential guards, broke into Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and abducted three individuals: army officer Bombole; Staff Sergeant Amazoude; and Corporal Ringui, alias Badboy. There has been no sign of the three since that time. On February 1, Saint Claire Danmboy Balekouzou, a FACA soldier known as “Sadam,” was also allegedly kidnapped by the Sharks. His body was later found in the bordering Bimbo district of Bangui.

In a July 7 letter to President Touadera, members of the Goula ethnic community in the central town of Bria alleged 12 Goula community members were detained by government forces during the unrest that followed December 2020 polling. The letter states there had been no further contact with the individuals after their arrest. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other disappearances were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had taken action regarding those disappearances, or those abuses cited earlier (see section 1.a.).

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

Although the law defines and specifies punishment for torture and other cruel and inhuman treatments, authorities and armed groups continued to commit abuses against the civilian population. Although sentences for such crimes range from 20 years to life in prison and forced labor, impunity persisted. In August FACA soldiers stationed at the Boing neighborhood police station reportedly extorted 146,000 Central African Francs (CFA) ($254) from timber seller Alfred Doualengue and severely beat him. The online newspaper Le Tsunami published Doualengue’s photograph, which showed scars across his buttocks. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other instances of torture were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had acted regarding those abuses (see section 1.a). Impunity for human rights abuses continued to be a significant problem throughout the country’s security forces, including the army, gendarmerie, and police. According to human rights advocates, factors that contributed to impunity included judicial backlogs and fear of retaliation. The government worked with the EU and MINUSCA to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the National Commission for Human Rights and local NGOs, prison conditions did not generally meet international norms and were often harsh, life-threatening, and inhuman due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation.

Physical Conditions: According to MINUSCA, at the start of the year, the imprisoned population included 1,226 men and 65 women, three of whom were caring for infants.

The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and a women’s prison at Bimbo. In other locations, including Bossembele, Sibut, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody at police stations and gendarmerie brigades. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded the facilities.

Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees.

COVID-19 highlighted shortcomings that endangered the health and lives of detainees and prison staff. Poor hygienic detention conditions linked to overcrowding and inadequate health care increased the likelihood of infection. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, mixed juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender, as well as in smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, M’Baiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa. Detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors. There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international donors, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent experts on human rights in the country. In addition, state organs like the National Commission for Human Rights and the General Inspectorate of Justice were also authorized independently to visit detention centers.

In July and August the National Commission for Human Rights visited Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and found that both had substandard roofing and lacked sufficient food for inmates. Inmates in both lived in overcrowded cells, lacked access to health care, and experienced recurrent health problems. During remarks at the opening of the judicial year in July, President Touadera noted the state only allocated 3,330,000 CFA francs ($6,060) weekly for inmates’ food at all facilities, an average of 299 CFA francs ($0.54) per inmate per day. Touadera admitted during the speech that the amount was unacceptably low.

Improvements: Forty-seven detainees, including seven women from Ngaragba and the Bimbo-based women’s detention center received training certificates in carpentry, plumbing and manufacturing solar cookers on July 21, after three months of training sponsored by MINUSCA.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detentions and lengthy pretrial detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that persons under arrest be informed immediately of the allegations against them. Detainees must be presented before a judge within 72 hours and cannot be held longer than 144 hours without appearing before a judge. There are exceptions for those detained under national security laws and those in remote areas where there are no courts. In both cases detentions can be extended up to eight days, renewable once. Poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and an insufficient number of judges meant these requirements were not always observed. Provisional release was available for those awaiting trial, but not consistently enforced. There was a functioning bail system. Suspects were often detained incommunicado.

The law requires that defendants in felony cases involving sentences of 10 years or more be provided a lawyer. The law does not require defendants in nonfelony cases be provided a lawyer. Many felony and nonfelony defendants could not afford counsel. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 50,000 CFA francs ($91) per case, a sum low enough that it deterred many lawyers from accepting indigent defendants.

Arbitrary Arrest: Both security forces and armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals. Many arbitrary arrests occurred during the January counteroffensive by security forces and Wagner Group elements, according to reports in the local press and by NGOs. Security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 35 citizens during the counteroffensive, according to the August joint report by MINUSCA and the OHCHR. Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo was arrested in January in Bangui, accused of complicity in former president Francois Bozize’s attempted takeover by force. He was first detained in Ngaragba Prison, then transferred to the annex prison of Camp de Roux. At year’s end he remained in preventive detention, and no date had been given for his trial. In August the prosecutor of the Bambari Appeal Court (Ouaka Prefecture) reportedly fled the town to escape retribution by the Wagner Group, which he claimed accused him of collaborating with rebels, because he spoke out in favor of due process. According to the prosecutor, Russians in Ouaka often made arbitrary arrests to question detainees. Reports by Amnesty International, UN experts, and MINUSCA documented arbitrary arrests, looting of properties, and other abuses committed by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebels from the CPC.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem, as was associated overcrowding in prisons and prolongation of trial dates. During a July speech, President Touadera estimated that as many as 75 percent of prisoners in the country were in pretrial detention. Touadera added that this rate placed the country at odds with domestic requirements and international commitments. Lengthy pretrial detentions occurred in part because of a lack of affordable legal representation and low capacity of judiciary bodies.

The law provides that preventive detention is possible if the penalty incurred exceeds one year’s imprisonment and if, for the needs of the investigation, it is essential to preserve evidence and separate parties involved. In August the National Human Rights Commission visited M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and noted only eight of 40 detainees had been convicted and that the remaining inmates were in preventive detention.

Although record keeping of arrests and detentions was poor, slow investigation and processing of cases was the primary cause of lengthy pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained and understaffed, resulting in very slow case-processing times. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of quality, affordable legal services, and a poorly functioning justice system. According to UN legal experts, detainees met difficulty finding adequate legal representation, since court-appointed lawyers were often less than enthusiastic about defending detainees due to being perceived as “difficult” by magistrates. Court-appointed attorneys also believed they were not paid sufficiently for defending detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political actors exerted undue influence on it. The country’s judicial system had not recovered from 2013 attacks by Seleka rebels who destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country. Despite slight improvements in the number of judges deployed outside Bangui, the overall inadequate number of justices still hindered court operations nationwide. Many judges were unwilling to conduct proceedings outside Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing. UN legal experts explained that while some “security concerns” were legitimate, others were used to avoid deployment to underdeveloped areas outside Bangui that lacked social services, housing, and other infrastructure. For judges based in Bangui, legal advocacy organizations noted performance problems and impunity for underperformance, particularly for judges in “investigative chambers.” At the end of January, 55.2 percent of judicial staff were present at their posts across the country, according to records from MINUSCA’s Justice and Corrections Division. By the end of September, this figure increased to 70.6 percent. National criminal courts of appeal operated in two (Bouar and Bangui) of the country’s three appellate districts (Bouar, Bambari, and Bangui). The Bangui military tribunal held its second hearing in July, hearing 14 cases. In late September the Court Martial held its first criminal session in Bangui. The Military Tribunal hears cases punishable by less than 10 years, whilst the Court Martial hears cases punishable by 10 years or more.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, and salary arrears. Authorities at all levels did not always respect court orders.

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) established in 2015 operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. With the arrival of four international judges and one prosecutor between January and June, and two appellate judges from France and Germany set to arrive by the end of November, the court had its full complement of national and international judges.

In May the SCC accepted nine cases involving members of the armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) who were arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti in the southeastern portion of the country. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints; 24 of those were in various stages of investigation. Pursuant to an SCC warrant, 15 persons were also detained and were awaiting trial at Ngaragba Prison and its annex at Camp de Roux. In September the SCC announced war crimes charges against Anti-balaka leader Eugene Barret Ngaikosset.

The country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC), is a transitional justice body charged with establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. In April 2020 the National Assembly passed legislation creating the TJRRC, giving it a mandate of four years (with possible extension to five). The law charged the commission with “investigating, determining the truth, and assigning responsibly for the grave events that have marked the nation starting with the March 29, 1959, disappearance of President Barthelemy Boganda until December 31, 2019.” In July the TJRRC’s 11 commissioners, including five women, were sworn in by national authorities. Edith Douzima presided over the TJRRC. The UN Development Program and MINUSCA provided support to the TJRRC through strategic planning and training retreats in August and September.

On February 16, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened the trial of Alfred Yekatoum and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecution began the presentation of evidence against Yekatoum and Ngaissona, both former Anti-balaka leaders. Government authorities surrendered Mahamat Said Abdelkani, a former Seleka commander, to the ICC on January 24, and his initial appearance before the court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity took place on January 28 and 29. From October 12-14, the ICC held a hearing to confirm the charges against Abdelkani. The government referred the situation in the country to the ICC in 2014, and investigations continued during the year.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but this right was not always enforced. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, requires trials to be public, and states that indigent felony defendants facing sentences of 10 years or more have the right to consult a court-appointed attorney. Criminal trials use professional judges and juries selected from lists generated by magistrates in courts of appeal. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, question witnesses, and file appeals. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as needed) throughout all stages of the legal process, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. All defendants who do not speak the country’s main languages, French and Sango, are entitled to an interpreter. If this right is not respected, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the court. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity in the criminal and civil court systems, except for a new victims’ protection program in the SCC. Witness protection was a major issue in the criminal setting. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in which to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Civil courts, which are collocated with correctional courts, held regular sessions.

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

The law prohibits home searches without a warrant during preliminary investigations, except for provisions in the law that permit searches with the defendant’s consent. Once the case is under investigation by an investigating magistrate, the presence of the defendant or witnesses is sufficient. The government did not always follow this requirement. For instance, in early January former minister Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo, also a senior executive of former president Francois Bozize’s Kwa na Kwa Party, was arrested in Bangui following a search of his home. According to his lawyer, Me Crepin Mboli Goumba, Maleyombo was arrested on suspicion of sheltering pro-Bozize armed individuals in his hotel, which was being used as a rear base. According to Mboli Goumba, authorities did not present Maleyombo a warrant.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

There were numerous reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses countrywide by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and armed groups. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, rape, forced marriage, looting, destruction of property, recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, and disruption of humanitarian access.

Between July 2020 and June, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA recorded 526 cases of violations and abuses of human rights and of international humanitarian law across the country, impacting 1,221 victims, including 144 civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the CPC were responsible for 286 (54 percent) of the incidents, and the FACA, internal security forces, and other security personnel, including Russian elements from the Wagner Group, were responsible for 240 incidents (46 percent). Violations included summary and extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence, and serious violations of children’s rights. The report attributed kidnappings, attacks on peacekeepers, and looting of humanitarian organizations’ premises to CPC rebels.

Killings: In June, 14 persons were killed and two badly wounded during intercommunal clashes between Peuhl herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. The 3R rebels, Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), UPC, Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), and Anti-balaka armed groups participated in killings of civilians related to armed conflict. Additionally, reports indicated that after forming the CPC in late 2020, these armed groups committed a series of attacks that resulted in civilian deaths and the looting of homes and private properties.

On September 4, the SCC confirmed the arrest of Eugene Ngaikosset, a former captain in the presidential guard accused of multiple killings of civilians from 2005 to 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, his unit was accused of burning thousands of homes in the northeast and northwest of the country in the same period, as well as other crimes as a leader of the Anti-balaka in 2015. The SCC charged him with crimes against humanity.

Abductions: On August 24, three teenagers, ages 12 to 14, were kidnapped, allegedly by 3R rebels and CPC members, in the outskirts of Bozoum, capital of the Ouham-Pende Prefecture in the northwestern part of the country. Local authorities stated the three hostages were safely released by their captors early the next morning after carrying the rebels’ luggage into the bush. They were referred to the local gendarmerie commander for investigation.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were numerous reports throughout the year that all parties to the conflict, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebel armed groups mistreated, assaulted, and raped civilians with impunity.

The United Nations reported a significant increase in conflict-related sexual violence linked with the deterioration of the security situation following the elections. Between June and October, MINUSCA received allegations concerning 118 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, most of which involved rape. Eighty percent of incidents were attributed to armed groups, while 5 percent were attributed to national defense forces, and 7 percent to “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.” In Bangui, MINUSCA supported a safe house operated by a local NGO to provide temporary protection to survivors of sexual violence and worked with the UN Country Team to establish a working group to assist survivors in the areas of health, justice, and psychosocial and socioeconomic support. In October President Touadera named Minister Counselor of Child Protection Josiane Bemaka Soui as the country’s new focal point for sexual violence in conflict.

Military tribunals, courts martial, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. After a decade of inactivity, military courts resumed work in July. Several officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years in prison. Most were found guilty of abandoning their posts during the CPC offensive from December 2020 to January. Additionally, Arsene Laki, a divisional police commissioner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine by the Permanent Military Tribunal for beating a woman while on duty.

MINUSCA announced in September that it would withdraw Gabon’s 450-strong peacekeeping contingent in the wake of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations against some members. The Gabonese government stated it would open its own investigation into the charges and dispatched an investigation team to the country.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the CPC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often forced to marry combatants or were used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

Despite signing the United Nation’s Standard Operation Procedures proscribing the use of child soldiers, the MPC, FPRC, and UPC continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children within these groups.

The country is party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced up to 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition, the law establishes that a child who has served in an armed force or group is a victim and should not be subject to criminal prosecution or that service, and mandates social reintegration mechanisms for victims.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. The focal point for children’s affairs in the unit in charge of the national Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation program, confirmed in August that there were still former child soldiers detained in Ngaragba Prison, because the government was unable to find alternative centers to hold and rehabilitate them.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that humanitarian organizations’ ability to access remote areas worsened because of insecurity. Beginning in December 2020, insecurity forced the closure of the country’s main road, leading to severe shortages of relief commodities. The government continued to impose restrictions on humanitarian travel due to insecurity, and operations by FACA and affiliated forces led to temporary suspensions of assistance in affected areas. Humanitarian organizations suspended activities in areas with high levels of armed group activity as a preventive measure. Additionally, the increase in the use of explosive devices along roads during the year, as well as attacks on key infrastructure such as bridges, limited relief actors’ ability to travel by road. The United Nations recorded 314 security incidents affecting humanitarian staff between January and September, leading to three deaths and 23 injuries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also reported “a rise in the number of reports of attacks on humanitarian workers and medical services” during the year, and in its most recent appeal, the ICRC noted that health facilities were closed, operating at limited capacity, or were damaged or looted during fighting.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

In one case the government restricted online content (see above Censorship and Content Restrictions). There were no credible reports that the government otherwise monitored or restricted private online communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

During the year the government denied several requests to protest from civil society groups, including E Zingo Biani, citing insecurity in Bangui, and subsequently dispersed demonstrators. The government tolerated demonstrations by groups closer to the regime. For instance, in May several thousand persons, mostly from groups associated with President Touadera’s MCU party, marched across Bangui to denounce Special Representative of the Secretary General Mankeur Ndiaye’s statements regarding the solution to the country’s crisis being primarily diplomatic, and not military, during an interview with Radio France International. Security forces did not stop them.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting unregistered organizations from organizing for purposes of political advocacy remained in place. All political organizations in the country must register with the Ministry of Administration.

