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Bangladesh

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

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

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

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Displaced Children: See section 2.d.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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

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

Indigenous People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. The country held general elections on November 14, which international observers deemed credible. Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won 27 of 51 seats in parliament, and he was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included censorship, trafficking in persons, and forced labor (including of children).

The government investigated some security forces officials who committed abuses, and prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses elsewhere in the government; however, impunity was a problem in cases with political implications.

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

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

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

In November, two police officers appeared in court on charges related to the death of 26-year-old Josua Lalauvaki. The officers allegedly assaulted Lalauvaki during an altercation outside a Suva nightclub in September. After police released him, Lalauvaki died in the hospital from injuries sustained from the beating.

Eight police officers and a soldier remained in prison for the 2016 rape, sexual assault, and death of robbery suspect Vilikesa Soko. The appellate court has not set a date for their appeal.

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 and law prohibit torture, forced medical treatment, and degrading treatment or punishment. The Public Order Act (POA), however, authorizes the government to use whatever force it deems necessary to enforce public order. There were reports security forces abused persons during the year.

The investigation into the death of Vikram Nand, found dead in a cell at a local police station in Valelevu in 2017, remained pending, as did an investigation initiated in 2017 into reports two police officers beat and threw two persons from a moving bus (which was captured on video).

Investigations into several other past allegations of police abuse also remained pending, including a 2016 complaint by farmer Alipate Sadranu that security forces beat him and 10 other men whom they apprehended for unlawful cultivation of illicit drugs and the 2015 alleged abuse of Sakiusa Niulala by police.

In 2017 the United Nations received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by a Fijian peacekeeper in Beirut, Lebanon. The accusation of transactional sex in September 2017 was made against a member of the military contingent serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The Fiji government concluded its investigation and found the allegation was substantiated. The United Nations repatriated the peacekeeper to Fiji where authorities took disciplinary action and dismissed him from the Fiji military.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The national prison system remained overcrowded, with deteriorating infrastructure and complaints about inadequate essential services.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were somewhat overcrowded, holding more than 1,400 inmates in facilities designed for 1,000. There were insufficient beds, inadequate sanitation, and a shortage of other necessities. Authorities generally separated pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners at shared facilities, although in some cases authorities held them together. Prison facilities reportedly were unsuitable for inmates with physical and mental disabilities.

In October authorities fired a corrections officer and suspended five others after they assaulted a prisoner and then denied him medical treatment at a Suva remand center.

A police investigation into a 2016 case involving the alleged rape of a female inmate by a corrections officer was completed, and the case was pending trial at Suva’s high court. Government officials reported one inmate death, reportedly from natural causes, during the year.

Administration: Prisoners may submit complaints to the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (FHRADC), which investigated several complaints during the year.

The law allows prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities. Although the law prohibits authorities from reviewing, censoring, or seizing prisoner letters to the judiciary and the FHRADC, authorities routinely reviewed such letters and, in most cases, seized them. Authorities did not investigate or document credible allegations of inhuman conditions in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the FHRADC visited official detention facilities and interviewed inmates; prison authorities permitted such visits without third parties present.

Improvements: During the year the government completed construction on a new 200-inmate remand center to alleviate overcrowding at the corrections facility in Lautoka. The government also completed construction of a facility for inmates requiring psychiatric care.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements. The law details procedures for lawful arrest. The POA authorizes security forces to detain a person for a maximum 16 days before bringing charges; the minister of defense and national security must authorize detention without charge exceeding 48 hours. There were no reports of unlawful detention during the year.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Defense and National Security oversees both the Fiji Police Force and the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF). Police are responsible for law enforcement and the maintenance of internal security. The RFMF is responsible for external security. The POA authorizes soldiers to perform the duties and functions of police and prison officers in specific circumstances.

The police Ethical Standards Unit is responsible for investigating complaints of police misconduct. In May, three police officers were charged for the 2014 indecent assault of a female police officer, including a charge of conspiring to obstruct justice for attempting to influence the female officer to withdraw the allegation.

Four military officers were charged and court martialed for the sexual assault and rape of a female military officer in March; the outcome remained pending.

The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Following investigations by FICAC, a senior police officer in the Border Police Unit appeared in court in June for refusing to provide information in a bribery-related case; the court convicted him and suspended his sentence.

To increase respect for human rights by security forces, the FHRADC, international organizations, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted a number of human rights training courses with law enforcers.

Impunity remained a problem in some politically connected cases. The constitution and POA provide immunity from prosecution for members of the security forces for any deaths or injuries arising from the use of force deemed necessary to enforce public order. The constitution provides immunity for the president, prime minister, members of the cabinet, and security forces for actions taken relating to the 2006 coup, the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution, and the 2000 suppression of a mutiny at military headquarters.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution provides that detained persons be charged and brought to court within 48 hours of arrest or as soon as practicable thereafter, and that right was generally respected. Police officers may arrest persons without a warrant.

Police also conduct arrests in response to warrants issued by magistrates and judges. Police may detain persons under the POA for a maximum of 16 days, after which authorities must charge or release persons in custody. There is no legal requirement to bring to court persons detained under provisions of the POA for judicial review of the grounds for their detention, unless authorities charge them with an offense. The POA prohibits any court, tribunal, or other body from reviewing a detention under POA provisions.

The law provides accused persons the right to bail, unless it is “not in the interests of justice” to grant bail. Under the law both police and the courts may grant bail. Although there is a legal presumption in favor of granting bail, the prosecution may object, and often did so in cases where the accused was appealing a conviction or had previously breached bail conditions. An individual must apply for bail by a motion and affidavit that require the services of a lawyer.

Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The Legal Aid Commission provided counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases, a service supplemented by voluntary services from private attorneys. The “First Hour Procedure,” began in 2016, requires police to provide every suspect with legal aid assistance within the first hour of arrest. In addition, police are required to record the “caution interview” with each suspect before questioning, to confirm police informed all suspects of their constitutional rights, and to confirm whether suspects suffered any abuse by police prior to questioning.

Pretrial Detention: The number of pretrial detainees was 21 percent of the total prison population, attributed to a continuing pattern of bail refusal by the courts. A shortage of prosecutors and judges contributed to slow processing of cases. Consequently, some defendants faced lengthy pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but its independence continued to be compromised. The president appoints or removes from office the judges of the Supreme Court, justices of appeal, and judges of the high court on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission in consultation with the attorney general. The commission, following consultations with the attorney general, may appoint magistrates, masters of the high court, the chief registrar, and other judicial officers. The constitution and law provide for a variety of restrictions on the jurisdiction of the courts. A 2012 amendment removed the courts’ jurisdiction to hear challenges to government decisions on judicial restructuring, terms and conditions of remuneration for the judiciary, and terminated court cases. Various other decrees contained similar clauses limiting the jurisdiction of the courts on decisions made by the cabinet, ministers, or government departments.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In most cases defendants have the right to a fair public trial, and the court system generally enforced this right.

Defendants generally have a presumption of innocence; they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and confront witnesses against them. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary through all appeals. Authorities also must accord them adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and be present at trial. In most cases defendants have the right to counsel, but many reportedly were unaware of their rights when detained or interviewed and, therefore, often did not ask for legal counsel. The Legal Aid Commission, supplemented by voluntary services of private attorneys, provided free counsel to some indigent defendants in criminal cases. The right of appeal exists, but procedural delays often hampered this right. The constitution allows for limitations on the right to public trial and provides for trials to “begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. In the event of a human rights violation, an individual may submit a complaint to the FHRADC, but the constitution prohibits the FHRADC from investigating cases filed by individuals and organizations relating to the 2006 coup and the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but the POA permits military personnel to search persons and premises without a warrant from a court and to take photographs, fingerprints, and measurements of any person. Police and military officers also may enter private premises to break up any meeting considered unlawful. There were no credible reports police did so during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government may restrict these freedoms in some cases.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly but allows the government to limit this right in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections. The constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of assembly to protect the rights of others and imposes restrictions on a public official’s right to freedom of assembly.