The constitution grants the rights to freedom of association to nationals and foreigners, including the rights to establish NGOs, political parties, or religious groups. The law defines NGOs as associations having nondiscriminatory, apolitical, and nonprofit purposes, which aim to carry out activities of public interest that contribute to the achievement of development objectives. Political parties are organizations that prepare candidates to compete in elections.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Armed groups, criminals, and Russian elements from the Wagner Group made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, Wagner Group elements, armed groups, and criminals frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Additionally, due to the significant number of police, gendarme, customs, FACA, and armed group checkpoints, it was difficult to move freely between Bangui and provincial cities. There were reports that members of the Peuhl ethnic group were singled out for particularly abusive treatment and heightened scrutiny at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of October OCHA noted there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to the armed conflict. Humanitarian actors aided IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of refugees. The government worked with the United Nations and the broader humanitarian community on safe, voluntary return of the country’s IDPs and refugees through a durable solutions working group. The government adopted and followed humanitarian principles for returnees. While there were no reports of forced returns, there were reports of forced evictions, such as a June eviction in Bambari (see below). There were multiple reports of instances in which government forces and Wagner Group elements also obstructed humanitarian organizations from providing services to civilians, including the displaced. Since April security incidents involving explosive devices in the western part of the country resulted in deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers and disrupted humanitarian access, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian actors to restrict movements. Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, including those associated with armed groups, when venturing outside of camps. Women and girls were often at risk of sexual violence in and outside IDP sites. In many affected areas, poor access and insecurity limited humanitarian assistance. From June to August humanitarian international NGOs had limited access to populations south of the town of Alindao due to military operations. When operations subsided in September, international NGOs were able to serve the affected populations. The presence of armed groups also delayed or obstructed humanitarian activities. OCHA reported that more than 8,500 individuals residing in an IDP site in the central town of Bambari, most of them ethnic Peuhl, were forcefully displaced by armed elements on June 4. MINUSCA’s human rights division reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements were responsible. Two days later the site was set afire in circumstances that remained to be clarified. With extremely limited capacity, the government relied on MINUSCA to provide protection and humanitarian actors to provide multisector services to IDPs. Humanitarian organizations remained concerned that armed group members continued to hide in IDP sites, carrying out recruitment activities and putting IDPs and humanitarian staff at risk. Violence increased humanitarian needs, which exceeded existing capacities. OCHA estimated that 2.8 million of the country’s approximately five million inhabitants required humanitarian assistance and protection. Security concerns related to criminality, as well as armed group, FACA, and Russian Wagner Group activity prevented aid organizations from operating in some areas, particularly in the northwest.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: Internal conflicts made it difficult for the country to routinely provide security and protection for persons within its borders. The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR restarted voluntary repatriations of refugees from the country living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom fled across the Oubangui River during violence in 2013. An initial group of 250 was welcomed back at Bangui’s Port Amont during an October 22 ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Henri Dondra.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

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. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

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 abuses and violations of law. Government officials were typically cooperative and responsive.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In March the commission investigated living conditions in Ngaragba Prison and the M’Baiki Prison. The commission publicized its findings in the local press.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of physical and sexual violence, as well as sexual exploitation. The law prohibits rape of all persons regardless of gender, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by several armed rebel groups continued to threaten security, as did the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of conflict. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison and prohibits all forms of violence against women. Domestic violence against women was common, including physical and verbal abuse and spousal rape. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year for domestic violence, although many courts did not operate for much of the year due to instability throughout the country. According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 52 percent suffered verbal abuse, and 32 percent were raped.

Women and girls were particularly affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Decades of unrest and harmful traditions and cultural practices in the country exacerbated gender-based violence, in particular rape, forced marriage, and domestic violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services, to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increased the risk of spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In Bangui, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) observed a significant increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence; the number of consultations linked to such attacks in its Bangui-based Tongolo center rose from 173 in December 2020 to 421 in February. Local NGOs like the National Association for the Support of Free Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence in Situations of Distress, the Flamboyants, and the Nengo (“Dignity” in the country’s predominant Sango language) Project assisted victims of sexual violence.

Increased instances of sexual violence corresponded to rising armed group activity and clashes between CPC rebels and the FACA after December 2020. Between January and June, MINUSCA’s human rights office documented 131 incidents of sexual violence connected to the conflict, including 115 rapes. Of these, 19 cases involved government security forces and Wagner Group elements, while 112 involved CPC rebels. For example during the electoral period, 3R and Anti-balaka rebels seized control of Bouar town in Nana-Mambere Prefecture. MINUSCA recorded 21 cases of rape pursuant to this single incident.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and establishes penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. When FGM/C results in the death of the victim, sentences can reach life terms with hard labor and a substantial monetary fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women were subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. One percent of girls ages 10 to 14 were mutilated. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice appeared to be decreasing, according to 2018 data, the most recent available. Information on what may be causing this trend was unavailable.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime. In August the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The most recent available data on reproductive health is based on 2019 surveys. According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 MICS Findings Report, 82 percent of women, and 89 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 years did not use contraception. Individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law authorizes abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape. The MICS 2010 survey indicated that the abortion rate was 7 percent among women ages 15 to 45.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor contributing to the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate health care. According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the most recent available, there were 873 health-care establishments in the country, of which approximately 52 were hospitals. Of these, 50 percent were small, often rural doctor’s offices, and 44 percent were clinics. Most health-care establishments received medicine, supplies, and other support from humanitarian organizations including UN organizations, the ICRC, and Doctors Without Borders.

Only 19 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS 2018-2019). The birth rate was high at 6.4 per woman (MICS 2018-2019) and 43 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS 2018-2019). Lacking sexual and reproductive education contributed to early pregnancy among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). Only 53 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas). Data from the 2018-2019 MICS survey indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The government worked closely with the International Organization for Migration and MINUSCA to train and deploy the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children (UMIRR). UMIRR opened a new office in Bouar in September to reach victims of sexual violence in the country’s northwestern region. Emergency contraception was not widely available to women as a part of the country’s clinical management of rape. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Menstrual health and hygiene issues severely impacted girls’ ability to attend school. Socioeconomic barriers, rather than explicit policies, often prevented pregnant girls from attending school.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but the government did not enforce the formal law effectively, and discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Nomadic Peuhl pastoralists were often the victims of violence. Their cattle wealth made them frequent targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Peuhl were often perceived as foreign because of their transnational migratory patterns. They were also associated with CPC-affiliated armed groups that claimed to represent Peuhl interests. Ethnic killings often occurred in relation to transhumance movements, a major source of livelihood for Peuhl. In recent years some Peuhl pastoralists armed themselves against attacks from farmers objecting to the presence of their grazing cattle. Transhumance movements brought Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim, and Christian farming communities into conflict, which waned during the rainy season and increased as cattle movements resume during the dry season.

Intercommunal clashes also took place in June between Peul herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in the village of Tiri, near N’dele. The government took no action to prosecute or investigate these killings and many others, in view of the ongoing conflict in the country.

Peuhl community leaders reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements indiscriminately targeted Peuhl civilians during military operations against the 3R rebels in the western part of the country. International community sources assessed that the government’s moving 8,000 majority-Peuhl IDPs from a site in Bambari in June was a case of forced displacement (see also section 1.e., Internally Displaced Persons).

Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Goula/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year acts of violence were recorded between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to N’dele.

The government had no programs to address factors behind racial or ethnic biases.

Indigenous Peoples

Traditionally, forest dwelling Ba’Aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were used as slaves by members of other local ethnic groups. Even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far less than those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups. Some NGOs described the Ba’Aka as “second-class citizens.”

The vast majority of Ba’Aka did not have birth certificates and consequently could not register to be political candidates and vote. They often also had trouble registering for school. Ba’Aka, and Ba’Aka women in particular, frequently were exploited and coerced into servitude or working long hours for “in-kind” salaries of fabric or other household goods. Access to health care, particularly prenatal healthcare, was poor and many Ba’Aka women gave birth in the forest instead of in clinics and other medical facilities. A local Human Rights Center, cosponsored by the World Wildlife Fund employed one lawyer who assisted the Ba’Aka with legal cases. To date, three persons were found guilty of exploiting Ba’Aka labor.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration was less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately for many reasons including a registration deadline of one month, registration costs, or distances to government facilities. Many citizens’ birth certificates and civil status documents were lost during the conflict. Unregistered children were at times unable to access education and other social services. During the year NGOs assisted with documentation activities. In July the Norwegian Refugee Council held mobile hearings with courts in the town of Alindao to issue birth certificates to children in need. The initiative provided more than 3,000 children between the ages of six and 13 with identity documents.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students pay for books, supplies, and transportation. Few indigenous Ba’Aka children attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’Aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is the government’s entity charged with investigating abuses against women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2018 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls in the country married before age 18 and more than one-quarter before age 15. Early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members during the year. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In June the government enacted the Child Protection Act, which provides a lifetime sentence and significant monetary fines for trafficking in persons involving minors. The age of consent for sexual activity is 18. Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.). From January to June, MINUSCA documented 84 cases of conflict-related child rape. In June the deputy headmaster of the Castors Girls School in Bangui was arrested and imprisoned for having raped a girl, age 12.

Displaced Children: Conflict-related forced displacement disproportionately affected children. UNICEF estimated 168,000 children were internally displaced within the country; and approximately 70,000 of them were not able to return home. The situation of children already displaced remained extremely worrying, because many were separated from their families and were at greater risk of child rights violations, such as being abducted, threatened, or forced to join armed groups.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities faced unique challenges in accessing education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities presuming that they were represented in the applicant pool. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. Statistics covering implementation of these provisions were unavailable.

According to an August World Food Program report, there was a lack of data on persons with disabilities, their needs, and the barriers they face. This lack of data impacted the ability of humanitarian responders to plan, deliver, and evaluate inclusive activities. Data from 2020 collected by Humanity & Inclusion showed that 87 percent of persons with disabilities reported difficulties accessing nonfood item distributions, food, and cash. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection’s (Ministry of Labor) Labor Inspectorate was responsible for protecting children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and as a result, many individuals with HIV and AIDS did not disclose their status. Many persons living with HIV and AIDS had difficulty accessing appropriate treatment. According to a 2019 survey, HIV prevalence was 3.5 percent among adults. An August UNAIDS assessment of the gender dimensions of HIV prevalence in the country stated 56 percent of new HIV infections in the country were among women, and 60 percent of all persons living with HIV in the country were women. The prevalence of HIV among persons ages 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent according to the 2010 MICS report; contacts at the Institute Pasteur reported the infection rate in Bangui was approximately 18 percent. MINUSCA sources assessed that the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV was the result of protracted insecurity, humanitarian crises, and retrograde social norms. The same study identified disproportionately high HIV and AIDS prevalence rates amongst other socially stigmatized populations like sex workers (15 percent) and men who have sex with men (6.5 percent).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years and a substantial monetary fine. During the year there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTQI+ persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. One openly LGBTQI+ organization based in Bangui, Central African Alternative, carried out health-based advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security-force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Strikes are limited to work-related matters. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning freedom of association in the formal sector. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights, but enforcement was inconsistent. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The labor court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports forced labor occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. In previous years the government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of ongoing programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes but were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Government officials allegedly subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, frequently in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. There were reports of one indigenous Ba’Aka minor being removed from a situation of forced domestic labor in Bangui.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers and using them as porters and assistants at illegal checkpoints during the year (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender, minority status, and national origin. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting or prohibiting the employment of women in some tasks, jobs, and industries. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premises of businesses where employees work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The labor code states the Ministry of Labor sets minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector were established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was less than the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other analogous crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may compel an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

The law provides that workers may remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but were seldom applied and insufficient to enforce compliance. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well, although foreign workers must meet residency requirements to join a union. Employers commonly violated safety and health standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. Miners often supplemented these earnings with either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

The government did not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other occupational safety and health statistics, and officials failed to respond to direct requests for information from the International Labor Organization in previous years.

Informal Sector: A 2020 World Bank Group report stated that most economic activity in the country was informal, conducted by micro, small-, and medium-sized enterprises representing 40 to 60 percent of GDP. The minimum wage applied only to the formal sector, leaving most of the labor force of the country in the informal sector without a minimum wage. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector and laborers in the artisanal mining sector. While most labor protection laws applied to the informal sector, they were not enforced, and violations of wage, hour, and safety regulations were common.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine of March 27, 2014; Resolution 76/179 on the Situation of Human Rights in the Temporarily Occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine, of December 16, 2021; and Resolution 76/70 on the Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov of December 9, 2021, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In 2014 Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Report on Human Rights for Russia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the Republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. Russia’s September 17-19 nationwide Duma elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Federal Investigative Committee, and Office of the Prosecutor General, applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. The Federal Security Service also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. 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 Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; forced disappearances by Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the occupation judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; serious restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There was one new report of occupation authorities committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to human rights groups, on May 11, Russian security forces fatally shot 51-year-old Uzbek citizen Nabi Rakhimov during a raid and search of his residence in the village of Dubki near Simferopol. Russia’s Federal Investigative Service (FSB) claimed Rakhimov was a suspected terrorist and was shot during a gun battle with officers. Lawyers of Rakhimov’s family characterized the FSB’s account as a cover-up and claimed FSB officers likely tortured Rakhimov before shooting him. Occupation authorities refused to turn Rakhimov’s body over to the family. On August 9, a Simferopol “court” rejected an appeal of Rakhimov’s widow for the body to be returned. As of September her lawyer planned to appeal the decision to the “supreme court.”

Impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.

There were still no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. OHCHR reported that 43 individuals had gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 11 of these individuals remained unknown. OHCHR reported occupation authorities had not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in 2014 Revolution of Dignity activists Ivan Bondarets and Valeriy Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown.

According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, two Crimean Tatars reported missing during the year were found dead. Nineteen-year-old Crimean Tatar Osman Adzhyosmanov went missing on July 2; his body was found on August 8. Twenty-three-year-old Crimean Tatar Aider Dzhemalyadynov went missing on July 26 and was found dead on August 5. As of mid-September, occupation authorities were reportedly investigating the circumstances of the deaths. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including OHCHR and the OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.

Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

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

There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example on March 10, the FSB detained freelance RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko in Crimea on charges of “illegal production, repair, or modifying of firearms.” After his initial arrest, OHCHR reported that Yesypenko was tortured by FSB officers for several hours to obtain a forced confession on cooperating with Ukrainian intelligence agencies. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities reportedly denied Yesypenko access to a lawyer during his first 28 days in detention and tortured him with electric shocks, beatings, and sexual violence in order to obtain a confession.

Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 5, occupation authorities transferred Ernest Ibrahimov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for forced psychiatric evaluation. Ibrahimov was one of seven Muslims arrested on February 17 and charged with having attended a mosque allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” group but is legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of September 1, approximately 16 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to an August report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.

Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts and to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained of poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On April 15, the Kharkiv Human Right Protection Group reported that Ivan Yatskin, a Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in 2019 on charges of treason, had been held in a basement cell infested with bedbugs, mold, and rats since April 9 after being transferred from a prison in Moscow to Simferopol. Yatskin’s lawyer claimed Yatskin’s cellmates repeatedly threatened to harm him and his family members. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, occupation authorities withheld medicine Yatskin needed to treat a leg ulcer and chest injury. On May 21, occupation authorities sentenced Yatskin to 11 years in prison. Human rights groups called the ruling politically motivated and considered Yatskin a political prisoner.