The POA allows the government to refuse permit applications for any meeting or demonstration deemed to prejudice peace, public safety, and good order or to sabotage or attempt to undermine the economy. It also allows authorities to use whatever force necessary to prohibit or disperse public and private meetings after “due warning” to preserve public order.

Although event organizers said authorities were sometimes very slow to issue permits, they granted permits for public rallies in support of UN Human Rights Day and the 16 Days of Activism against Domestic Violence Campaign but denied a permit for a public service union to protest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association but limits this right in the interests of national security, public order, and morality and also for the orderly conduct of elections. It allows the government to regulate trade unions and collective bargaining processes, strikes and lockouts, and essential industries in the interests of the economy and population (see section 7.a.). The government generally did not restrict membership in NGOs, professional associations, and other private organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Under the POA, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

In-country Movement: The POA authorizes the government to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the movement of persons, but there were no reports the government restricted any person’s in-country movement during the year.

Exile: In 2017 opposition parties called on the government to lift travel bans on all existing and former citizens, including former citizen and academic Brij Lal. The Immigration Department has stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place at the end of the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and electoral law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections generally held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In the 2014 election, voters with disabilities and in need of assistance were required to rely on the assistance of an electoral official in order to vote; however, in the November election, the Fiji Elections Office implemented new procedures, which observers noted provided greater flexibility to voters with disabilities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On November 14, voters elected 51 members of parliament. The Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. Observers, including the Australian-led Multinational Observer Group, deemed the elections generally credible and noted the “outcomes are on track to reflect the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. Nevertheless, the government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues.

The law requires that parties submit applications, which must include 5,000 members’ signatures, for registration. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense and mandates trade union leaders must resign their positions before running as candidates.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of F$50,000 ($23,600), or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

The law also reduces the opposition’s power and ability to introduce petitions in parliament. Any petition tabled in parliament requires the support of a minimum of 20 parliamentarians (40 percent) before members may present it for debate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, continued to be underrepresented in government and the military, although they held six of the 13 cabinet minister positions and six of eight assistant minister positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including FICAC public-service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on FICAC investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption. FICAC also received more than 100 corruption-related complaints and 30 cases of fraud involving a government educational grant.

In May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs terminated the employment of two protocol officers and suspended a senior officer for alleged visa fraud.

Corruption cases from past years continued. In June 2017 the RFMF began investigating 12 military personnel for alleged fraud related to the military’s salary payment system. At year’s end the case continued against former corrections chief Lieutenant Colonel Ifereimi Vasu, who authorities dismissed in 2015 for abuse of office related to his alleged misuse of a prison minimart.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. FICAC reports directly to the attorney general and is the primary body responsible for combating and prosecuting government corruption. The government adequately funded FICAC, but some observers questioned its independence and viewed some of its high-profile prosecutions as politically motivated, such as a 2015 case against opposition parliamentarian Ratu Isoa Tikoca for failure to declare liabilities under the Political Parties Act, which requires disclosures by candidates running for election and party officials. A court acquitted the defendant in June 2017.

In May FICAC brought similar charges against Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, for allegedly making a false declaration of his assets, income, and liabilities to the elections supervisor. The court acquitted Rabuka of all charges on October 26. FICAC appealed the ruling a week later, which the appellate court also dismissed.

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

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

The law constrained NGO operations in several ways. For example, the law includes criticism of the government in its definition of sedition; the POA contains a broad prohibition of any speech that could damage the economy; and media law authorizes the government to regulate media content.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the FHRADC, and it continued to receive reports of human rights violations lodged by citizens. While the FHRADC routinely worked with the government to improve certain human rights matters (such as prisoner treatment), observers reported the FHRADC failed to address adequately some key human rights matters, such as the spate of sedition trials, leading those observers to assess the FHRADC as progovernment. In 2016 the FHRADC confirmed it received 703 complaints of human rights violations since 2013.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. There was a large increase in reports of rape during the year, due in part to greater awareness that spousal rape is a crime.

The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to pursue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Courts dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. In May police completed an investigation into a case of incest and rape of a 12-year-old girl but had not filed charges by year’s end. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in both indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In some cases authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases.

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

Discrimination: Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law, but local authorities often excluded them from the decision-making process on disposition of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share in the distribution of indigenous land lease proceeds, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty receiving protection orders enforced by police in domestic violence cases.

Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.

Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended family structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be contributing factors to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. The government continued its public awareness campaign against child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at age 18, preventing them from completing their secondary school education. In indigenous villages, girls younger than age 18 who became pregnant could live as common-law wives with their child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint to police by the family. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 years for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred during the year.

It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children in his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses during the year.

Some high-school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were trafficked for commercial sex during the year, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The court of appeals has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child age 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, a fine of F$25,000 ($11,800), or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a maximum fine of F$50,000 ($23,600); or both for a repeat offense, and the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.

The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers and health and social welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The constitution addresses specifically the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to materials and devices related to the disability; the law, however, does not further define “reasonable.” Moreover, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Statutes provide for the right of access to places and all modes of transport generally open to the public. Public health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting them.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but only a few buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. Parliament continued to televise its sessions in sign language to improve access for persons with hearing disabilities.

There were a number of separate schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that the community, public health, and general health systems provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported persons with such disabilities at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.

The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. In 2016 the office signed an agreement with the Pacific Disability Forum and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons to create an Elections Disability Access Working Group to improve political participation by the country’s disability community. The national council, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 14 election for voters with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tension between indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. As of July 2017, indigenous Fijians comprised an estimated 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of indigenous Fijians and Rotumans, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Although Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, indigenous Fijians continued to dominate the security forces.

Land tenure remained a highly sensitive and politicized topic. Indigenous Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land; the government, 4 percent; and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom are descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed this limited their ability to own land and their consequent dependence on leased land from indigenous Fijians constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many indigenous Fijian landowners believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.

By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners known as the Vola ni Kawa Bula (native land register). The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and justifies titleholders within indigenous communities.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.

In November authorities arrested Saula Temo and charged him in the May death of a transgender man in a suspected hate crime. The case was pending at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides all workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.

The law prohibits some forms of antiunion discrimination, including victimizing workers or firing a worker for union membership. The constitution prohibits union officers from becoming members of parliament. The law also limits the ability of union officers to form or join political parties and exercise other political rights.

The law designates “essential service and industries” to include corporations engaged in finance, telecommunications, public-sector employees, mining, transport, and the airline industry. The definition of essential services and industries also includes all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.

The law also limits who may be an officer of a trade union, including prohibiting noncitizens from being trade union officers.

All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with an “undesirable” name, although the law limits the government’s discretion to refuse to register trade union names to those cases where the name is “offensive or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” By law the government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases.

By law any trade union with seven or more members in an industry not designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer.

Unions may conduct secret strike ballots upon 14 days’ notice to the registrar if 50 percent of all members who are entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also give 14 days’ notice; notify the Arbitration Court; and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the matter to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.

Limited data were available on the government’s enforcement of legal provisions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining included fines and imprisonment; observers considered them sufficient to deter violations. Individuals, employers, and unions (on behalf of their members) may submit employment disputes and grievances alleging discrimination, unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, or certain other unfair labor practices to the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations.