There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Kostiantyn Shyrinh, a 61-year-old Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in May 2020 on charges of espionage and suffering from cardiovascular disease, was consistently denied medical treatment by occupation authorities at the Simferopol pretrial detention facility despite numerous requests for medical assistance. During an August 12 court appearance, Shyrinh required emergency medical treatment, and an ambulance was called at the request of his lawyer. Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Administration: Authorities generally did not investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment. Authorities sometimes did not allow prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance. According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur, which observers believed were a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. Security forces conducted regular raids on Crimean Tatar villages and the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, accompanied by detentions, interrogations, and often criminal charges. The Crimean Resource Center recorded 156 detentions and 41 interrogations that were politically motivated during the first six months of the year.

On September 3-4, the FSB conducted a series of night raids on homes of Crimean Tatars in Sevastopol and detained five Crimean Tatars, including First Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Mejlis (the executive representative body of Crimean Tatars) Nariman Dzhelyal, on charges of involvement in the alleged sabotage of a gas pipeline in Crimea. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities prevented the detainees and their family members from calling lawyers during the raids, failed to properly identify themselves, and refused to inform the family members where the men were being taken. Occupation authorities reportedly held Dzhelyal in handcuffs and with a bag over his head in a basement cell for the first 24 hours of detention and tortured at least three of the detainees, including Dzhelyal, to force confessions. On October 28, an occupation court extended Dzhelyal’s detention to January 23, 2022. Ukrainian government officials dismissed the charges against the men as politically motivated fabrications.

Immediately following the arrests, dozens of Crimeans peacefully protested outside the FSB building in Simferopol, demanding information regarding the five Crimean Tatars who were being held incommunicado. FSB officers subsequently detained more than 50 Crimean Tatars and reportedly forced them into buses, beat them, and held them in different police precincts where they were questioned without lawyers present, according to Ukraine’s human rights ombudsperson.

The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little to no evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, of the 156 individuals arrested between January and June, 126 were Crimean Tatars. The HRMMU noted raids were often carried out on the pretext of purported need to seize materials linking suspects to groups that were banned in the Russian Federation, but lawful in Ukraine.

For example, according to press reports, on August 17, the FSB raided houses of Crimean Tatars in various parts of the peninsula. Five individuals were arrested during the raids, including four Crimean Tatar activists and a Crimean Tatar religious leader. According to human rights groups, security forces planted incriminating “evidence” during the raids and denied detained individuals access to lawyers. Of the five men arrested during the raid, two were charged with organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization (Hizb ut-Tahrir, a legal organization in Ukraine), which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The rest were charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were also targeted for raids and arbitrary arrests. For example on March 11, Russian security forces in Yalta conducted searches of nine homes belonging to members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As part of the searches, occupation authorities arrested 42-year-old Taras Kuzio on charges of financing an “extremist” organization and seized electronic equipment and financial assets from his home. Jehovah’s Witnesses is banned in Russia, and this religious group is deemed an “extremist” organization under Russian law, but it is legal in Ukraine. As of late October, Kuzio was under house arrest. On March 29, a Sevastopol court sentenced member of Jehovah’s Witnesses Viktor Stashevskyy to six and one-half years’ imprisonment on “extremism” charges. According to local media, prosecutors relied on testimony from a secret witness to cast Stashevskyy’s private discussions of the Bible as illegal “organizational activities” on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Failure to submit to conscription into the Russian military was also used as a basis for arbitrary arrests. Since 2015 Russia conducted annual spring and fall conscriptions in Crimea, and failure to comply is punishable by criminal penalty. As of September 30, NGOs estimated nearly 31,000 persons had been conscripted since the beginning of the occupation. As of September 1, the Crimean Human Rights Group documented 244 criminal cases brought against Crimean residents for evading military service in the Russian Armed Forces.

Detainees were often denied access to a lawyer during interrogation. For example, occupation authorities reportedly denied RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko access to a lawyer for 28 days following his March 10 detention, during which he was reportedly tortured (see section 1.c).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by occupation authorities. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi reported that on May 11, occupation authorities delivering a notice of arrest to her client threatened to take actions to have her disbarred from Russia-controlled courts. Human rights groups reported Hemedzhi faced long-standing pressure for her involvement in defending Crimean Tatar activists, including in August 2020, when a Russia-controlled court in Crimea privately ruled that Hemedzhi violated court procedures by speaking out of turn during a video conference hearing. Such rulings could place a lawyer’s standing with the bar in jeopardy.

Trial Procedures

Defendants in politically motivated cases were increasingly transferred to the Russian Federation for trial. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea).

Occupation authorities limited the ability to have a public hearing. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities banned family members and media from the courtroom for hearings related to charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership and other activities deemed subversive under Russian law. The courts justified the closed hearings by citing vague concerns regarding the “safety of the participants.” The courts failed to publish judgments in these cases.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency.

Occupation authorities intimidated witnesses to influence their testimony. On September 7, Russian security forces detained former member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Edlar Mensytov at his home near Simferopol. Occupation authorities reportedly interrogated Mensytov as a possible suspect in the case of the alleged August 23 sabotage of a gas pipeline (see section 1.d.). Mensytov was denied access to a lawyer during the interrogation and released after one day of detention. Human rights groups expressed concerns that occupation authorities had detained Mensytov in retaliation for his participation as a defense witness at a June 18 trial of prominent exiled Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, whom occupation authorities charged in absentia with attempting to illegally cross into occupied Crimea.

The HRMMU reported that occupation authorities retroactively applied Russia’s laws to actions that took place before the occupation of the peninsula began.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of late October, 124 Crimeans were being deprived of freedom in occupied Crimea or in Russia on political or religious charges, 89 of whom were Crimean Tatar Muslims prosecuted on terrorism charges.

Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media.

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 32 raids between January and June; 13 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities exercised widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Occupation authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights activists, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to express any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes and testimonies from unidentified witnesses, as evidence in court. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on September 27, prosecutors in a hearing involving five Crimean Tatar activists charged with allegedly organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization presented as evidence illegal wiretaps of purported conversations between the defendants and a secret witness. The five men were arrested in 2019 by occupation authorities during mass raids on Crimean Tatar homes in and around Simferopol. The prosecution’s purported “expert” witnesses claimed the recordings, which human rights groups characterized as innocuous discussions of politics and religion, were evidence of terrorist activity. The defense questioned whether the recordings had been edited. On July 6, in a separate case involving five other Crimean Tatar activists detained in the same 2019 raids on terrorism-related charges, prosecutors reportedly introduced testimony to the court from an unidentified witness. According to the accused men’s lawyers, the unidentified witness was an FSB agent who had provided similar testimony in several other cases. The lawyers claimed the court rejected their petition to reveal the identity of the witness. As of September the men were being held at a detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices, including the press and other media, to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” In July 2020 occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibits the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea further deprived residents of the ability to exercise freedom of expression, by preventing them from publicly criticizing and disseminating information concerning reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for speaking or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on March 22, the Russia-controlled prosecutor’s office for the Nizhnegorsk district in Crimea formally warned Crimean Tatar Akhmadzhon Kadyrov that his recent public statements could constitute “extremism.” The written warning referenced a video posted to social media on March 7 in which Kadyrov denied that Crimean Tatars were terrorists and spoke about the suffering and injustices Crimean Tatars experienced under Russia’s occupation. The “prosecutor’s” warning claimed Kadyrov’s criticisms of Russia’s judicial proceedings and calls of support for Crimean Tatar political prisoners indicated a “negative attitude towards law enforcement and judicial officials.”

Occupation authorities continued to ban the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols as “extremist.” Human rights groups claimed violations of this law were rare during the year because of fewer residents displaying such symbols than in previous years, reportedly to avoid prosecution.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example on June 1, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea found Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov guilty of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity and organizing “mass riots.” The court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison. The charges were linked to Chubarov’s role in organizing a 2014 peaceful demonstration in front of the Crimean parliament in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on October 25, Russian occupation authorities arrested 21 men, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had gathered outside of a court in Simferopol to observe a hearing for three Crimean Tatar political prisoners. Crimean Solidarity journalists Ruslan Paralamov and Dlyaver Ibragimov, who were reporting on and filming the gathering, were charged with administrative offenses related to the violation of public order.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example on July 22, occupation authorities arrested 27-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdulla Ibrahimov after conducting a search of his father’s home and the family’s store in Evpatoria. Occupation authorities reportedly filed administrative charges against Abdulla for publicly displaying the symbols of “extremist” organizations, in connection to his alleged posting of a symbol for Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media in 2013 (before Russia’s occupation of Crimea). Abdulla was released on July 25.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

On April 20, occupation authorities fined Bekir Mamutov, the editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim and member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, for his newspaper’s publishing of the 2020 UN secretary-general’s report on the human rights situation in Crimea, according to the HRMMU. Occupation authorities reportedly claimed the newspaper violated a Russian law that prohibits the press from publishing information regarding the Mejlis without noting that its activities are prohibited in Russia. Mamutov paid a fine of 4,000 rubles ($55).

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example on May 19, the FSB searched the home of Crimean Solidarity journalist Zydan Adzhykelyamov. According to Adzhykelyamov, police inspected his Quran and notes from recent trials he had covered. Police reportedly also searched the adjacent home of his parents. Adzhykelyamov claimed police asked him to sign an administrative document related to the search, but he refused to do so without a lawyer present. Adzhykelyamov claimed police conducted the search in retaliation for his reporting on the May 11 killing of Nabi Rakhimov, who was fatally shot by FSB officers during a raid of his home (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content concerning Crimea they disliked. As of August 12, occupation authorities had blocked 27 Ukrainian websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities continued to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only eight of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Occupation authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, in 2019 occupation authorities arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleh Prykhodko on charges of terrorism and possession of explosives after they purportedly found explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. Human rights groups claimed the charges were retaliation for Prykhodko’s displaying of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car, for which he was fined in 2019. On March 3, a Russian court sentenced the 62-year-old Prykhoko to five years’ imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

According to the June 2020 UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented or prohibited by occupation authorities.”

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities routinely denied permission to hold assemblies based on political beliefs, notably to opponents of the occupation, or those seeking to protest the actions of the occupation authorities. Those who gathered without permission were regularly charged with administrative offenses. Expansive rules regarding types of gatherings that required permits and selective enforcement of the rules made it difficult for protesters to avoid such offenses. For example, according to media accounts, on January 23, police shut down a silent rally in downtown Simferopol of approximately 100 persons in support of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Security forces reportedly cordoned off the area, demanded participants produce identification documents, and took photographs of the participants. Media outlets reported that police detained approximately 15 participants for three hours and forced them to sign documents describing their participation in the event, which security forces claimed was an illegal rally. Activists noted police failed to demonstrate why the gathering required a permit, given that the participants did not shout slogans, carry banners, or organize the event in advance.

Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though preauthorization is not required for individual protests. For example, according to Crimean Solidarity, on May 21, the Krasnohvardiyskyy “district court” ruled that Zelyha Abhayrova’s October 2020 one-person protest the prosecution of her son constituted an unauthorized assembly. The “court” announced similar decisions against Emina Abdulhanieva and Zura Emyruseynova on May 22, ruling that the women had illegally coordinated the actions in support of their sons to occur simultaneously. All three women were fined 10,000 rubles ($137).

There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minority groups. For example on June 1, a Russia-controlled court in Crimea fined the Light to the World Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith 30,000 rubles ($411) for unlawful missionary activity, citing its failure to affix a religious organization label to booklets on display inside the church lobby.

A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations, which, as the HRMMU noted, restricted the ability to assemble to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade” peaceful assembly.

There were reports occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

Freedom of Association

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted the exercise of freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities that opposes Russia’s occupation of Crimea. During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example on May 14, Crimean Tatar activist Seytosman Karaliyev received a letter from police in Sudak warning him against participating in gatherings related to the May 18 Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide, as they might constitute “extremist” activities. At least five other Crimean Tatar activists and journalists received similar “preventive warnings” in advance of the May 18 day of remembrance.

According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russia sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants, whose secret testimony was used in trials of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People remained banned for purported “extremism” despite a decision by the International Court of Justice holding that occupation authorities must “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Approximately 50,000 residents of Crimea were registered as IDPs by the Ukrainian government on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014. Nonetheless, Russian occupation authorities conducted voting in Crimea for the September 19 Russia State Duma elections. Occupation authorities claimed a voter turnout rate of 49.75 percent. Independent observers and elections experts alleged massive electoral fraud, including coerced voting by state employees and ballot stuffing, among other irregularities. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Russia’s elections in Crimea as illegal and stated it would hold responsible those who organized and conducted the illegal voting there.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on April 6, occupation authorities detained the head of the investigation department of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” in Simferopol on suspicion of accepting a bribe of 7.5 million rubles ($103,000). He allegedly agreed to accept the bribe in exchange for ending an investigation of a suspect in a criminal case.

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

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the OSCE and the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Domestic violence remained a serious problem in occupied Crimea; however, occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights organizations made it difficult to assess its prevalence.

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

Women in Crimea accessed reproductive health care through services funded by the Russian occupation authorities, private insurance, and NGO programs; however, no Ukrainian or international monitors had access to Crimea, making it difficult to assess the state of reproductive health care there.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Since the beginning of the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The August UN secretary-general’s report noted, “The activities of the Mejlis remained prohibited in Crimea.”

There were reports that Russian occupation authorities openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatar was the sole instruction language for 119 classes. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses (see section 2.b.).

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags and symbols (see section 2.a.).

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

Ethnic Ukrainians also faced discrimination by occupation authorities. Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the Crimean Resource Center, schools in Crimea no longer provided instruction in Ukrainian. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities did not permit churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of these churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU to leave properties it had rented for years. On August 8, occupation authorities forcibly entered an OCU church in Balky while a religious service was underway and forced the priest to end the service. Occupation authorities filed administrative charges against the priest for allegedly conducting unlawful missionary activities.

The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed in 2019 following a ruling by occupation authorities that its cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by authorities to allow it to register.

Children

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. The Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, the Jewish population in Crimea was approximately 10,000 to 15,000, with most living in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts; however, Russian occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights groups limited their ability to properly monitor anti-Semitic acts on the peninsula.

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

Human rights groups and LGBTQI+ activists reported that most LGBTQI+ individuals fled Crimea after Russia’s occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert received reports of increased violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in Crimea as well as the use of homophobic propaganda employed by the occupation authorities. LGBTQI+ persons reportedly were frequently subjected to beatings in public spaces and entrapped by organized groups through social networks. The council’s report noted, “This environment created an atmosphere of fear and terror for members of the community, with related adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.”

According to the HRMMU, NGOs working on access to health care among vulnerable groups found it impossible to advocate for better access to health care for LGBTQI+ persons due to fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTQI+ group from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTQI+ individuals faced increasing restrictions on their exercise of free expression and peaceful assembly, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would not be in effect after 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to the exercise of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian passports faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea. Child labor in amber and coal mining remained a problem in Crimea.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018. In January 2019 the National Independent Electoral Commission declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the 2018 presidential election. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, which stated the results did not match those of their observation mission. The 2019 inauguration of President Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police, which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security. In reality, however, these forces focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard, and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the Congolese National Police, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities exercised limited control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Conflict between government military forces and the more than 15 significant and cohesive illegal armed groups continued in the eastern provinces of the country. In response the president announced a state of siege in the Ituri and North Kivu Provinces on May 6, which parliament repeatedly extended and remained in effect at year’s end. The state of siege transfers powers from civilian to military authorities, provides for increased police powers, extends the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilian criminal offenses, restricts certain fundamental rights and freedoms, and suspends immunity from prosecution for certain elected officials (including national and provincial deputies and senators).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by illegal armed groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups, and indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, although there was impunity for many such abuses. Authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish those who were responsible, particularly at higher levels. The government convicted some officials on counts of murder, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and corruption, and sometimes punished security force officials who committed abuses.

Illegal armed groups continued to commit abuses in the eastern provinces and the Kasai region. Additionally, large-scale killings by ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo persisted in parts of North Kivu and Ituri. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and gender-based violence, which was widespread even in areas with no armed conflict, by both government and armed groups. Illegal armed groups also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and subjected children and adults to forced labor. The government took military action against illegal armed groups and investigated and prosecuted some armed group members and the state security forces for human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against illegal armed groups (IAGs) in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) committed 149 violations of the right to life. For example, UNJHRO reported that in February, a FARDC soldier with the 2103rd regiment shot and killed two girls who had allegedly just stolen from a shop. The UNJHRO also reported that in March in South Kivu province, two FARDC noncommissioned officers from the 2202nd battalion killed two men from the Banyamulenge community and injured one woman. The victims were returning from a market when the two soldiers tried to force them to stop and shot them when they refused. The UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers were responsible for the extrajudicial execution of nine civilians and sexual violence against five women and three children in Tanganyika Province. On June 30, approximately eight FARDC personnel raped and killed four women in Minembwe. A court convicted six FARDC personnel to life imprisonment for murder and attempted murder, while two convicted of rape were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

According to the UNJHRO, in October Congolese National Police (PNC) agents committed 56 violations of the right to life, including 47 victims of extrajudicial executions. In February for example, the UNJHRO reported that in Buvira, Nyiragongo Territory, a PNC officer shot and killed a man who was returning from field work when he failed to produce his identification card.

Military courts had primary responsibility for investigating whether security force killings were justified and for pursuing prosecutions. Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as mobile hearings supported by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The UNJHRO continued to document appointments to command positions, including for military operations, of FARDC and PNC officers against whom there were serious allegations that they bore responsibility – direct or command responsibility – for human rights violations.

IAGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). IAGs recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, government officials, and others. In October, ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) carried out 13 attacks in the villages of Keterain and Matadi, raising the monthly death toll of ISIS-DRC attacks in Beni to 25.

On September 21, the High Military Court at Ndolo Prison in Kinshasa began hearings in the trial of the killing of Floribert Chebeya, the prominent executive director of the human rights NGO Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), and disappearance of his driver and VSV member Fidele Bazana in Kinshasa in June 2010. A new trial began for two recently arrested defendants, PNC Senior Commissioner Christian Kenga Kenga and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jacques Mugabo, who were previously convicted and sentenced to death in absentia but acquitted on appeal in 2015. In October testimony Mugabo confessed to having participated in the murders of Chebeya and Bazana. Later in the year, the court also heard testimony implicating former PNC Inspector General John Numbi in Chebeya’s killing. In March Numbi disappeared from his Lubumbashi farm near the Zambian border and reportedly fled the country, being officially declared a deserter in June.

The International Criminal Court continued to conduct an open investigation in the country. In March the Appeals Chamber upheld the conviction and sentence of Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese warlord, on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Also in March the Trial Chamber delivered an order on reparations to victims against Ntaganda to be implemented through the Trust Fund for Victims.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and sometimes detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods. Despite the president’s promise to grant the United Nations access to all detention facilities, some ANR prisons remained hidden and impossible to access.

Amid a spate of killings of journalists in North Kivu and Ituri, journalist Pius Manzikala of Ruwenzori Voice Radio Mutwanga disappeared in December 2020. The FARDC officially confirmed Manzikala’s death, but his body had not yet been found.

IAGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports the SSF continued to abuse and torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. Impunity among the FARDC for mistreatment was a problem, although the government continued to make limited progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The UNJHRO reported that during the first half of the year, 84 PNC officers, 196 FARDC soldiers, and 122 members of armed groups were convicted of acts constituting human rights violations, reflecting a significant effort by judicial authorities to combat impunity.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Of the 32 allegations against Congolese military personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions from 2015 to the present, the United Nations repatriated six perpetrators, all of whom received prison time upon return to the country. The United Nations and the local government were conducting 27 investigations that remained pending as of September.

During the year the government acted to increase respect for human rights by the security forces. The PNC has a special Child Protection and Sexual Violence Prevention Squadron, and much police training addressed sexual and gender-based violence, such as mining police training in North and South Kivu and community policing programs in Haut-Katanga and Eastern Kasai. From January through June, the UNJHRO supported 46 capacity-building sessions on international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence for a total of 1,705 participants from both the FARDC and PNC. MONUSCO also collaborated with the FARDC to screen recruits and prevent children from joining the military.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without providing them access to family or legal counsel.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape), food shortages, and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population, as well as prison escapes. The UNJHRO reported that detention center conditions deteriorated during the year, particularly those in western provinces, where increases in the prison population and a lack of upkeep contributed to the decay. The UNJHRO recorded a total of 154 deaths in detention through June, a 42 percent decrease from the same period in the previous year. Malnutrition, poor hygiene, lack of access to medical care, and mistreatment were the primary causes of these deaths. A human rights activist attributed the decrease in deaths to improved nutrition.

Local media reported that the Ministry of Justice, which oversees prisons, had insufficient funds to pay for food or medical care for inmates, who instead relied on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to provide them sustenance. Because funds often did not reach prisons in the provinces in a timely manner, there were gaps in food distribution. Human rights monitors reported a 15 percent mortality rate at Kongo Central prison from a lack of nourishment and sanitation.

Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to hold 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,200 inmates simultaneously during the year. Three prisons in the eastern provinces were more than 200 percent capacity, with another at 590 percent capacity. Prisoners were held in buildings originally built for other purposes. For example in Kanana, prisoners were living in a former school. In August the director of the Central Prison of Bunia noted in an interview with local press that the incarceration of those in preventive detention had caused a serious problem of overpopulation. Prisoners were not released due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although some human rights activists advocated for it.

Prisons rarely make accommodations for persons with disabilities. In November disability rights NGO Congo Handicap conducted missions in several prisons to assess conditions for persons with disabilities. Congo Handicap described unsanitary and life-threatening prison conditions, such as the lack of ventilation and toilets, which posed major health risks for persons with disabilities. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. The NGO also cited a lack of accessibility, procedures, and sign language interpreters as examples of problems that affect detained persons with disabilities.

Approximately 110 individuals escaped from correctional facilities through June, compared with 295 documented escapes for the same period in the previous year. More than 1,300 prisoners escaped in North Kivu Province when rebels released the prisoners, some of whom joined the rebels in fighting. The UNJHRO reported that police shot four inmates of Goma Prison who were trying to escape following the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in May. In July the UNJHRO reported that 18 prisoners escaped from a hidden detention center in South Kivu.

Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults, especially women with female minors. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. International observers noted that children who had been victims of sexual violence and often separated from their families in the eastern conflict zones were sometimes detained with adults.

Violence continued to be a problem in certain prisons. According to human rights observers, prisoners themselves were sometimes given the responsibility to maintain order and mistreated others. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in July the investigation had stalled into a group of prisoners who took over the Kasapa Prison in Lubumbashi, chased out the guards, set fire to the buildings, and attacked and raped approximately 37 women in the prison for three days before some semblance of order was restored. Many of these women never received adequate medical or psychological care. A prominent human rights observer noted that rape of new male prisoners was considered initiation in one prison.

Generally medical doctors at the prisons did not receive salaries, leading them to work elsewhere to make money. Prisons rarely had a budget for in-house pharmacies, and while prisoners sometimes obtained medication such as pain relievers, prescription medication was generally unavailable, meaning prisoners must rely on their families. Prisoners who are sick and need to be transferred must have the signatures of all designated officials for the transfer. In some cases prisoners who were refused transfer subsequently died. For example, the UNJHRO reported that in February in Tanganyika Province, a 59-year-old detainee died in the central prison from severe diarrhea after the judicial inspector rejected all transfer requests to the hospital in the absence of the prosecutor. Another detainee died in the same prison in February under similar conditions. A prominent human rights observer reported that some prisoners were refused transfers for medical care due to political reasons.

Guards, psychologists, and cooks also generally did not receive salaries, which led to a variety of buying and selling arrangements. Human rights observers reported that the salaries went to those who were retired and no longer working in the prisons. In the provinces there were reports of extortion, where families had to provide guards with food to visit detained family members. Directors and staff generally operated prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits. For example, HRW reported that in April two activists from the youth civil society movement LUCHA were arrested and held at an intelligence agency detention facility for two days before being sent to a severely overcrowded prison, where they had to pay to be allowed to bring in a mattress. HRW also reported in April that another activist from LUCHA had to pay to avoid being tortured after he was arrested and spent the night in a cell at the prosecutor’s office. In February the African Association for Human Rights condemned the purchase of presidential pardons at Kinshasa Makala Prison, where administrative staff asked to be paid amounts ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 Congolese francs ($100 to $150), a sum comparable to a civil servant’s monthly salary, to add inmates to the list of recipients of the presidential pardon.

Administration: Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. The UNJHRO pointed to the lack of experience of these authorities in recently created provinces as a threat to human rights in the provinces. Furthermore, the lack of resources for the judicial system, including staffing shortages and a lack of magistrates to process detainee caseloads, prevented the effective administration of justice. MONUSCO also cited outdated prison laws and poor data and records management among the prison problems.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Justice, but it sometimes denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and military intelligence services. COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected monitoring efforts.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but the SSF routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.). IAGs also abducted and detained persons arbitrarily, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law arrests for offenses punishable if convicted by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members and sometimes denied them due process (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Security forces regularly held protesters and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established. The UNJHRO reported that human rights defenders continued to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention without a fair public trial. In January in Kasai Province, the UNJHRO reported that six PNC officers illegally detained and beat 11 men with gun butts and cords.

In March the UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers of the 21041st Battalion arbitrarily arrested one man and two women in Mulangabal, Kasongo Territory. The soldiers accused the arrested man, a motorbike taxi driver, of transporting two female clients on his motorbike. The soldiers then beat the driver, released him, and attempted to sexually assault the two women, who escaped. When the driver returned the following day to find the women, soldiers beat him again.

In March local human rights activists reported that the PNC rearrested a woman who at an International Women’s Day Event described the conditions she had experienced in prison.

In July local media reported that LUCHA condemned the alleged disappearance of LUCHA member Parfait Muhani, who had received a call from someone who claimed to work for the foundation of First Lady Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi and offered to discuss LUCHA’s allegations that the foundation misappropriated aid for the victims of the Mount Nyiragongo volcanic eruption. Muhani appeared the next day in police custody, where he remained as of September 16.

The UNJHRO reported that in July in North Kivu Province the territorial administrator (administrateur du territoire) ordered soldiers of the 3410th FARDC regiment to arrest and detain three members of civil society organizations for having denounced FARDC abuses during military operations against armed groups in the area. Police released one detainee that day after paying a fine, while the other two were reportedly later released.

In August Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that a second member of LUCHA, Ghislain Muhiwa, had been arrested in Goma in connection with a July complaint regarding misappropriation of funds by the foundation of the First Lady.

In August the UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained a human rights defender in Wamaza-centre, Kabambare Territory, for protesting soldiers’ illegal collection of money at checkpoints. After advocacy by the local Human Rights Defenders Protection Network, the commander of the FARDC unit released the victim the following day.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. Those who should go before the magistrate were often detained locally in a clandestine holding facility and kept there for many months, leaving their families to presume they were dead. The Ministry of Human Rights and local human rights monitors estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays.

The state of siege hindered prison administration in the affected eastern provinces and resulted in long pretrial detention periods. The government did not provide sufficient resources to military courts and tribunals to handle criminal cases transferred from civilian courts. Consequently, the processing of cases lagged, and dozens of individuals remained in pretrial detention, without having their cases heard. Severe prison overcrowding quickly followed, which in turn led to extremely poor conditions and malnutrition in the prisons. The minister of human rights toured many of the country’s prisons in July, and his advocacy resulted in the transfer of prisoners’ files from civil to military authorities in provinces affected by the state of siege.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence and intimidation. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion.

A shortage of prosecutors and judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not sufficiently support judges in these areas. The Ministry of Human Rights reported that 90 percent of cases lacked magistrates. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on cases of corruption and malpractice. Rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates.

Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether committed in the line of duty or not. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in conflict areas were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must have either the same or a higher rank than the defendant.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, an independent judiciary, and a presumption of innocence on the part of an accused person, but these rights were not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, excepting murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. The law provides for interpretation when necessary for defendants. Typically, defendants were assigned interpreters, but on occasion this delayed proceedings while the court searched for an appropriate interpreter. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, consisting primarily of individuals arrested under defamation laws for criticizing the actions of government officials.

Local press reported that Ituri provincial parliamentarian Jean-Bosco Asamba was arrested in June for criticizing President Tshisekedi for allegedly making false promises, and he was detained in Bunia Prison for two days before being released.

In July international and local media reported that the president of the youth league of the Together for the Republic party, Jacky Ndala, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for his rhetoric against a proposed bill that would restrict eligibility for senior offices, including the presidency, based on the nationality of an individual’s parents. Local press reported that Ndala was accused of inciting rebellion and civil disobedience after asking persons in eastern Kinshasa to oppose the bill. The case went to appeal, and the sentence was reduced to 22 months in prison.

While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some prisoners, authorities denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and ANR (see section 1.c.).

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In August HRW reported that a few days after Jean-Jacques Lumumba, a whistleblower exiled in France, spoke to a gathering of Congolese activists in Belgium about impunity and fighting corruption, his bag was stolen on his return train trip and his car was burned in its parking place on the outskirts of Paris. Police in Kinshasa also threatened his tenants with eviction if they did not provide documents containing personal information about Lumumba.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. Family members were often punished for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The SSF continued fighting IAGs in the east of the country, and conflict among armed groups resulted in significant population displacement and human rights abuses, especially in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces. Fighting among the Nyatura, Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R), Mai Mazembe, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and ISIS-DRC (formerly the Allied Democratic Forces or ADF) caused significant population displacement in North Kivu Province.