The two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, held meetings during the year without government interference.

Labor relations became strained after a December 2017 impasse involving the management and approximately 200 employees of the airport and passenger ground-handling company, Airport Terminal Services. Workers claimed management locked out and suspended workers for attending a meeting to discuss their grievances. In mid-January an estimated 2,500 persons demonstrated in support of the workers, and police did not intervene to disrupt the march. A national strike proposed by the FTUC was averted after the Employment Relations Tribunal ordered management to allow the workers to return.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The Office of Labor Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the particular case. The government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes imprisonment penalties, which observers considered sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports forced labor occurred, including forced labor of children (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Although the law provides that education is compulsory until age 15 years, children age 13 to 15 may be employed on a daily wage basis in nonindustrial “light” work not involving machinery, provided they return to their parents or guardian every night. The law sets a limit of eight hours per day that a child can work but does not include a list of permissible activities. Children age 15 to 17 may be employed, but they must have specified hours and rest breaks. They may not be employed in hazardous occupations and activities, including those involving heavy machinery, hazardous materials, mining, or heavy physical labor, the care of children, or work within security services.

The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations deployed inspectors countrywide to enforce compliance with the law, including law covering child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable law, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies that violate these provisions.

Poverty continued to influence children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, and to work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, including work as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers, including in agriculture. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Some children worked in relatives’ homes and were vulnerable to involuntary domestic servitude or forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination. The law stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal remuneration for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground in mines but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Under the law workers may file complaints on the ground of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Limited data were available on the government’s antidiscrimination provisions and its enforcement. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and are generally sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 30 percent of the economically active female population engaged in the formal economy, and a large number of these women worked in semisubsistence farming or were self-employed. By law women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land, but authorities seldom recognized this right (see section 6). The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due to lack of access, insufficient education and training, and discrimination by employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of September 2017, the national minimum hourly wage was F$2.68 ($1.27). The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights. There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage did not typically provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

There is no single countrywide limitation on maximum working hours for adults, but there are restrictions and overtime provisions in certain sectors. The government establishes workplace safety laws and regulations.

The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations’ Office of Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. Convictions for a breach of the minimum wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel and delays in compensation hearings and rulings. Although the law excludes mines from general workplace health and safety laws, it empowers the director of mines to inspect all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of employers charged by the inspectorate with violating minimum wage orders and decide on compensation claims filed by the inspectorate on behalf of workers.

Unions generally monitored safety standards in organized workplaces, but many work areas did not meet standards, and the ministry did not monitor all workplaces for compliance. Workers in some industries, notably security, transportation, and shipping, worked excessive hours. Media reported two workers died in work-related incidents during the year.

In June the FTUC lodged concerns about the country’s labor relations with the International Labor Organization following a labor dispute involving workers at the Vatukoula Gold Mine. According to the FTUC, mineworkers, who labored in some of the most dangerous working environments in the country, received no wage adjustments for more than a decade and wanted workplace safety and security concerns addressed.

Finland

Executive Summary

The Republic of Finland is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament (Eduskunta). The prime minister heads a three-party coalition government approved by parliament and appointed by the president in 2015. The presidential election on January 28 and parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security. Both Finnish Customs and the Border Guard have law enforcement responsibilities related to their fields of responsibility. The Border Guard has additional law enforcement powers to maintain public order when it operates in joint patrols and under police command. The defense forces are responsible for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and providing military training. The defense forces also have some domestic security responsibilities, such as assisting the national police in maintaining law and order in crises, participating in search and rescue operations, and providing aid in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophe. The national police and Border Guard report to the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Defense oversees the defense forces.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, the defense forces, the Border Guard, and Finnish Customs. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

The Helsinki District Court ordered the detention of the former head of the Helsinki Police Narcotics Unit, Jari Aarnio, in July due to alleged criminal negligence in the murder of a man in 2003. Aarnio was previously convicted on a range of corruption and drug trafficking crimes. In May the state prosecutor charged the former and current national police commissioners with official misconduct for their failure to oversee Aarnio’s Narcotics Unit adequately. On September 17, the daily Helsingin Sanomat reported the suspension of the director of the National Bureau of Investigation, Robin Lardot, in connection with the Aarnio case. Lardot’s criminal trial began on October 2.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to have a warrant issued by a prosecutor to make an arrest. Police must obtain a warrant within three days if an individual is arrested while committing a crime. Arrested persons must receive a court hearing within three days of arrest, and police must promptly inform detainees of the charges against them. There is no system of bail, but most defendants awaiting trial are eligible for conditional release on personal recognizance. The law provides for a detainee’s prompt access to a lawyer. Persons detained for “minor” criminal offenses, however, do not have a right to an attorney from the outset of detention or prior to interrogation. The government must provide lawyers for the indigent. Authorities respected most of these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public, and take place without undue delay. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner before trial. The government provides attorneys at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Authorities give defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are provided free interpretation as necessary from the moment an individual is charged through all appeals. They can confront and question witnesses for the prosecution and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies through domestic courts for human rights violations. Persons may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government reports Finland did not confiscate property belonging to Jews during the Holocaust-era, that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue, and that no litigation or restitution claims were pending before authorities regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were several reports of violence against asylum seekers. In January an asylum seeker at the Joutseno migrant reception center committed suicide while awaiting deportation, sparking protest among other residents at the converted prison facility. Right-wing extremist groups hostile to asylum seekers and immigrants, including the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) and the vigilante group Soldiers of Odin, maintained an active presence both online and in street demonstrations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Lawyers specializing in asylum cases alleged the government deported asylum seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution or torture, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. In September the Immigration Service announced it would suspend deportations to Afghanistan following new guidance from UNHCR regarding safety conditions in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining the asylum application. The government does not, however, return asylum seekers to Greece or Hungary under the Dublin Regulation.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have valid travel documents, but do not yet have a valid residence permit, are allowed to begin working three months after they have submitted their asylum application. Asylum seekers who do not have valid travel documents must wait six months after they have submitted their asylum application before they can begin working.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR the government accepted 1,094 refugees for resettlement during 2017, a number similar to previous years. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries. Between January and June, the Finnish Immigration Service and the International Organization for Migration helped more than 480 persons to return voluntarily to their homes in 29 different countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to May the government provided temporary protection to 191 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. From January to May, the government also offered protection to 209 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR 2,749 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2017. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s presidential election on January 28 and national parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Financial Disclosure: By law appointed and elected officials must each year declare their income, assets, and other private interests that could overlap with their official duties. Officials must make their initial declaration within two months of assuming office and declare any potential conflicts of interest that arise during their tenure. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure. By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens must be made public each year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, fulfill a duty, or appropriately implement fundamental human rights protections. The main targets of the complaints were social welfare agencies, police, and health care.

The Human Rights Center operated as part of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office. The center’s functions include promoting human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. Rape is punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment. If the offender used violence, the offense is considered aggravated, and the penalty may be more severe. The maximum penalties are six years’ imprisonment for rape and 10 years for aggravated rape. All sexual offenses against adults, except sexual harassment, are subject to public prosecution. Sexual offenses against a defenseless person (intoxicated or with a disability) are considered as severe as rape.

Authorities may prosecute domestic abuse under various criminal laws, including laws prohibiting rape, assault and battery, harassment, and disturbing the peace. The penalty for physical domestic violence ranges from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continued to be a problem, as one out of every five women reported in a survey by the Ministry of Interior in May that they have been a victim of intimate partner violence. In July the Helsinki District Court found a man guilty in the strangling death of a woman and sentenced him to life in prison. Courts had convicted the man on three prior occasions for killing women by strangulation; he had been released after completing his prison sentence on each occasion.

The government body that manages shelters for victims of domestic violence reported a 9-percent increase in demand for its services in 2017 over the previous year, and victim rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) highlighted lack of sufficient shelter space as a high priority. The national police carried out a number of new training initiatives to improve response to domestic violence complaints and emphasize a victim-centered approach to early abuse investigations. According to Statistics Finland, in 2017 approximately 69 percent of the victims of domestic and intimate-partner violence were women.

The government encouraged women to report rape and domestic violence and provided counseling, shelters, and other support services to survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C under the statutes for assault, aggravated assault, and minor assault, although prosecutors have never indicted any perpetrators under the relevant statutes. The law considers the risk of being compelled to undergo FGM/C sufficient grounds for asylum. NGOs reported cases in which citizens were taken abroad for the purpose of undergoing FGM/C. Police reported they were investigating a small number of cases of suspected FGM/C, although no cases went to trial by year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment as a specific, punishable offense with penalties ranging from fines up to six months’ imprisonment. Employers who fail to protect employees from workplace harassment are subject to the same penalties. The prosecutor general is responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints. The government generally enforced the law.

On June 18, the Helsinki District Court fined Teuvo Hakkarainen, a member of parliament from the True Finns Party, 3,060 euros ($3,520) for assault and sexual harassment of his fellow parliamentarian, Veera Ruoho  (National Coalition Party). According to True Finns’ parliamentary leader Leena Meri, the group contemplated no further disciplinary action against Hakkarainen, although party chairman Jussi Halla-aho promised to “talk” to Hakkarainen about the matter. The prosecutor announced he would appeal the sentence.

A survey published in February by the Confederation of Finnish Industries reported that 12 percent of the female respondents and 2 percent of the male respondents had experienced sexual harassment during the preceding year.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The government enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: A child generally acquires citizenship at birth through one or both parents. A child can also acquire citizenship at birth if the child is born in the country and meets certain other criteria, such as if the parents have refugee status in the country or if the child is not eligible for any other country’s citizenship. A local registration office records all births immediately.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, defining children as individuals younger than age 16. The law defines rape of a minor (younger than 18 years) as aggravated rape. Rape of a child carries a minimum penalty of one-year imprisonment and a maximum of six years. Child negligence and physical or psychological violence carry penalties of up to six months in prison and up to two years in prison, respectively. Aggravating factors may increase the length of the prison term.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows exceptions. Minors who want to marry must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice providing a justification based on religious beliefs, cultural practices, or pregnancy. The minister of justice makes the final ruling on whether to approve a request to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The country prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution, and child pornography. The law prohibits purchase of sexual services from minors and covers “grooming” (enticement of a child), including in a virtual environment or through mobile telephone contacts. Authorities enforced the law effectively.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law regards a person whose age cannot be determined, but who can reasonably be assumed to be younger than 18, as a child.

From January to March, police received 329 reports of sexual exploitation of children, an increase of 17.9 percent over the same period in 2017. The MTV television station reported that on July 20 the Northern Karelian District Court convicted a 51-year-old man of six counts of sexual exploitation of children between the ages of 10 and 13. The court also convicted him of the aggravated sexual assault of a minor close relative. The court sentenced the man to three years and 10 months in prison.

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

Anti-Semitism

Government statistics and Jewish leaders place the size of the Jewish population between 1,500 and 2,500 individuals, most living in the Helsinki area.

The Jewish community continued to be the target of harassment, with anti-Semitic acts accounting for 3.8 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2017, despite Jews’ making up less than 1 percent of the population. High-profile Jewish sites in Helsinki were regular targets for graffiti during the year.

Major consumer brands continued to boycott the Karkkainen chain of department stores due to anti-Semitic public statements by the company’s owner, Juha Karkkainen. Karkkainen funded the newspaper KauppaSuomi, a periodical with a claimed circulation of 270,000, which published anti-Semitic editorials.

In response to reports in 2017 about the high number of hate crimes targeting the Jewish population, on January 14, then-speaker of parliament Maria Lohela spoke publically at an event at the Helsinki Synagogue and pledged the government’s support to defend all Jews in the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in all fields, including the provision of state services. The government effectively enforced these provisions.

Authorities generally enforced laws mandating access to buildings for persons with disabilities, although many older buildings remained inaccessible. Despite public notifications from the Ministry of Justice regarding a need for accessible polling facilities, disabled voters continued to encounter inaccessible polling stations or stations where they had to compromise the secrecy of their ballot in order to vote.

Most forms of public transportation were accessible, but problems continued in some geographically isolated areas.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law does not include a specific “hate crime” statute; instead, the presence of racism as a motive is considered a factor in sentencing. In 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, official police figures recorded 1,165 complaints of crimes motivated by discrimination based on ethnicity, an 8 percent increase compared to 2016 but on par with 2015 levels. Among the categories of victims, the sharpest increase was seen against the Muslim population. Of these, 236 were physical assaults, 70 cases of damage to property or theft, 302 verbal assaults, and 223 other crimes.

The Romani community numbered 10,000 to 12,000 persons. They reported discrimination in employment and daily life. For example, in August a court found a taxi driver in the city of Turku guilty of ethnic discrimination after he refused to drive two Roma, a mother and child. The driver admitted in court that he denied service to the two individuals based on their ethnicity. The court fined the driver 2,800 euros ($3,220).

In addition to the Romani minority, Russian-speakers, Somalis, and Sami experienced discrimination. Persons of Somali heritage in particular reported being stopped and asked for proof of residence by police, who are empowered to enforce immigration laws. Somali-Finns also reported persistent discrimination in employment. A survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2015-16 and released in December 2017 found 45 percent of citizens of Sub-Saharan African descent experienced discrimination.

On August 18, the NRM and the Nationalist Alliance marched in Turku to commemorate the first anniversary of a terrorist attack. At least three subnational leaders of the True Finns Party participated in the Nationalist Alliance’s march. An anti-Nazi counterdemonstration was organized to coincide with the Nationalist Alliance’s march.

The government strongly encouraged tolerance and respect for minority groups, sought to address racial discrimination, and assisted victims.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides for the protection of the Sami language and culture, and the government financially supported these efforts. The Sami, who constituted less than 0.1 percent of the population, have full political and civil rights as citizens as well as a measure of autonomy in their civil and administrative affairs. A 21-member Sami parliament (Samediggi), popularly elected by the Sami, is responsible for the group’s language, culture, and matters concerning their status as an indigenous people. The Sami parliament is an independent body but operates under the purview of the Ministry of Justice. It can adopt legally binding resolutions, propose initiatives, and provide policy guidance.

Despite constitutional protections, members of the Sami community continued to protest a lack of explicit laws safeguarding Sami land, resources, language, and economic livelihood and to call for greater inclusion in political decision-making processes. The Sami parliament and the Ministry of Justice sought to resolve ongoing disagreements concerning criteria for membership in the Sami community and voting rights.

Sami activists continued to dispute the 2017 law restricting traditional fishing practices in the Teno River on the grounds they were unable to exercise their free, prior, and informed consent in its drafting. In September activists protested along the proposed route for an Arctic railroad that would connect southern Finland with either the Barents or Norwegian Sea, citing its effect of bisecting reindeer grazing land and increasing related mining activities.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Nonetheless, the law requires that a transgender person present a medical statement affirming their gender identity and a certificate of infertility before the government will legally recognize their gender identity. A certificate of infertility is conditional upon medical sterilization of a transgender person. While the law prohibits “conversion therapy” in medical settings, it continued to be practiced in private and informal associations.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the nondiscrimination ombudsman received 891 discrimination complaints, 37 (or 4 percent) of which involved religious discrimination.