There were credible reports that the IAGs and the SSF perpetrated serious human rights violations and abuses during internal conflicts. UNJHRO director Abdoul Aziz Thioye stated that state actors committed abuses under the cover of the state of siege. He attributed the majority of IAG violations to ISIS-DRC, which took advantage of historical tension to incite interethnic fighting. In the first half of the year, the UNJHRO documented a total of 3,068 human rights violations and abuses in conflict-affected provinces, including North Kivu (1,662), followed by Ituri (506), and to a lesser extent South Kivu, Tanganyika, Kasai, Kasai-Central, Kasai-Oriental, Maniema, and Bas-Uele. Conflict-affected provinces accounted for more than 93 percent of all violations and abuses throughout the country. Armed groups committed approximately 60 percent of documented cases. Combatants abducted victims for ransom, for forced labor, and in retaliation for suspected collaboration. On July 7, combatants from the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo abducted and killed a man in Masisi Territory after accusing him of collaborating with another combatant group.

There were credible reports that elements within the FARDC collaborated with some IAGs. In June the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that soldiers of the 3404th and 3410th FARDC regiments cooperated with or participated in operations alongside the Bwira faction of the NDC-R against other IAGs.

The UNJHRO reported that assailants from the armed group Cooperative de Developpement economique du Congo (Cooperative for Economic Development of the Congo or CODECO) were responsible for 401 violations between January and June. CODECO attacks against civilians in Djugu and Irumu Territories resulted in the deaths of at least 361 individuals. Throughout October CODECO, Force Patriotique et Integrationniste du Congo (Patriotic and Integrationist Force of the Congo or FPIC), and Force de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri) attacked multiple villages in Ituri Province, leading to numerous reports of civilian deaths, looting, and property destruction. Additionally, more than 5,000 persons abandoned their homes after clashes between FARDC and CODECO militiamen on October 17 in North Kivu Province.

North Kivu Province saw the most abuses in internal conflict, as the UNJHRO reported ISIS-DRC combatants committed 25 abuses in the province in July. On July 15, ISIS-DRC combatants attacked civilians in Beni Territory, killing at least five civilians, including the president of a local civil society organization, a woman, and a child, and set fire to 10 houses and abducted numerous individuals. Following UNJHRO advocacy, a team of investigators from the military prosecutor’s office launched an investigation that continued in early November. According to UNJHRO, ISIS-DRC combatants committed 27 abuses in September and 33 abuses in October.

In August, HRW decried the appointment of Tommy Tambwe, a former rebel leader of a group responsible for many human rights abuses, as coordinator of the new Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery, and Stabilization program in eastern Congo. According to HRW, Tambwe led major Rwandan-backed rebel groups responsible for countless human rights abuses in eastern Congo during the last 25 years. Prominent human rights groups accused Tambwe of ordering the arrest of journalists perceived as critics in 2002 when he was vice governor of South Kivu.

Operational cooperation between MONUSCO and the government continued in the east. The MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade supported FARDC troops in North Kivu and southern Ituri Provinces. MONUSCO forces deployed and conducted patrols to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) from armed group attacks in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri Provinces.

Killings: The UNJHRO reported that 1,147 civilians were killed in conflict-affected provinces in the first six months of the year. IAG killings decreased from 1,315 in 2020 to 962, while killings of civilians by state agents in conflict-affected areas increased from 155 to 185. Approximately 209 children were killed and maimed in the North Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, South Kivu, Maniema, and the Kasai Provinces. IAGs, ISIS-DRC, Nyatura, and Mai Mai armed groups committed most of most of these killings and mutilations, while FARDC soldiers and PNC agents contributed to the abuses.

The UNJHRO reported that on July 1, Union des Patriotes pour la Liberation du Congo (Patriotic Union for the Liberation of Congo) Mai Mai combatants abducted, abused, and killed a member of a local civil society organization who had just left the village of Mabalako in Beni Territory. Although the local police opened an investigation, the UNJHRO noted no progress by year’s end, adding that tracking armed group members in that area was very difficult.

Abductions: UN agencies and NGOs reported IAGs abducted individuals to perform forced labor, obtain ransom, or guide them. Armed groups also utilized abductions as reprisal for a victims’ alleged collaboration with the security and defense forces or rival groups, or because of their refusal to pay illegal taxes or to participate in so-called community work. The UNJHRO reported that from January through June, a total of 204 children between ages one and 17 were abducted, most from the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, but also from Tanganyika, South Kivu, the Kasai Provinces and Maniema.

The UNJHRO reported in August that armed groups abducted at least 305 individuals, including 24 women and 27 children, in the conflict-affected provinces, a significant increase from July’s 208 victims. Of the 305 persons abducted by armed groups in August, 33 were killed and 92 were released, sometimes following the intervention of the security forces or negotiations with local community members. The whereabouts of 115 abducted persons were unknown. ISIS-DRC combatants were responsible for the abductions of 197 individuals. The UNJHRO reported that of the 208 individuals abducted by armed groups in July, 45 were released, often following FARDC intervention, while 11 were killed. The location of 94 individuals was unknown as of the end of September.

In March Radio Okapi reported that Lord’s Resistance Army militiamen released 27 hostages detained in one of their camps situated in Ango Territory, Bas-Uele. Former captives included five children younger than five years of age and six women, as well as South Sudanese, Congolese, and Central African Republic nationals.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The FARDC, PNC, ANR, IAGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence. From January through June, the UNJHRO documented 265 cases of conflict-related sexual violence affecting 258 women and seven adult men, a significant decrease from the previous six months, when they documented 398 adult survivors. Nearly 35 percent of these violent crimes were attributable to state agents, notably FARDC soldiers and PNC agents. Most of the sexual violence attributable to state agents in these provinces was committed in Ituri.

The UNJHRO reported that in February, in Kasumbalesa, Sakania Territory, Haut-Katanga Province, the Kipushi Tribunal militaire de garnison convicted three FARDC soldiers of rape during mobile hearings supported by the UNJHRO. They were sentenced to terms of one to 10 years in prison and payment of compensation to the victims. In July in South Kivu, a military court ruled on sexual violence cases and sentenced 11 FARDC soldiers to between four to 20 years in prison and ordered the seizure of their salaries for victims’ compensation. The UNJHRO reported that through June there were 48 convictions by judicial authorities, following a legal support project that assisted 191 survivors, most of whom were girls.

The UNJHRO reported that a FARDC soldier raped a 38-year-old woman in July in South Kivu after breaking into her house and was not arrested. The UNJHRO separately reported that the special police for the protection of children and the fight against sexual violence arrested a FARDC soldier from the 31st FARDC Rapid Reaction Commando Brigade when the parents of a 12-year-old rape survivor accused him of assault.

IAGs also perpetrated numerous incidents of physical abuse and sexual violence. For example, the UNJHRO reported that combatants of NDC-R committed 10 human rights abuses in July, including the fatal shooting of a man and the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

In July local press reported that the military court of South Kivu sentenced a leader of the FDLR militia to 10 years’ imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity in the eastern regions of the country. The militia leader, Lenine Kizima Sabin, was prosecuted for rape, extortion, murder, and acts of plundering committed against more than 500 civilians between 2004 and 2006 in Shabunda Territory. A military tribunal had sentenced Kizima to life imprisonment in 2015, but his lawyers successfully appealed the conviction.

Child Soldiers: FARDC officers unlawfully used three children and continued coordinating with an armed group that recruited and used children during the reporting period.

Through June MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section documented 1,195 violations of the rights of the child in the context of armed conflict in the country, a decrease of 23 percent from the same period in 2020. Most of the violations documented the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and militias. Following a screening by the MONSCO Child Protection section, 45 children were separated from Mai Mai Biloze Bisambuke combatants.

The government continued to work with MONUSCO to engage IAGs directly to end the use of child soldiers. As of September 16, a total of 2,378 children had been voluntarily released by commanders as part of the roadmap to end the recruitment and use of children and prevent sexual violence of children. In October and November, a Canadian NGO trained FARDC officers on how to approach children and identify child soldiers in conflict zones and contact child protection officials. According to MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section, a joint MONUSCO-FARDC vetting mechanism led to the screening of 414 FARDC recruits and identification of 35 children who were separated before they received further training. Through October, MONUSCO trained 894 Congolese security forces (611 FARDC and 283 PNC) on the Children and Armed Conflict mandate including age verification methods. The government and the United Nations had a joint action plan to end the recruitment and use of children with other grave violations.

In September a military court in South Kivu handed down a life sentence to warlord Chance Mihonya. The former FARDC captain was found guilty of crimes against humanity, murder, rape, in addition to war crimes for using children as combatants.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Fighting between the FARDC and IAGs as well as among IAGs continued to displace populations and limit humanitarian access, particularly in Ituri, South Kivu, Maniema, and Tanganyika Provinces as well as in Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, Lubero, Beni, and Nyiragongo Territories in North Kivu Province.

In North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Kasai-Oriental, and Haut-Katanga Provinces, IAGs and elements of the FARDC continued to illegally tax, exploit, and trade natural resources for revenue and power. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. Gold, cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), and wolframite (tungsten ore) were the most exploited minerals, but wildlife products, timber, charcoal, and fish were also sought after.

The illegal trade in minerals financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF. Both elements of the SSF and certain IAGs continued to control, extort, and threaten remote mining areas in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, and Haut Katanga Provinces and the Kasai region (see section 4).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, or arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering certain protests.

The UNJHRO reported that journalists and human rights defenders were regularly targeted by arbitrary arrests. Members of the FARDC were also responsible for 18 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and four violations of the right to peaceful assembly, according to the UNJHRO. The UNJHRO also reported that the PNC committed 19 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 15 violations of the right to freedom of assembly, and one violation of the right to freedom of association from January through June.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes intimidated, harassed, and detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, president, or the SSF.

In January, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), was arrested in Lubumbashi for antagonizing tribal tensions.

According to the UNJHRO, ANR agents arrested a journalist and facilitator of the program Bosolo Na Politik in April for criticizing politicians and the COVID-19-related curfew during a broadcast. The public prosecutor of the Gombe Court of First Instance released the journalist after he paid a fine.

According to local media reports, on December 17, a military court sentenced two musicians to prison time for songs calling government officials “crooks” and allegedly inciting violence against the FARDC and their families. The musicians were charged with four offenses, including offending the president, contempt against national deputies, creating false rumors, and failing to present their songs to the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission; they received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. At year’s end the musicians remained in detention and their lawyers were preparing appeals.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned in Kinshasa and in other major cities, and the government licensed many daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio and three television stations, and the former president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and some church leaders, owned or operated most media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In February the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC) condemned the arrest of Radio Liberte Bikoro journalist Christophe Yoka Nkumu in Bikoro, Equateur Province. Reporters Without Borders reported in July that supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party physically attacked Canal Kin Television presenter Dosta Lutula in the street as he attempted to interview members of the public about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons allowed to travel in public buses or taxis in Kinshasa.

In mid-September Reporters Without Borders and Journaliste en Danger (JED) denounced the police for engaging in physical violence against Actu 24 CD journalist Louange Vangu and seizing his press card. According to the same report, police fired tear gas at the headquarters of RTVS1, a media outlet owned by Adophe Muzito, an opponent of the government and one of the protest organizers.

In late September the human rights organization Voice of the Voiceless issued a statement criticizing the governor of Kinshasa for banning protests on the road from Ndjili Airport to the area known as Pont Matete and in central Kinshasa, characterizing the ban as a violation of the constitution and a return to past practices of banning peaceful demonstrations. Also in late September, the chairman of the New Generation for Congo’s Emergence party, Constant Mutamba, was arrested in Kinshasa shortly after attempting to assemble with several party members to demonstrate against the government’s alleged efforts to hijack the electoral process, according to independent outlet Election-net.com.

In September RFI and local press reported the detention of journalist Sosthene Kambidi, in connection with the 2017 killings of UN experts Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp in the Kasais. FARDC auditor general prosecutors stated that Kambidi was detained for questioning as a witness in the case of Catalan and Sharp’s deaths and was also being questioned as a suspect in the parallel investigation of the disappearance of the four Congolese nationals accompanying Catalan and Sharp. Kambidi was initially questioned in the presence of his attorney by both FARDC military prosecutors and legal personnel from the United Nations’ Follow-On Mechanism for inconsistencies in his account of how and when he obtained the video of the experts’ murders. On October 12, Kambidi was granted provisional release, and military prosecutors dropped the conspiracy, rebellion, and terrorism investigations but continued to investigate Kambidi for “culpable abstention.” Attorneys for the remaining detained witnesses began a trial boycott on October 12, demanding the release of fellow attorney and witness Prosper Kamalu as a condition of their return. Kamalu was released on October 29. The trial proceedings resumed on November 2.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to SSF intimidation and violence. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one journalist, Joel Musavuli, was killed in the country during the year (see section 2.a, Nongovernmental Impact).

The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kasai-Central Province, five PNC agents kicked and slapped a journalist from a local television station as he was trying to cover a demonstration organized by LUCHA. Although the journalist was wearing a T-shirt of his media employer, the PNC confiscated two cell phones and a recorder while he was showing his business card. Following the intervention of a UNPC member, his equipment was returned, although PNC agents had deleted all images and videos taken during the march. The commander in charge of intelligence at the PNC station indicated an investigation was opened, but the UNJHRO reported in November that it had noted no progress in the investigation.

On February 13, Radio Liberte Lisala journalist Erick Ngunde was arrested in the station’s studio, reportedly at the behest of the interim governor of Mongala Province, Clementine Sole, according to local press. Before his arrest the reporter had hosted a program in which a close aide to the former governor of Mongala urged the population to remain “vigilant” regarding Sole’s actions.

In February JED condemned the arrest and subsequent conviction of six journalists working for a community radio station in Bumba, Mongala Province. The reporters were sentenced to three years in jail for denouncing the sexual harassment faced by some of their female colleagues and mismanagement practices at the station. They were not granted access to lawyers of their choosing.

The CPJ reported in June that at least 10 armed men, some of whom wore military uniforms, entered the home of a freelance journalist in Goma in response to his reporting on the government’s inadequate response to the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption. The armed men reportedly assaulted the journalist’s wife and aggressively questioned her regarding his whereabouts, threatened to kill him, and took a bag of his reporting equipment.

In July local press reported that JED condemned the intrusion of police officers into the facilities of Radio Sarah, in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. The police reportedly broke into the station’s studio during the broadcast of a debate on the possible removal of the governor of the province by the local parliament. Law enforcement officers reportedly destroyed the station’s generator and stole broadcasting equipment.

On September 17, PNC officers assaulted RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi while he was covering an unauthorized demonstration organized by the Lamuka coalition of political parties in Kinshasa. Ligodi was hospitalized and subsequently released. On the same day, the PNC announced the arrest of an officer for the assault.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. The National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission, an independent body under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice and composed of 11 members appointed by the minister, reviews content to ensure it does not “disturb public order or good morals” and does not contain racial slurs, tribal slurs, insults, slanderous language, or pornographic content. According to Article 13 of the commission’s rules, each artist must pay a tax of 630,000 to 1.2 million Congolese francs ($330 to $600) before their work can be released to the public.