According to the Ministry of Interior’s annual report Violent Extremism in Finland–Situation Overview 1/2018, police identified 50 violent extremist offenses during 2017, including assault, ethnic agitation, and attempted aggravated assault. Of those offenses, approximately one dozen were committed by right-wing extremists, which the ministry described as having “the biggest impact on everyday security.” The ministry investigates separately offenses committed by organized national or international hate groups.

In January the Helsinki Court of Appeal extended by three months the two-year prison sentence given to NRM leader Jesse Torniainen for aggravated assault against a counterprotester, who later died, at the Helsinki Railway Square in 2016.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and any restriction or obstruction of these rights.

The government effectively enforced all applicable laws regarding the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Workers without permanent residence may not be eligible to join voluntary unemployment insurance funds. Employers who violate the rights of employees to organize and retain employee representatives may face administrative measures, legal proceedings, and fines. The penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and there were no reports of violations. All workers, regardless of sector union membership, or nationality, are entitled to the same wages negotiated between employers and trade unions via generally applicable collective agreements.

The law does not permit public-sector employees who provide “essential services,” including police officers, firefighters, medical professionals, and border guards, to strike. An official dispute board can make nonbinding recommendations to the cabinet on ending or limiting the duration of strikes when they threaten national security. Employees prohibited from striking can use arbitration to provide for due process in the resolution of their concerns.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor depend on the severity of the crime and range from four months to 10 years in prison. Despite strong penalties for violations, some cases of persons subjected to conditions of forced labor in the country were reported during the year.

Men and women were subjected to conditions of forced labor in the construction, restaurant, agriculture, metal, and transport sectors and as cleaners, gardeners, and domestic servants. The sexual services sector, legal in certain circumstances, also saw incidences of trafficking and forced labor.

In January a court sentenced a man to 18 months of probation for withholding passports and using outsized debts to coerce Thai nationals to work for his berry-picking company. The case was the highest-profile labor trafficking incident to date.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law allows persons between the ages of 15 and 18 to enter into a valid employment contract as long as the work does not interrupt compulsory education. It provides that workers who are 15 to 18 years of age may not work after 10 p.m. or under conditions that risk their health and safety, which the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health defines as working with mechanical, chemical, physical, or biological hazards or bodily strain that may result from lifting heavy loads.

Penalties for violations of child labor regulations range from a fine to up to 12 months in prison. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment effectively enforced child labor regulations. There were no reports of children engaged in work outside the parameters established by law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Center for Occupational Safety (OSHA) received 545 reports of work place discrimination in 2017. Of the reports that resulted in further inspection, 9 percent concerned ethnicity, nationality, language, or religion while 13 percent involved alleged discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender. The government effectively enforces applicable laws against employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

While there is no national minimum wage law, the law requires all employers, including nonunionized employers, to pay the minimum wages stipulated in collective bargaining agreements. Authorities adequately enforced wage laws.

The standard workweek established by law is no more than 40 hours of work per week with eight hours work per day. The law does not include a provision regarding a five-day workweek, so regular work hours may, at least in principle, span six days. The regular weekly work hours can also be arranged so that the average is 40 hours over a period of no more than 52 weeks. Certain occupations, such as seamen, household workers, road transport workers, and workers in bakeries, are subject to separate workweek regulations. The law entitles employees working shifts or during the weekend to one 24-hour rest period per week. The law limits a worker to 250 hours of overtime per year and 138 overtime hours in any four-month period.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is responsible for labor policy and implementation, drafting labor legislation, improving the viability of working life and its quality, and promoting employment. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and regulations. In addition, OSHA enforces appropriate safety and health standards and conducts inspections at workplaces. Individuals who commit work safety offenses are subject to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of one year; individuals who commit working hours’ offenses are subject to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of six months. The center informs employers of inspections in advance unless a surprise inspection is necessary for enforcement purposes. A subsequent inspection report gives employers written advice on how to remedy minor defects. In the case of serious violations, the inspector issues an improvement notice and monitors the employer’s compliance. When necessary, OSHA may issue a binding decision and impose a fine. If a hazardous situation involved a risk to life, an inspector can halt work on the site or issue a prohibition notice concerning the source of risk.

Authorities adequately enforced wage and overtime laws. Government resources, inspections, and penalties were adequate to deter most violations.

The law requires employees to report any hazards or risks they discover in working conditions, including in machinery, equipment, or work methods. The law also requires employees, where possible, to correct dangerous conditions that come to their attention. Such corrective measures must be reported to the employer.

France

Executive Summary

France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. They elected Emmanuel Macron to that position in May 2017. An electoral college elects members of the bicameral parliament’s upper house (Senate), and voters directly elect members of the lower house (National Assembly). Observers considered the April/May 2017 presidential and the June 2017 parliamentary (Senate and National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of societal acts of violence against Jews; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and migrants and minorities, including Muslims and Roma.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity was not widespread.

Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Five overseas territories, in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and La Reunion, have the same political status as the 13 regions and 96 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas “collectivities”: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the mainland regions and departments.

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

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

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

The country experienced several terrorist attacks during the year, including three that resulted in fatalities. On March 23, a male French citizen hijacked a car in Carcassonne, shot the passenger and driver, and then opened fire on a group of police officers, injuring one. The attacker then drove to Trebes, where he killed two persons at a supermarket, took hostages, then shot another gendarmerie officer who later died from the injuries; security forces shot and killed the attacker. During the attack in Trebes, the attacker swore allegiance to the Islamic State. On May 12, a male naturalized-citizen attacker stabbed five persons, killing one, near the Opera Garnier in Paris; security forces shot and killed the assailant, who had been on the counterterrorism watch list since 2016. On December 11, a 29-year-old French citizen armed with a handgun and knife attacked the Strasbourg Christmas market, killing five and injuring 11. The attacker was shot and killed by police in Strasbourg on December 13. The Paris prosecutor’s counterterrorism office opened an investigation into the attack, but as of year’s end, it had not made an official determination regarding the motive.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were a limited number of accusations that security and military personnel committed abuses.

On April 11, the Defender of Rights, a constitutionally created, independent civil rights watchdog institution, reported registering 1,228 complaints against the security forces’ intervention methods in 2017, virtually unchanged from the previous year (1,225), including reports that police beat, kicked, and used pepper spray on migrants and asylum seekers in Calais (see section 2.d.).

In May the newspaper Le Parisien reported a judge ordered a new inquest into the death of Adama Traore, a teenager whose death in gendarmerie custody in 2016 sparked riots, in order to ascertain if the cause of death could be determined more precisely. After the release of the results of the inquest was postponed, his family organized a march in Beaumont in July in Traore’s memory and to protest the postponement. The march included politicians from several parties of the left. In October medical experts concluded the gendarmes were not responsible for Traore’s death, attributing it to lowered oxygen levels in the blood due to a combination of sickle cell disease, sarcoidosis, stress, and heat.