On November 5, Congolese rap group Musique Populaire de la Revolution (MPR) released a new music video on their YouTube channel with lyrics and a video that referred to the hopelessness of many Congolese youth. Citing MPR’s failure to submit the song for review in advance, the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission banned the broadcast of the song. Two days later Minister of Justice Rose Mutombo declared the ban illegal and asked the commission to explain its decision, accusing it of acting without following its own rules to convene a quorum of its members.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by provincial government authorities not to cover events organized by the opposition or report news concerning opposition leaders. There were also reports the commission took longer to approve songs perceived as critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law does not consider the veracity of reported facts in the case of a defamation complaint. Instead, the judge is to consider only the damage to the accused from revelations in a journalist’s work.

The national and provincial governments used defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On July 6, LUCHA activist Parfait Muhani was arrested on charges of “criminal association” for allegedly “having formed an association with the aim of discrediting persons and properties” and criminal defamation for posting a tweet denouncing allegations of misappropriated funds by the foundation of First Lady Tshisekedi. According to HRW, he faced the death penalty because of the charges. Although the death penalty had not been carried out in two decades, Muhani could still receive a life sentence. Muhani was provisionally released on November 6 after four months in detention.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

The CPJ reported in April that the SSF threatened staff at two radio stations in Ituri Province after they broadcast a local human rights activist’s accusations that a senior military officer had overseen the detention and torture of adults and children.

The CPJ also reported in May that two uniformed men entered the home of a community broadcaster in Ituri Province, robbed him, and threatened to kill him for reporting allegations that military personnel had looted properties. One of the men also reportedly threatened to kill the journalist’s mother as she was witnessing the attack.

Nongovernmental Impact: IAGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

In July JED reported that Thomson Undji Batangalwa, a correspondent for the South African radio station Channel Africa and a reporter for the Tanganyika radio station Espoir des opprimes based in Fizi, received a series of death threats from unknown persons claiming to belong to the Banyamulenge tribe. He reportedly broadcast a story on Channel Africa about an attack by Ngumino and Twirwaneo rebels from the Banyamulenge communities on the FARDC base near Minembwe, South Kivu. Following the broadcast, the journalist received several threatening telephone calls, including one that accused him of being a “spokesperson for the FARDC.”

On August 13, days after Joel Musavuli broadcast a radio program in which he referred to human rights violations committed by different factions under the state of siege, unidentified intruders in Mambasa Territory in the northeastern province of Ituri broke into Musavuli’s home and stabbed him to death.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were some reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but government authorities restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly, especially in the eastern provinces. The declaration of a state of siege since May 6 in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces resulted in further restrictions on peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government sometimes used this advance notification requirement to decline to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. SSF agents reportedly also used COVID-19 restrictions to mistreat, arbitrarily arrest, or extort persons participating in peaceful gatherings.

The UNJHRO reported 271 restrictions of fundamental freedoms, a decrease from the 573 during the same period in 2020. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The UNJHRO explained this downward trend as a decrease in law enforcement activity following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

In January a military court in Beni Territory acquitted eight LUCHA members who faced 10 years in prison after being arrested in December 2020 during a march to call for peace and criticize MONUSCO. On February 15, LUCHA was denied the right to protest in Butembo. When LUCHA held a protest demanding the opening of the schools that had been closed due to COVID-19, police whipped protesters, injured 17 activists, and arrested 21 protesters, who were released three hours later.

The UNJHRO reported that in June police in Kinshasa arrested persons at a local restaurant whom they accused of violating COVID-19 protocols. Some of those arrested reported being assaulted and robbed.

On September 8, Kinshasa’s governor rejected opposition coalition Lamuka’s request for a public demonstration to be held on September 15, giving as a justification “President Felix Tshisekedi’s instructions and COVID-19 measures,” although the governor stated he would authorize the demonstration on September 17 instead. Lamuka attempted to organize the march on September 15 despite the denial, leading the PNC to break up the incipient march with tear gas and beatings.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process was burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, reported the government had denied their registration requests. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles to impede NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: The SSF established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, both for security reasons and to track movement related to the Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks. Checkpoints were put up at the time of curfew, which varied during the year from beginning at 8 p.m. earlier in the year, to beginning at 11 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. as of September 20. Sometimes the SSF requested travel orders at checkpoints. Travel was significantly restricted due to regulations intended to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. The SSF routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

IAGs engaged in similar activity in areas under their control, routinely extorting civilians at checkpoints and holding them for ransom. MONUSCO confirmed curfews were in effect in various parts of the East and that those curfews were often associated with an earlier prohibition on motorbike travel with the justification that most attacks are carried out by men on motorbikes. For example, travel by motorbike was not allowed after 7 p.m. in Goma, a restriction that continued to year’s end. Movement between cities remained problematic because of insecurity. Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports FARDC soldiers and IAG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Due to inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, including individuals displaced for longer than 12 months, there were 5.5 million IDPs in the country, more than half of whom were children. An additional 1.5 million persons were displaced during the year. The government was unable to consistently protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to assist. The government sometimes closed IDP camps without coordinating with the international humanitarian community. In June UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close three IDP sites in Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province, by providing shelter and hygiene kits, along with transportation money and some food.

Conflict, insecurity, poor infrastructure, and a lack of funding adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. Insecurity and an inability to travel impeded some humanitarian access to certain zones in the eastern provinces. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the East resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

On May 22, the Nyiragongo Volcano, located about seven miles north of Goma in North Kivu Province, erupted, causing as many as 40,000 residents to flee. Thereafter, the government ordered the evacuation of one-half the city with an estimated population of nearly one million. Most of these residents later returned home, but as many as 4,000 households remained displaced as of early November. The UNJHRO reported that most of the IDPs in Goma housed in various IDP camps and private residences were asked by the local authorities to return to their places of origin without prior assessment, contrary to international principles on internal displacement.

In May the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) described the experience of four internally displaced women and two young girls who were returning from a food distribution center in Bukavu when they were attacked and gang-raped by five men.

In Ituri Province, UNHCR noted that conflict-related activities of IAGs, including CODECO, FPIC, ADF, and Mai Mai armed groups, exacerbated long-standing community conflicts and threatened the safety of IDPs. Approximately 1.7 million IDPs relocated within the province: an estimated 80 percent lived with host families and 20 percent lived in 59 IDP sites, 25 of which were coordinated by UNHCR. The state of siege and intensification of military operations against IAGs contributed to the displacement of persons and affected the situation of IDPs. Through June there were 13,509 documented violations of physical integrity of IDPs in Ituri Province, with assault and battery cases constituting 76 percent of the violations, followed by homicide at 23 percent, and torture at 1 percent. IAGs committed 97 percent of these violations, while the FARDC were responsible for the remainder.

On November 21, 44 persons were killed at Tche, an IDP site in Drodro, Ituri Province, according to local news sources. After this attack nearly 20,000 IDPs fled to Rhoe, a site close to MONUSCO’s military base, doubling the site’s size.

According to the UNJHRO, ISIS-DRC activities in Irumu and Mambasa Territories led to massive population displacement, and ISIS-DRC carried out violent ambushes against IDP sites. The UNJHRO also reported that some youths attacked the IDP accommodation camps located at Neo Apostolic Church and Mubambiro, looted their food supplies, and threatened the IDPs with abduction. This led to a shortage of food supplies and posed security problems for the displaced.

Due to the remote location, weak civilian authority, and insecurity of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape.

Lack of shelter, low capacity for agricultural recovery, lack of basic infrastructure, and an absence of development partners all impeded the successful reintegration of IDPs. Some international relief workers warned that failure to integrate returnees and support livelihood activities and local infrastructure could lead to renewed inter-ethnic fighting over limited resources.

In an October briefing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that local authorities and civil society groups estimated nearly 100,000 individuals had fled Komanda, Ituri Province, and its surroundings following attacks since September 23. Among them were at least 95 percent of the 60,000 inhabitants of Komanda, Makayanga, and Mangiva and the 40,000 persons who had found refuge there in 2020 and had to flee again. The displaced had little access to food, water, shelter, and medicine.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The law, which allows for flexibility, provides most fundamental rights to refugees and citizens on an equal basis. UNHCR worked with the government to bring its system up to international standards and increase its efficiency and effectiveness. Because the Appeals Commission had not been convened in years, rejected asylum seekers remained in limbo. UNHCR was assisting the government in scaling up its ability to undertake biometric registration of refugees and issue refugee identification cards. The government system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently from citizens. Returns occurred at a rate lower than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Upper Uele, and Tanganyika Provinces subjected refugees and IDPs to attacks, often resulting in deaths and further displacement. UNHCR reported Rwandan refugees in the Masisi Territory, North Kivu, were subject to cyclical displacement as a result of FARDC and IAG operations and were forced to relocate to South Kivu Province. As a result of conflict, refugees in Masisi reported a range of human rights violations and instances of forced displacement, according to UNHCR. Because of a perception that Rwandan refugees are aligned with or support the FDLR, they were discriminated against and harassed, and subject to arbitrary detention during military operations to a greater extent than the general population.

As of August UNHCR reported there were 221,694 refugees from the Central African Republic in the country. Gender-based violence continued to be a problem for refugees arriving from the Central African Republic. Most of these refugees lived in dire conditions in border areas, near the Ubangi River, although some were relocated to more secure areas. Refugees at the river’s edge, as well as many of the December 2020 arrivals lacked shelter, access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and sufficient food. Thousands of individuals had been biometrically registered, some had received refugee cards, and a small number had received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Incursions by South Sudanese forces into areas in the northern portions of the country continued during the year, with at least a dozen incidents as of December. All incursions as of December had occurred in the Aru Territory and Ituri Province and affected security for asylum seekers, refugees, and Congolese returnees, as well as local populations.

Durable Solutions: A smaller number of Congolese refugees returned home to the country than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

UNHCR worked with the government to implement a comprehensive strategy to facilitate the repatriation of Rwandan refugees and integrate those who choose to resettle in the country. In 2016 the government through the National Commission for Refugees and UNHCR launched a biometric registration, but this process was halted due to security concerns and problems of access. Local authorities estimated that approximately 75,000 Rwandan refugees of the 215,000 residing in the country were biometrically registered and an estimated 213,000 remained in the country as of November 1.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

g. Stateless Persons

The country has a population of de facto stateless residents and persons at risk of statelessness, including persons of Sudanese origin living in the Northeast, Mbororo pastoralists in the far North, long-term migrants, forced returnees from Angola, former Angolan refugees, mixed-race persons who are denied naturalization, and Congolese citizens without civil documentation. There were no national statistics on stateless persons because such data are linked with the general population census process, which was last completed in 1984.

The law does not discriminate in granting citizenship on the grounds of gender, religion, or disability; however, the naturalization process is cumbersome and requires parliamentary approval of individual citizenship applications. Individuals lacking documentation were often denied identity documents, political rights, and employment. Persons whose names were not spelled according to local custom were often denied citizenship, as were individuals with lighter-colored skin. Persons without national identification cards were sometimes arbitrarily arrested by the SSF.

The law allows for the acquisition of citizenship through birth and residence in the country, marriage, adoption, and naturalization. Administrative practices for acquiring nationality through marriage, adoption, or naturalization were increasingly political and put more persons at risk of statelessness. The government has ratified neither the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons nor the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Authorities do not issue national identification cards for citizens. A voter card or passport serves as an identifying document. Most citizens did not have a passport, and only citizens 18 and older are eligible for a voter registration card. The lack of identification documents could hinder the ability to register at university, obtain a passport, or gain certain employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018 and drew criticism grounded in procedural transparency concerns. CENI cancelled elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu Province, reportedly due to health concerns generated by the Ebola crisis, and in Yumbi in Mai Ndombe Province due to insecurity. Although CENI organized legislative and provincial contests in those areas in March 2019, more than one million voters were disenfranchised from the 2018 presidential contest.

In January 2019 CENI announced opposition candidate Tshisekedi won the presidential election, and in accordance with electoral law, the Constitutional Court confirmed CENI’s results later that month. The Council of Bishops criticized the outcome, noting “the results of the presidential election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission.”

Many international actors expressed concern regarding CENI’s decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources indicating opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. In January 2019 Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, marking the first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress political party won 32 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the Common Front for Congo coalition won 335 seats of 500 seats total. Senatorial elections were held in March 2019 through an indirect vote by provincial assemblies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement. The SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events.

State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest sources of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of political opponents, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.) and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

In several districts, known as chefferies, traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although some ethnic groups in the East claimed discrimination. Women held only 12 percent of the seats in parliament. The new government formed in April included several women as ministers or deputies, such as the minister of state of portfolio, the minister of relations with parliament, and the minister of mines. Approximately 27 percent of the 57 vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, vice ministers, and minister delegates were women, an increase in the total number from the previous government. Of 108 senators, 23 were women. Changes to the electoral law in 2017 included the introduction of a minimum “threshold of representation,” but it disadvantaged women, partly because it favored the major parties, in which women faced challenges gaining prominent positions.

Women faced obstacles to full participation in politics and leadership positions generally. Women in leadership positions were often given portfolios focused on so-called women’s issues, such as those related to gender-based violence, cultural norms, and discrimination against women. Women generally had less access to financial resources needed to participate in politics. Furthermore, insecurity, particularly in the eastern provinces, presented a major obstacle for women who wished to run for office and campaign, because the risk of rape and other sexual violence forced them to limit activities and public exposure.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, Kasai-Oriental, and Haut-Katanga Provinces, and such discrimination contributed to the lack of indigenous group political participation (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Local NGOs blamed these levels of corruption, in part, to the lack of a law providing for access to public information.

In 2020 President Tshisekedi created the Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (APLC). A special service under the Office of the President, the APLC is responsible for coordinating all government entities charged with fighting corruption and money laundering, conducting investigations with the full authority of judicial police, and overseeing transfer of public corruption cases to appropriate judicial authorities. The Platform for the Protection for Whistleblowers in Africa asserted that APLC’s record was mixed, without visible results.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In January RFI reported the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) alleged that three billion Congolese francs ($1.5 million) was embezzled every month at the Ministry for Primary and Secondary Education through a scheme diverting public funds to pay thousands of fictitious teachers. RFI also noted that the director of the agency supervising the teachers’ pay process and the inspector general of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary, and Vocational Education were arrested, following the issuance of a report by the IGF. In March Radio Okapi reported that the Appellate Court of Kinshasa-Gombe sentenced the inspector general for primary, secondary, and vocational education, Michel Djamba, and the head of the Teachers’ Payroll and Control Service, Delphin Kampayi, to 20 years of hard labor for embezzling public funds.

In June independent outlet Actualite.cd quoted a public finance expert as saying that there was not adequate accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s public spending, which potentially encourages embezzlement. A former minister of the economy said in local press that the country’s budgetary accounting system was weakened by “numerous notable deficiencies.” The head of the IGF, Jules Alingete, was quoted by independent radio station Top Congo FM as saying that at least 70 percent of public funds were routinely misappropriated. Alingete added that only one-third of the 146 billion Congolese francs ($73 million) invested in road construction work in Kinshasa was actually used to support the construction effort. Alingete also alleged that over-invoicing that occurred during the development of the Bukangalonzo agro-industrial park cost the government 400 billion Congolese francs ($200 million).