On September 13, President Macron apologized for the French state’s responsibility for the disappearance and death of Maurice Audin, a young mathematician, communist, and anticolonial activist, in Algeria in 1957. Macron stated that Audin died due to torture by soldiers who abducted him from his home and that authorities employed systemic use of torture at that time. Macron announced the government would open its archives to allow the search for information about other persons who disappeared during the war.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the use of crowd control and antiriot tactics by police during demonstrations of the so-called Yellow Vest protesters who took to the streets every Saturday across the country beginning on November 17 in mass demonstrations, primarily to show their opposition to the government’s tax policy and to highlight socioeconomic inequality. Cases of police violence were also reported against high school students who protested against education reforms launched by the government. On December 6, lawyers acting for demonstrators lodged two formal legal complaints against yet unknown persons for injuries caused by GLI-F4 “instant” tear gas grenades, which contain 25 grams of high explosives, used by police in Paris on November 24. The lawyers wrote to the prime minister calling for an end to use of this weapon for crowd control. According to Human Rights Watch, as of December 11, media reports indicated the General Inspectorate of the National Police, the internal oversight body, had opened 22 investigations into alleged police misconduct following complaints from 15 Yellow Vests, six high school students, and a journalist.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prisons and detention centers met international standards, credible NGOs and government officials reported overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in prisons.

In April 2017 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2015. The report expressed concerns regarding overcrowding in detention centers and prisons, derogatory comments against detainees, particularly against minors, a lack of windows and ventilation systems in detention centers, and prolonged isolation of violent inmates in psychiatric centers.

Physical Conditions: As of November the overall occupancy rate in the country’s prisons stood at 118 percent (70,708 prisoners for 60,108 spots), with the rate at some facilities reaching 200 percent. NGOs agreed that detention conditions for women were often better than for men because overcrowding was less common.

Overcrowding in overseas territories tracked the national trends. The Ministry of Justice reported in July that the occupancy rate for all prisons in overseas territories was 112.6 percent and reached 204.2 percent at the Baie-Mahault prison in Guadeloupe.

On July 25, the administrative court of Basse-Terre ordered the state to pay 10,000 euros ($11,500) in damages to an inmate from the Baie-Mahault prison in compensation for the unacceptable living conditions to which he was subjected. The inmate spent four years in a cell of 96.6 square feet which he shared with two others.

Administration: Authorities generally conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, both local and foreign. In addition to periodic visits by the CPT, the UN Committee against Torture regularly examined prisons, most recently in 2016.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, but lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, a civilian national police force of 150,000 and a national gendarmerie of 98,155 maintained internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army was responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Observers considered police and gendarmes generally effective.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police force, the gendarmerie, and the army, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights abuses and corruption. Official impunity was not widespread. The General Inspection of the National Police and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police investigated and prosecuted allegations of brutality in the police force and the gendarmerie, a unit within the armed forces responsible for general law enforcement. The government-appointed Defender of Rights investigated allegations of misconduct by municipal police, gendarmes, and private security forces and reported its findings to the prime minister and parliament. Citizens may report police abuses via the Ministry of the Interior’s website, provided they identify themselves. In 2017 citizens registered 3,361 reports online. The inspector general of National Police and the Inspectorate of the National Gendarmerie investigated and prosecuted allegations of police and gendarme corruption.

According to the Defender of Rights’ annual report, individuals filed 1,228 complaints against security forces in 2017, virtually unchanged from 2016 (1,225). The Defender of Rights found ethical violations in less than 10 percent of these complaints and concluded there was a disproportionate use of force by police officers in five complaints, four of which justified disciplinary proceedings.

On July 18, the newspaper Le Monde published a video featuring then presidential staffer Alexandre Benalla beating a student protester during May 1 demonstrations in Paris. Benalla was in charge of security for President Macron’s 2017 campaign and, after Macron’s election, was given a position at the president’s official residence. The video showed Benalla, wearing civilian clothes and an official police riot helmet, grabbing and dragging a woman and later dragging and beating a student while surrounded by riot police, who did not appear to intervene. According to press reports, Benalla had requested to accompany riot police to observe crowd control procedures. He had never served as a police officer. After the video surfaced, the presidential administration fired Benalla. On July 22, Benalla was charged with assault, carrying an illegal weapon, interfering with public officials carrying out their duties, wearing police insignia without permission, and illegally obtaining official surveillance video. A Senate investigation continued into abuse of Benalla’s authorities and lack of oversight by higher administration officials.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain warrants based on sufficient evidence prior to detaining suspects, but police can immediately arrest suspects caught committing an illegal act. While in police custody, a person has the right to know the legal basis and expected duration of the detention, to remain silent, to representation by counsel, to inform someone such as a family member or friend, and to examination by a medical professional. Defense lawyers have the right to ask questions throughout an interrogation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

The law allows authorities to detain a person up to 24 hours if police have a plausible reason to suspect such person is committing or has committed a crime. A district prosecutor has the authority to extend a detention by 24 hours. A special judge, however, has the authority to extend detention by 24-hour periods up to six days in complex cases, such as those involving drug trafficking, organized crime, and acts of terrorism. A system of bail exists, and authorities made use of it.

Detainees generally had access to a lawyer, and the government provides legal counsel to indigent detainees. The law also requires medical examiners to respect and maintain professional confidentiality. The law forbids complete strip searches except in cases where authorities suspect the accused of hiding dangerous items or drugs.

Pretrial Detention: Long delays in bringing cases to trial and lengthy pretrial detention were problems. Although standard practice allowed pretrial detention only in cases involving possible sentences of more than three years in prison, some suspects spent many years in detention before trial. As of November 2017, pretrial detainees made up approximately 29 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, although delays in bringing cases to trial were a problem. The country does not have an independent military court; the Paris Tribunal of Grand Instance (roughly equivalent to a U.S. district court) tries any military personnel alleged to have committed crimes outside the country.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The usual length of time between charging and trial is approximately three years. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities informed defendants of the charges against them at the time of arrest. Except for those involving minors, trials were public. Trials were held before a judge or tribunal of judges, except in cases where the potential punishment exceeds 10 years’ imprisonment. In such cases a panel of professional and lay judges hears the case. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provide an attorney at public expense if needed when defendants face serious criminal charges. Defendants were able to question the testimony of prosecution witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities allowed defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to remain silent and to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals may file complaints with the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government once they have exhausted avenues for appeal through the domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

In 2014 France and the United States signed the bilateral Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs. The agreement provides an exclusive mechanism to compensate persons who survived deportation from France (or their spouse or other designee) but did not benefit from the pension program established by the government for French nationals or from international agreements concluded by the government to address Holocaust deportation claims. Pursuant to the agreement, the government of France transferred $60 million to the United States, which the U.S. used to make payments to claimants that the U.S. determined to be eligible under the agreement.

On July 22, Prime Minister Philippe held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the Velodrome d’hiver roundup of July 1942 in which 13,000 French Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported. “There is one area in which we must do better, that of the restitution of cultural property, ‘robbed’ during the Nazi occupation,” Philippe stated. A Ministry of Culture report submitted in April to the then minister, Francoise Nyssen, criticized the current policy of restitution in the country for being inefficient and lacking ambition, coordination, leadership, and visibility. The report identified 2,008 cultural properties with no identified owner. As a result the Commission for the Compensation of the Victims of Spoliation was empowered to examine all cases of restitution and to transmit its recommendations to the prime minister, and an office dedicated to the research and restitution of these cultural properties was created within the Ministry of Culture.

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

The constitution and law prohibit interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and there were no reports of government failure to respect these prohibitions.

The government continued implementing amendments to the law made in 2015 that allow specialized intelligence agencies to conduct real-time surveillance without approval from a judge on both networks and individuals for information or documents regarding a person identified as posing a terrorist threat. Following passage of the amendments, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court that hears cases in first and last instance and is both advisor to the government and the supreme administrative court, issued three implementing decrees designating the agencies that may engage in such surveillance, including using devices to establish geolocation.

The government’s two-year state of emergency ended after parliament enacted antiterrorism legislation, codifying as law certain authorities granted under the state of emergency. To prevent acts of terrorism, the law permits authorities to restrict and monitor the movement of individuals, conduct administrative searches and seizures, close religious institutions for disseminating violent extremist ideas, implement enhanced security measures at public events, and expand identity checks near the country’s borders. The core provisions were to expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In February Amnesty International released a report claiming “prefects (representatives of the French state at local level; the most senior central government officials) continued to resort to emergency measures to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In particular they adopted dozens of measures restricting the freedom of movement of individuals to prevent them from attending public assemblies. Authorities imposed these measures on vague grounds and against individuals with no apparent connection to any terrorism-related offense.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

On June 19, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH), an independent government agency, stated it was “deeply shocked” by the treatment of migrants in the “border areas…where the Republic (France) violates fundamental rights.” For example, the border police station in Col de Montgenevre had a facility for sheltering migrants overnight that had no running water or camp beds and whose outdoor latrines were submerged under three feet of snow at the time of the CNCDH visit. The commander stated he fed the migrants from the stocks on hand but had no funds allocated to feed them.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

Refoulement: The government usually provided protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where they would be likely to face persecution or torture. On January 8, then interior minister Gerard Collomb announced the government had deported 26,000 persons in 2017, a 17 percent increase over 2016. Authorities returned approximately 2,330 persons to the EU-member state through which they first entered the EU, in line with the Dublin Regulation. This included some who were returned to Greece, where the European Court of Human Rights found that persons could be subject to persecution. The human rights group La Cimade criticized the government’s strict implementation of deportation laws, including detaining persons prior to ordered expulsion and during the initial asylum claims process.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance.

On August 1, parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shortens from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extends from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence.

On July 6, the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest court, ruled that providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented migrants on the country’s territory was not a crime. The case against the government was brought by Cedric Herrou, an activist farmer who was sentenced for providing assistance to migrants in 2017. The court stated that the freedom to help for humanitarian reasons should apply to “all assistance provided with a humanitarian aim.” On July 6, then interior minister Collomb issued a statement that the court’s decision was in line with the government’s efforts to exempt from prosecution individuals who only provide humanitarian assistance to migrants.

Asylum applications rose by 17 percent in 2017 to 100,412, according to provisional data released on January 8 by OFPRA, with 36 percent of applicants approved for asylum or refugee status. OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture, particularly in the context of asylum seekers from Libya.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Kosovo.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days. There were 26 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On July 3, five refugee/migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, and Ordre de Malte) released a joint annual report that estimated 47,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2017, representing a slight increase from 45,937 in 2016.

According to an annual report published on July 3 by six domestic NGOs, government detention of migrant children on the country’s mainland territory increased by 70 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. The report noted, however, that the duration of detentions was often short. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations criticized the provision of the new asylum and immigration bill adopted during the year that doubles the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On May 30, for the 35th time since mid-2015, authorities dismantled a large migrant tent camp in Paris. The government forcibly resettled evacuees–937 men and 87 women and children, all of whom, according to press reports, originated in Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea–in gymnasiums and other public facilities in Paris and the surrounding region while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum. Two large tent camps remained in Paris–one reportedly holding about 800 persons (mainly from Afghanistan) and the other holding 300-400 individuals.

According to a report published on June 27 by Cimade, a domestic NGO that provides advice and legal support to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, the number of migrants refused entry at the country’s border rose to 85,408 in 2017, a 34 percent increase from 2016 (63,845).

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2017 the government voluntarily repatriated 7,110 undocumented migrants to their countries of origin. On July 25, the Ministry of the Interior announced an increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 1,000 euros ($1,150) to 2,500 euros ($2,870).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2017.

STATELESS PERSONS

OFPRA reported there were 1,370 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2016. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it granted stateless status to 179 persons in 2017. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen; the person was legally adopted by a citizen; the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child; or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the April/May 2017 presidential and the June 2017 parliamentary (Senate and National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On June 12, the Paris Court of Appeal sentenced former Lyon deputy police chief Michel Neyret to two-and-one-half years in prison (18 months of which were suspended) and a lifetime ban from police service for corruption and drug trafficking. The court convicted Neyret of providing confidential information to informants in exchange for benefits, gifts, and money.

Financial Disclosure: The president, members of parliament and the European Parliament, ministers, regional and departmental council heads, mayors of larger communities, and directors of government-owned companies (post office, railway, and telephone) are required to declare their personal assets to the Commission for the Financial Transparency of Political Life at the beginning and end of their terms. The commission issued and made available to the public periodic reports on officials’ financial holdings on a discretionary basis at least once every three years. Officials who fail to comply are subject to sanctions.

The Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes investigates offenses including tax fraud, influence peddling, and failure of elected officials to make financial disclosures or report their own violations of the law.

On March 6, the Montpellier Court of Appeal sentenced Senator Robert Navarro and his wife Dominique to three months in prison (suspended), fined them 30,000 euros ($34,500), and deprived them of their civil rights for three years for breach of trust. Between 2004 and 2010, while Navarro served as the head of the Socialist Party Federation of Herault and his wife as its parliamentary attache, they used federation funds for personal expenditures, including airplane tickets totaling more than 85,700 euros ($98,500) and family trips to Prague, Ljubljana, Budapest and Marrakech. All of the accounting documents for the federation also disappeared.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.

The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,800) to 20 years in prison.

In November 2017 the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking (MIPROF) published data that, between 2012 and 2017, an annual average of 225,000 women between the ages of 18 and 75 declared they had been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. MIPROF reported that, over the same period, an annual average of 93,000 women declared they had been victims of rape or attempted rape.

On December 6, the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who consider themselves victims of sexual violence committed by a person who does not live with them increased sharply in 2017 to 265,000 from 173,000 in 2016.

The government sponsored and funded programs for women victims of violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.

The government implemented its 2017-19 interministerial plan to address violence against women. The program’s three main objectives are ensuring women’s access to rights; strengthening public action to protect the most vulnerable groups, such as children, young women, and women living in rural regions; and uprooting the culture of sexism. On September 30, the government launched a four million euro ($4.6 million) television campaign aimed at persons who have witnessed sexual or domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C victims.

According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality, 53,000 FGM/C victims resided in the country. The majority were recent immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent and where the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”

On August 1, parliament passed a law against “sexual and sexist violence” that provides for on-the-spot fines of 90 to 750 euros ($103 to $860) for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including by wolf whistling), and up to 3,000 euros ($3,450) if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive. The bill also increases sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros ($17,200).

According to a November 2017 report by MIPROF, security forces registered 10,870 incidents of harassment and other threats committed by a partner in 2016, with female victims making up more than 88 percent of the total. The same report stated that in 2016 the Ministry of Justice sentenced 82 men for sexual harassment.

More than eight women in 10 reported they had been victims of a form of attack or sexual assault in a public space, according to a study by Fondation Jean Jaures think tank that was released in February. In the study, 55 percent of women surveyed reported experiencing at least one bullying situation, with 26 percent reporting a bullying incident within the previous 12 months.

On July 30, the Paris prosecutor opened an investigation after a woman posted a video of a man hitting her in the face outside a cafe after she angrily responded to his sexual harassment, according to legal sources. The cafe’s surveillance camera recorded the man throwing an ashtray at the 22-year-old woman after she told him to “shut up.” He then followed her and, after she confronted him again, he hit her. Following the incident, the woman filed a complaint with police and posted the video online. On August 27, authorities arrested a 25-year-old suspect. On October 4, a Paris court sentenced him to six months in prison and a further six-month suspended sentence. The court also ordered him not to contact the woman and fined him 2,000 euros ($2,300) in damages. He was ordered to undergo psychological care and take a course on gender-related violence.