In June local media reported that a group of researchers working for the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) submitted a memorandum to President Tshisekedi alleging the embezzlement of OVG’s staff salaries since 2013, the misappropriation of funds disbursed by the government, and the “recruitment” of a plethora of fictitious employees. According to the representatives of the observatory’s staff, the government misappropriated international donations worth more than six million euros (seven million dollars).

In August local press reported that the IGF took legal action against the governor of Kongo Central Atou Matubuana for misappropriating more than six billion Congolese francs (three million dollars) earmarked to finance several “special intervention funds.” The IGF also accused Matubuana and some of his aides of embezzling more than 10 billion Congolese francs (five million dollars) earmarked for civilian and military services.

On August 27, authorities arrested and jailed former minister of health Eteni Longondo for the misappropriation of funds intended to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The IGF reported the minister failed to account for more than two billion Congolese francs (one million dollars) allocated by the World Bank.

In November Reuters reported that the Constitutional Court dismissed the case of former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, stating that its jurisdiction only covered sitting, not former, prime ministers. According to Jeune Afrique, Ponyo was suspected of involvement in an embezzlement scheme concerning a 570 billion Congolese francs ($285 million) agrifood project, and the IGF concluded more than 90 percent of that amount was embezzled. The Sentry, an investigative and policy team that tracks war criminals’ money in Africa, published a report alleging that a brother of former president Joseph Kabila benefitted from embezzled Congolese money, using it to buy expensive properties abroad.

The law prohibits the FARDC from engaging in mineral trade, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal involvement by some FARDC units and IAGs included protection rackets, extortion, and theft. The illegal trade in minerals was both a symptom and a cause of weak governance. It illegally financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF and sometimes generated revenue for traditional authorities and local and provincial governments. A 2019 report from the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research group, determined that in the trading hub of Itebero, North Kivu Province, traders paid $10 per ton of coltan to the president of the local trading association, who distributed this money to the FARDC, ANR, and Directorate General for Migration. Individual FARDC commanders also sometimes appointed civilians to manage their interests at mining sites covertly.

Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal, illicit, and strongly linked to both armed groups and certain elements of the FARDC. Government officials were often complicit in the smuggling of artisanal mining products, particularly gold, into Uganda and Rwanda. A 2020 UN Group of Experts report highlighted Ituri Province as a major source of smuggled gold found in Uganda. The UN Group of Experts also reported that FARDC soldiers regularly accepted bribes from artisanal miners to access the Namoya site, which was owned by the Banro Mining Corporation. Mining experts and law enforcement officers interviewed in the report described natural resource-related crimes as “quick cash” and explained that violators often bribed law enforcement agencies to secure safe transit of illegal goods.

Between 2017 and 2020, IPIS visited 920 artisanal mine sites in the East and observed illegal interference (by either the FARDC or an IAG) at 363 sites. At 251 sites, IPIS reported FARDC interference, mostly by illegal taxation, but also by creating a trade monopoly over both mineral and nonmineral products. IPIS research noted that for armed interference, FARDC units were the main culprits at 66 percent of the affected mining sites (198 out of 265) in the 2016-18 sample, while 46 percent of the mines with armed interference were controlled or frequented by different armed groups, especially Raia Mutomboki, NDC-R, Mai Mai Yakutumba, and Mai Simba.

In conflict areas both IAGs and elements of the SSF regularly set up roadblocks and ran illegal taxation schemes. In 2019 IPIS published data showing state agents regularly sold tags meant to validate clean mineral supply chains. The validation tags, a mechanism designed to reduce corruption, labor abuses, trafficking in persons, and environmental destruction, were regularly sold to smugglers.

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s enacted budget included off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully published. These accounts shielded receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Eight parastatal organizations held special accounts and used them to circumvent the government’s tax collection authorities. “Special accounts” are, in theory, subjected to the same auditing procedures and oversight as other expenditures; however, due in large part to resource constraints, the Supreme Audit Authority did not always publish its internal audits, or in many cases published them significantly late. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) standard of 2016, the government is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. In 2019 the EITI board noted the country had made meaningful progress in its implementation of the 2016 standard but also expressed concern regarding persistent corruption and mismanagement of funds in the extractive sector. During the year the EITI published Gecamines’ contracts with third parties but did not fully publish contract annexes containing contract values and mining royalties’ allocations.

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the East. IAGs repeatedly targeted local human rights defenders for violent retribution when they spoke out against abuses. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters. The government and military prosecutors cooperated with the UN team supporting investigations related to the 2017 killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, in Kasai Central Province. After a four-month recess, the trial involving more than 50 witnesses and suspects resumed on November 2.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) published reports and made public statements on prison conditions, the Universal Periodic Review, and human rights violations during the COVID-19 state of emergency. It also held human rights training sessions for magistrates, visited detention centers, conducted professional development workshops for human rights defense networks in the interior, and followed up on complaints of human rights abuses from civilians.

Both the CNDH and the Human Rights Ministry continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs and full-time representation in all 26 provinces. A CNDH spokesperson reported the organization had received less funding than in previous years, hindering the implementation of programs in the provinces.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape of all persons, but the law was not often enforced. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence were widespread throughout the country, even in areas without armed conflict. The survivors seldom reported this for cultural and social reasons, and the perpetrators were rarely punished. Rape was also common and used as a tactic in areas of armed conflict. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape or intimate partner rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the survivor), but such practices still occurred. Both international organizations and local NGOs reported that female rape survivors were sometimes forced to pay a fine to return to their families and to gain access to their children. Husbands often divorced wives who were survivors. The law also prohibits forced marriage, but it continued to take place. The law allows survivors of sexual violence to waive appearance in court and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts sometimes imposed such sentences in rape convictions in the infrequent instances when these crimes came to trial. Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence.

IAGs frequently used rape as a tactic of conflict (see section 1.g.). The UNJHRO reported that from January through June, Nyatura combatants committed the greatest number of human rights abuses, attacking the civilian population and committing sexual violence against 39 women, one man, and 22 children. Local NGOs and international organizations reported that sexual mutilation was often used as a tactic of conflict, with rapists in conflict using weapons or sharp objects to torture women. The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kalembe, Nyatura Coalition des Mouvements pour le Changement (CMC) combatants raped two women, killed one man, and wounded another with a machete. The FARDC was also responsible for sexual violence, especially in conflict areas, where the UNJHRO documented 72 sexual violations against women.

Government agents raped and sexually abused women and girls during arrest and detention, as well as during military action, according to UNJHRO reporting (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). While sexual violence was a problem throughout the country, most cases took place in areas affected by internal conflict. The PNC continued its nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate gender-based violence by the SSF, including through the fight against impunity and the protection of survivors and witnesses. The campaign to operationalize the national action plan to combat gender-based violence was not fully funded by October, and few activities had taken place.

In analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found increased exposure to and increased incidence of sexual and gender-based violence with fewer persons on the streets after curfews. Women in Lubumbashi reported increased break-ins and sexual assaults during the COVID-19 curfew, some by armed men in uniform. Seven women told Agence France Presse in January that they had suffered a break-in and been raped during curfew hours in Lubumbashi.

As noted below, persons with disabilities faced high rates of gender-based violence and suffered health consequences as a result. LGBTQI+ persons were targeted by particular forms of gender-based violence, including “corrective” rape. Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

UNFPA’s most recent statistics indicated that 37 percent of women had experienced intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months. Among the barriers to reporting for women who had been sexually abused, UNICEF noted in an April report on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) that women said they would not confide in anyone if they were sexually abused, and that they feared diminished marriage prospects and community gossip after surviving this crime.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports judicial authorities took action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict or give them better luck with mining, and children often died because of these rapes.

Accusations of witchcraft often targeted women and resulted in killings, including some by burning. The NGO Association of Women in the Media said it had recorded 324 accusations of witchcraft from June through September. An administrative chief for Kabare Territory, South Kivu, said those killed were mainly women, more than 60 of whom had been designated as witches by individuals who claimed they could detect witches. A report by the Permanent Consultative Framework for Congolese Women (CAFCO) recorded more than 37 women killed by mobs following witchcraft accusations in South Kivu, Ituri, Kinshasa, and Kongo Central during the year. CAFCO called on national authorities to punish those responsible and ensure the safety of the victims.

In September the Guardian reported that eight women had been accused of witchcraft and burned to death or lynched in South Kivu during the month. An attorney quoted in the Guardian noted that a 2014 provincial law forbidding mob justice had not been applied.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year if convicted, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

In late September several international news organizations reported allegations of SEA by World Health Organization (WHO) staff members working on the Ebola efforts in the country during the 2018-20 epidemic. The United Nations reported that the perpetrators included both Congolese and foreign staff, with an investigation by a WHO commission identifying 83 persons involved in the abuse, 21 confirmed as WHO employees. A New York Times article noted that women reported being asked to provide sex in exchange for a job or even to get water. The BBC reported that local women described being ambushed in hospitals, where they were raped. A Reuters article noted 29 women reported they were raped, with some forced by their abusers to have abortions. The United Nations noted that the report described how managers refused to consider verbal reports. In late October Reuters reported that more women had reported SEA, and the WHO issued a plan to prevent such misconduct by humanitarian workers.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law recognizes the rights of all couples and individuals of reproductive age to benefit from information and education on contraception and to have free access to reproductive health services, although many couples and individuals lacked the means and access to information.

In 2020 according to UNFPA, 28 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 obtained access to modern contraception after requesting it, while reproductive health needs for 21 percent of women were unmet. The prevalence of modern methods of contraception was approximately 12 percent.

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s selected sexual and reproductive health indicators between 2007 and 2018, 32 percent of respondents’ recent births were unplanned. According to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, there were 147 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in Kinshasa in 2016. The study found that in Kinshasa, 5 percent of women seeking postabortion care after using misoprostol were discharged in good health in less than 24 hours and did not require treatment.

Problems affecting access to family planning and reproductive health services included an inadequate transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, and poor logistics and supply chain management leading to frequent stock shortages. Cultural norms favoring large families; misinformation surrounding contraceptive use, including fear that contraception causes infertility; and especially the population’s general inability to pay for contraceptive services were also barriers.

The adolescent birth rate was 138 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. UNICEF reported that 27 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant. In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 and its impact on women and girls in the country, UNICEF reported an increase in the use of family planning services, an increase in sexual activity among adolescents, a reduction in antenatal care visits, and an increase in the number of pregnancies and women and adolescents seeking clandestine abortions.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of gender-based violence. The provision of emergency contraception was included as part of clinical management of rape, but women could not always access them in time. The services were free and intended to provide a postexposure prophylaxis kit within 72 hours to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Prominent human rights observers reported, however, that women who went to the police to report rape were often asked to pay for actions needed to investigate and prosecute the crime. The government established mobile clinics for gender-based violence survivors in remote areas. LGBTQI+ survivors reported barriers to accessing emergency care.

According to the 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, despite sustained high usage of health facilities for deliveries, which suggested a poor quality of health services. Geographic barriers, lack of appropriate equipment, and low health professional capacity also hindered the provision of quality maternal and child health services and led to high maternal mortality and childbirth complications, such as obstetric fistula.

After analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF noted that school closures and financial difficulties pushed some adolescent girls to engage in transactional sexual relationships. Young women often did not have access to menstrual hygiene, which impacted their ability to attend schools, which often lacked bathrooms and running water. Furthermore, unwed girls who became pregnant were pressured to drop out of school, and young women who become mothers often faced societal stigmas.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. The law permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based violence. Nonetheless, women experienced economic discrimination, and there were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations considered dangerous, but no restrictions on women’s working hours.

In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found that women were disproportionately affected by the health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. Most women worked in the informal sector, and border and market closures limited business opportunities.

According to UNICEF many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Since changes in the family law in 2017, women and men receive the same punishments for adultery of “an injurious quality,” but this change was not applied to the criminal law.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides that “no one could be discriminated on the basis of his race, ethnic, tribe, cultural or linguistic minority.” Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

Long-standing ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. The UNJHRO reported the resurgence of interethnic conflict between Twa and Luba communities in Tanganyika Province and noted that conflicts between the Twa and the Bantu in Monkoto, Tshuapa Province, led to violence and casualties. The UNJHRO also reported persistent ethnic conflicts and attacks by the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga Provinces between January and June. According to MONUSCO, hate speech was spreading on social media among local communities in the city of Uvira and surrounding areas.

From January through June the UNJHRO documented 278 human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of the intercommunal conflict in the Haut Plateau covering parts of the territories of Uvira, Fizi, and Mwenga. The UNJHRO reported this conflict pitted the Banyamulenge community against the Bafuliiru, Bayindu-Banyindu, and Babembe communities and was characterized by the involvement of multiple armed groups and militias organized in ethnically based alliances, notably combatants from the Ngumino armed group and the Twigwaneho and Android militias, linked to the Banyamulenge community, and Mai Mai, and Biloze Bishambuke combatants linked to the Bafuliiru, Banyindu, and Babembe communities.

In May a journalist from the magazine New Yorker reported that when he was traveling in Kolwezi, a mining town in the South, staff at a casino run by and frequented by foreigners told him that Black Africans were not allowed to gamble. The journalist further wrote that the treatment of Congolese artisanal miners by their foreign bosses in the mining areas evoked that of the colonial period.

On September 27, two lawyers from South Kivu filed a complaint with the public prosecutor and the auditor general of the FARDC alleging acts amounting to ethnic cleansing in Minembwe between 2018 and 2020. The complaint, filed on behalf of 71 Banyamulenge living in the highlands of South Kivu, alleged that armed Mai Mai militia from the Fuliiro, Bembe, and Nyindu ethnic groups killed, raped, tortured, and kidnapped Banyamulenge and also burned houses and farm buildings and looted cattle, with the indifference or complicity of the FARDC. The complaint also denounced hate speech against Banyamulenge, sometimes propagated by well-known politicians and social-media influencers.

Uvira mayor Kiza Muhato banned an anti-Banyamulenge march after it had been postponed from October 12 to October 15, leading organizers to cancel it again. The organizers planned the demonstration in support of the comments made by former minister of rural development Justin Bitakwira calling for Bafuliiro youth to take up arms to defend their ancestral land from Banyamulenge “invaders.”

On December 9, FARDC major Joseph Rugenerwa Kaminzobe was accompanying a patient in an ambulance carrying four other FARC soldiers headed to the Fizi General Referral Hospital when demonstrators in Lweba village pulled him from the ambulance, assaulted him, and burned him alive, allegedly for his Banyamulenge ethnicity. According to local sources, the demonstrators were a mix of young persons called “Bazalendo” (Swahili for “patriot”) and Mai Mai rebels protesting against the killing of three civilians during an attack by the Banyamulenge-linked Ngumino militia two days earlier. The deputy prime minister of interior and security launched an investigation and maintained the government was committed to combating hate speech. A FARDC delegation arrived in Lweba on December 11 to begin the investigation.

Indigenous Peoples

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the East between IAGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations. Political, social, and economic discrimination and exclusion of Pygmy, an ethnic community locally referred to as Twa, drove conflict throughout the country, most notably in Tanganyika Province, and around Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kiva Province.

While the law stipulates indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been in the country in 1960. According to UNICEF, the government registered approximately 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility, but only 14 percent children had a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate, which provides proof of where a child was born and the identity of the child’s parents, a child lacked any proof of entitlement to a nationality and was therefore left at risk of statelessness. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. Despite President Tshisekedi’s policy to provide free primary education, the government was unable to offer it consistently in all provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children. UNICEF reported that approximately 7.6 million children ages five to 17 were out of school, and half of girls ages five to 17 did not attend school. For the vast majority of schools, the lack of funding led to decreased access and quality of learning, rendering the policy heavily politicized and at times unpopular.

Secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. There were reports of teachers pressuring girls for sexual favors in return for higher grades. Educational obstacles for children with disabilities included inaccessible infrastructure; exams provided in formats not accessible to everyone; and a lack of awareness among teachers, students, and staff in addition to the reluctance to include children with disabilities.

Many of the schools in the East were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG forcible recruitment and use of child soldiers. In March the Child Protection Section of MONUSCO documented one attack against a school and another against a hospital in Mabelenge, Irumu Territory, both perpetrated by ADF combatants in Ituri Province. The school was destroyed, and the hospital was looted. In April approximately 30 schools closed due to insecurity in Ikobo, North Kivu. Radio Okapi reported that most schools in Beni Territory were closed in May because of rampant insecurity and the subsequent displacement of students and teachers from troubled areas.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred. The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: While the law requires consent and prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place, in part due to continued social acceptance. The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine. The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15; however, enforcement was limited.

Provisions in the law do not clarify who has standing to report forced marriage as a crime or if a judge has the authority to do so. UNFPA reported that child marriage was widespread, with approximately 37 percent of girls married by age 18 and 10 percent of women ages 20 to 24 having been married before the age of 15. Dowry payments greatly incentivized underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect dowries or to finance dowries for sons. UNFPA further reported that some parents considered child marriage a way to protect a girl from sexual violence, reasoning that her husband would be responsible for her safety.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. In April UNICEF published a report on SEA that highlighted persistent social beliefs that undermine protection for child survivors. For example, UNICEF noted in the report that adolescent girls who were in exploitative relationships and received money in exchange for sex were not perceived to be children. According to the report, sexual violence against children was considered more serious and more likely to be reported than sexual violence against adults, as it was commonly believed that child victims do not bear the same stigma as adult victims.

There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support and only 3 percent received medical support. In 2019 the NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and causing misfortune. Humanium noted that street children were unsupervised with no access to food, education, or shelter and other basic necessities, circumstances that left them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults and law enforcement personnel who forced them into illegal criminal activity. Law enforcement officials sometimes recruited street children to disrupt political protests and cause public disorder, making children liable for injury or death.

In February UNICEF reported that there were an estimated three million child IDPs in the country, largely as a result of violence in the east of the country (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires the state to promote their participation in national, provincial, and local institutions. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law prohibits private, public, and semipublic companies from discriminating against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services. Many persons with disabilities, consequently, resorted to begging. Conflict in several areas of the country left many thousands of former military and civilians with significant disabilities. Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities due to shame.

No legislation mandates access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities, including access to health care, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no reasonable accommodations are required of educational facilities to support their full and equal inclusion. Schools for children with hearing impairments, for example, were private and generally in poor condition. According to the Ministry of People Living with Disabilities, less than 1 percent of children with disabilities attended school. In a study done between 2019 and 2020 with support from UNESCO, the ministry reported that of 10,000 persons with disabilities in Kinshasa, only 36 percent had some primary school education and 49 percent had no formal education. The government began a program to standardize sign language throughout the provinces due to differences between the signs used in different provinces.

A local NGO Congo Handicap reported in September that women with disabilities were up to four times as likely to be survivors of domestic violence as other women and often did not report abuses due to a lack of awareness of their rights. Persons with disabilities were also frequently survivors of gender-based violence. Congo Handicap also noted in a report published in September that 1,500 women with disabilities in and near the city of Bukavu had survived rape and other forms of sexual violence. Many survivors reported unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections as a result. The NGO reported that the perpetrators were not held to account for the alleged abuses.

Violence against persons with disabilities was a serious problem. Victims often did not report abuses, and when they did, they experienced financial, social, and cultural obstacles to accountability. Often police and other officials who played a role in the judicial system asked victims for money before investigating. The family of a young autistic girl who was raped by a manual laborer in Kinshasa did not have the money to pursue justice. The family then brought the case to the attention of the minister of people living with disabilities, who described how she intervened to ensure the case was brought to trial, which resulted in a six-year prison sentence for the perpetrator.

Frontline Defenders reported that Sinzeri Nabeza Jolie, a prominent human rights defender with a physical disability, was released from detention in January due to deteriorating health after spending four days in detention without being presented to a judge. Jolie is a member of SOS HANDICAP, an organization in South Kivu created by women with disabilities to defend and protect the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. Police had arrested her following a meeting to prepare for a march protesting discrimination against women and girls with disabilities. A Congo Handicap report published in December asserted that the right to access to justice for people with disabilities was not respected. According to the report, persons with disabilities often would not lodge complaints, because their complaints were often not taken seriously and were often either dismissed or not recorded.

Persons with disabilities also encountered many challenges in exercising their rights to participate in civic life. During the 2018 election, for example, persons with visual impairments encountered difficulties trying to use voting machines. Obstacles to voting included a lack of support and information, in addition to an inaccessible physical environment. Many potential voters with physical disabilities were forced to abandon the effort to participate in elections when physical limitations did not permit them to wait in the lines. Additionally, authorities sometimes changed the location of polling places at the last minute, making it difficult for persons with disabilities to reach the new location due to limited accessible transportation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14 captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. Of those responding, 72 percent said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 percent expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller; 49 percent would accept having an HIV-positive teacher with their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member.

A 2020 Ministry of Health study conducted in conjunction with WHO and other organizations surveyed those with HIV about stigmatization and discrimination towards them. Approximately 40 percent gave their HIV status as a reason to have moved during the previous 12 months. Nearly 75 percent said they had not lost a job or source of revenue during the previous 12 months due to their HIV status. Fewer than 5 percent said they had been refused health care because they were HIV positive, and 62 percent of respondents said they had read about or discussed the law providing protection for the rights of persons with HIV and AIDs.

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

While no law specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, individuals engaging in public displays of consensual same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which were rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported authorities rarely took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses against LGBTQI+ persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Identifying as LGBTQI+ remained a cultural taboo. LGBTQI+ individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in supporting discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals.

LGBTQI+ persons in South Kivu Province reported that in 2018 a coalition of revivalist churches in Bukavu published materials characterizing LGBTQI+ persons as acting against the will of God. The publications contributed to a deteriorating environment for LGBTQI+ rights in the area. Advocates in the eastern part of the country reported arbitrary detentions, acts of physical violence, including beatings, being stripped naked, sexual abuse in public settings, and rape. In some cases LGBTQI+ persons were forced by threats of violence to withdraw from schools and other public and community institutions.

In June LGBTQI+ persons who participated in Pride Month activities were subjected to harassment, physical violence, and threats when photographs became public. An NGO supporting LGBTQI+ rights reported receiving hate mail and threats of violence. The NGO reported there was rarely condemnation when LGBTQI+ persons were attacked and that LGBTQI+ individuals faced difficulties pursuing claims of discrimination in employment.

An NGO promoting LGBTQI+ rights claimed other human rights organizations excluded and ostracized LGBTQI+ rights organizations due to their religious beliefs or belief that LGBTQI+ rights do not constitute human rights. One activist reported being explicitly excluded from other meetings of human rights organizations or women’s rights organizations due to her affiliation as an LGBTQI+ activist.

A human rights NGO reported that a gay man was severely beaten by a mob, which included several security force members, after he was lured to meet another man at a local hotel. Human rights activists alleged that some in the mob were members of the Republican Guard. The mob later attacked the man’s house and stole his money, causing the man to go into hiding and to be disowned by his family.

LGBTQI+ activists reported that there were many cases of “corrective” rape against both men and women during the year. When the survivors came to a health clinic for care, they were either rejected for being LGBTQI+ or the staff at the health clinic tried to talk them out of being LGBTQI+.

An influential church, Centre Missionnaire Philadelphie, where several high-ranking politicians attended services, held a seminar with hundreds of participants about the “causes and consequences” of being LGBTQI+, claiming it was immoral.

In July former human rights minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, responding to a tweet, wrote that LGBTQI+ persons could “love each other privately” but claimed that representative of foreign governments “will have to walk over the dead bodies of Congolese people to impose such behavior in public or legalize it.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials, judges, and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes. It is against the law, however, for police, army, directors of public and private enterprises, and domestic workers to strike. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. It also grants unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and a single business may include members of more than one union. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years, a length of time deemed excessive by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members and one employer representative; union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with unions.

Union committees are required to notify company management of a planned strike, but they do not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. At times, however, workers strike without adhering to these lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures, thus engaging in a “wildcat” strike. Generally, the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. At times employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. If negotiations are taking place, public-sector workers must continue to provide “vital services.” Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law prohibits striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor. This rule was not enforced.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the associated penalties were not adequate to deter violations. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Workers have access to a labor court for discrimination issues, but no cases were brought during the year. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three continuous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private-sector and public-enterprise unions at the national level, as well as 15 unions that represented the public administration sector. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. Of the 15 national unions that represented the public administration sector, five accounted for most workers. Several unions had strong ties to government or parties, and some reported interference with union affairs and elections.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Workers in the public and private sectors held strikes regarding unpaid salaries. In October medical doctors and nurses delivered notice prior to striking, but teachers in Catholic schools who went on strike refused to teach after the government had accepted demands to negotiate, leading some observers to call the strike illegal. Local media reported that PNC officers occasionally violently broke up these protests. In June health-care workers including hospital administrative staff went on strike to demand a salary increase.

In July local press reported that Kinshasa taxi drivers started a strike to protest harassment by local police and transport agents, with the president of the Association of DRC Drivers declaring that taxi drivers were tired of being arrested or robbed by the police. The strike lasted for one week.

Also in July, Radio Okapi reported that the physicians’ unions SYMECO, SYNAMED, and SYLIMED coordinated to launch a strike following the government’s failure to take their July 10 strike notice into account. The unions noted the authorities’ apparent unwillingness to address grievances ranging from calls for pay raises to complaints regarding physicians’ working conditions and the poor management of the country’s hospitals.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not properly exercise the right to strike. Government and employers did not respect the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations and lack of capacity for the General Labor Inspectorate, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate the workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances companies refused to negotiate with unions and negotiated individually with workers to undermine collective bargaining efforts. In the retail sector, strike leaders working for supermarkets were threatened with termination. Unions had an active complaint with the ILO pertaining to past allegations of government interference in union elections.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so irregularly.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows for arrest and compulsory labor as a penalty to enforce payment of the tax debt. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country (see section 7.c.). Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining equipment, often at high interest rates. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay their debt were at risk of debt bondage. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate the practice.

In the East, IAGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages; held men, women, and children captive; and exploited them in forced labor and sex trafficking. In North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, some members of FARDC units and IAGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines. There were no reports of FARDC units forcing persons to work in mines. IAGs sometimes forced local communities to perform construction work and other labor at mine sites. The deputy administrator of Ngungu, Theophile Ndikabuze, told a local news site that the self-proclaimed General Mahachano, a Masisi rebel, continued to recruit young persons for gold trafficking. The government did not enforce laws banning this practice. In the provinces of the Katanga region, the use of force to evict artisanal diggers led to violence and casualties.

Some police arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports in North and South Kivu Provinces of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom.

The government took limited action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. Following a five-month closure of courts for pandemic restrictions, civilian and military courts resumed investigations and prosecutions of multiple traffickers for cases in which victims were subjected to forced labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude. The prosecutions continued through the year. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16, and a ministerial order sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. While criminal courts heard some child labor complaints, it was unclear if these resulted in sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with other serious crimes. The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The Ministry of Mines employed mining inspectors, whose duties include inspecting for child labor at mine sites. The government did not devote adequate support to these agencies, and they conducted no inspections or specialized investigations for child labor during the year.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was prevalent throughout the country. Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Haut-Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, Kasai-Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu Provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who at times treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted an action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; however, as of September it had not been implemented. In 2020 the General Labor Inspectorate issued a plan to conduct a child labor survey and develop a roadmap to review and curb the use of child labor in the rice sector in Kongo Central Province, but no survey was conducted during the year.

Forced child labor was prevalent in the mining sector. The law prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations. Nonetheless, various mining sites, located principally in North Kivu and Haut-Katanga Provinces, employed many child workers. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Treated as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures. According to the civil society organization Leave Kabare to Live (MLKAV), surveys carried out in Kabare territory in South Kivu indicated that more than 70 percent of laborers in stone-mining quarries were minor children, both girls and boys, ages eight to 15.

The mining police and private security forces, including those guarding large-scale mining concessions, reportedly subjected child laborers on artisanal mining sites to extortion and physical abuse.

There was a systematic government effort in conjunction with NGOs to redirect child labor away from mines. The government and the African Development Bank continued a 160 billion Congolese francs ($80 million) project to provide alternative livelihoods for children engaged in the cobalt sector.

The Ministry of Mines prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting minerals; however, the ministry had limited enforcement capacity.

In 2019 the government undertook a five billion Congolese francs ($2.5 million) project to boost the capacity of labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. Additionally, in March the Ministry of Mines issued a decree forming an interministerial commission with the Ministry of Labor to inspect child labor in artisanal mines. As of September the commission had yet to act, due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public-service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws, and penalties were not commensurate with other violations of civil rights.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous, and women were prohibited from occupying many jobs that require night work. Persons with disabilities, including albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest minimum wages applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The minimum wage was above the poverty line, but it did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Most businesses were not in compliance with this minimum wage but faced few penalties.

In the public sector the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors), do not have the right under the law to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 hours per week to 72 hours every two weeks, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The government did not effectively enforce wage and hour regulations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. The Ministry of Labor employed 115 labor inspectors and 71 labor controllers, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate penalties.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor code specifies health and safety standards, but they had not been updated in many years.

The government did not effectively enforce health and safety standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. The Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. Nonetheless, the law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations.

Informal Sector: Labor laws apply to the informal sector, but they were rarely applied. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in the informal sector in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 IPIS estimated there were 300,000 artisanal miners in the 2,000 identified mine sites in the East. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified. In October seven artisanal gold miners were reported dead and five missing in South Kivu after a landslide caused by torrential rain.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

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

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

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

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corrupt acts, but inconsistent and ineffective application of the law sometimes led to impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that government agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Extrajudicial killings of civilians by officers of the National Police were a problem. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), more than 4,000 individuals died during confrontations with police or security forces between 2010 and April 2021. As of October police killed a total of 41 persons, according to the Attorney General’s Office, but the exact number of extrajudicial killings was unknown. Media and civil society acknowledged that many cases went unreported due to a lack of faith in the justice system to pursue charges.

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominican-born persons without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. Beginning in 2015 authorities attempted to deport some of these persons but were prevented by UN agency intervention. Stateless persons do not have access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, marriage registration, birth registration, formal loans, judicial procedures, sta