During the year a court for the first time sentenced a man for harassing a woman during an assault on a bus. According to the prosecutor’s office of the Paris suburb of Evry, on September 19, a 30-year-old man, visibly drunk, boarded a bus in the city of Draveil and approached a 21-year-old female passenger. He slapped her on the buttocks, insulted her, and referred to the size of her breasts. Police arrested the assailant with the help of the bus driver. The court fined the offender 300 euros ($345) and sentenced him to three months in prison and a six-month suspended sentence for physical abuse under a new law against sexist and sexual violence.

According to statistics released by the Interior Ministry on September 6, reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence surged during the year, with 27,728 complaints registered by the police in the first seven months of the year, up 23.1 percent compared, with the same period in the previous year.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors but does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The Ministry of Gender Equality is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.

There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation, and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Throughout the year trade unions and civil society groups in Mayotte protested, demanding an end to illegal immigration, mainly originating from the Comoros, and increased security. Legislation adopted during the year modifies nationality criteria for individuals born in Mayotte, requiring one parent to have been present in French territory for more than three months by the child’s birth.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, trafficking, kidnapping, child prostitution, and child pornography. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties are generally severe.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($51,800) fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consent is 15, but prosecutors must prove sex was nonconsensual to prove rape in cases where victims are older than five. A law passed on August 1 extends the deadline for underage rape victims to file complaints from 20 years after they turn 18 to 30 years. The law states that sex between an adult and a minor younger than 15 is considered rape if the victim “lacks the necessary discernment to consent,” which is determined by a judge.

The government enforced these laws effectively but faced criticism from NGOs such as Coup de Pouce, Acting Against Child Prostitution, and the French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child that argued children cannot provide legal consent regardless of circumstance. The new law increases the sentence for raping children from five to up to 20 years.

The law also criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million). The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine.

According to a November 2017 report by MIPROF, security forces registered 7,570 acts of sexual violence against children younger than 18 in 2016. Female victims made up more than 80 percent of this total.

Displaced Children: In July, Human Rights Watch published a report that asserted arbitrary practices by child protection authorities in Paris had led to unaccompanied foreign minors being considered adults, leaving them ineligible to receive emergency shelter and other protection. Authorities prevented some youth from accessing these resources based on their appearance and others without written decisions following interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to official regulations. Although the applicable regulations provide that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, many children were denied protection if they lacked documents (see section 2.d.).

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.htmlhttp://www.travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_4308.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were between 460,000 and 700,000 Jews in the country in 2016, depending on the definitional criteria of who is Jewish, according to a 2016 report by Berman Jewish Databank, the most recent year for which estimates were available.

NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials. Notably, on March 23, Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, 85, was found dead in her Paris apartment. An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed at least 11 times before being burned in a fire that was later ruled arson. Two individuals were arrested in connection with the killing, which the Paris prosecutor’s office deemed a hate crime. After the killing, thousands of persons participated in a memorial “white march” in Paris, where many government officials spoke. President Macron attended Knoll’s funeral and stated she was “murdered because she was Jewish.” On June 29, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into threatening anti-Semitic letters referring to Knoll’s killing received by at least six Jewish associations, including the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.

While the number of anti-Semitic acts decreased by 7.2 percent in 2017, according to government statistics, the number of violent attacks, including one killing, rose from 77 in 2016 to 97, accounting for almost one-third of all racist, anti-Semitic, or anti-Muslim incidents in the country. In one example, in March police arrested four teenagers suspected of beating a Jewish boy with a stick and taking his head covering.

According to statistics released by then interior minister Collomb and Defense Minister Florence Parly in September 2017, the government deployed 7,000 security personnel throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.

There were reports of anti-Semitic vandalism. On January 26, for example, according to statements by the Council of Europe, a large swastika was painted on the entrance to the Council of Europe, located in Strasbourg.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

An estimated 350,000 persons with intellectual or mental disabilities were deprived of the right to vote. The law allows a judge to deny the right to vote to individuals who are assigned guardians to make decisions on their behalf, which mainly affected persons with disabilities.

While the law requires companies with more than 20 workers to hire persons with disabilities, many such companies failed to do so.

The law requires that buildings, education, and employment be accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the latest government estimates available, 40 percent of establishments in the country were accessible. In 2015 parliament extended the deadline for owners to make their buildings and facilities accessible by three to nine years. In 2016 then president Hollande announced that 500,000 public buildings across the country were undergoing major renovation to improve accessibility.

In its most recent report on the country in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that autistic children in the country “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights.” The committee found that the majority of children with autism did not have access to mainstream education and many “are still offered inefficient psychoanalytical therapies, overmedication, and placement in psychiatric hospitals and institutions.” Parents who opposed the institutionalization of their children were intimidated and threatened and, in some cases, lost custody of their children, according to the report. A 2005 law provides every child the right to education in a mainstream school, but the Council of Europe condemned the country’s authorities for not respecting it. Pressure groups like Autism France estimated that only 20 percent of autistic children were in school. In April the government began implementing a 340 million euro ($391 million) strategy to give autistic children access to education. The plan includes increasing diagnosis and early years support for children with autism, increasing scientific research, and training doctors, teachers, and staff.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers, including the Ministry of Labor, Defender of Rights, and CNCDH, expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.

The government registered an upsurge in violent racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim acts in 2017, while the overall number of hate crimes declined. On January 31, the Ministry of Interior announced the government registered 950 hate crimes involving threats and violence in 2017, a 16 percent decline from the number recorded in 2016, while the total number of acts of racism fell 14.8 percent to 518. Acts against religious buildings and graves in 2017 declined 7.5 percent to 978, marking the first year since authorities began collecting data in 2008 that there was a decline in acts against religious buildings and graves.

Government observers and NGOs, including the French Council for the Muslim Religion and the Collective against Islamophobia, reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The number of registered violent acts of racism against Muslims rose from 67 in 2016 to 73 in 2017. Over the same period, threats against the Muslim community declined by 58.5 percent, while total anti-Muslim acts declined 34.5 percent, from 185 to 121.

After the counterterrorism law took effect in October 2017, prefects received authority to close places of worship “in which statements are made, ideas or theories are disseminated, or activities take place that lead to violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism, or make apologies for such acts.” On July 10, a Senate report stated four closures of places of worship took place on this basis between November 2017 and June 8.

The prefect of Herault closed a small Muslim prayer room in Gigean, which, according to a May 17 Agence France-Presse news agency report, authorities had considered a Salafist meeting point for six months. According to the prefectural decree posted on the town house, the prayer room was “an influential place of reference of the Salafist movement, advocating a rigorous Islam, calling for discrimination, hatred, and violence against women, Jews, and Christians.”

On April 20, an Algerian imam, El Hadi Doudi, the leader of the Salafist As-Sounna mosque in Marseille, was expelled to Algeria. The expulsion followed the closing of As-Sounna for six months by the Bouches-du-Rhone Prefecture in December 2017 because of Doudi’s radical preaching, which was said to have inspired attendees to join ISIS. Sermons at the As-Sounna mosque, sometimes disseminated via internet, preached in favor of armed jihad and the death penalty for adulterers and apostates and used insulting or threatening terms towards Jews. The As-Sounna mosque, which drew approximately 800 worshippers for its Friday prayers before its closure, was one of 80 places of Muslim worship in Marseille.

In April authorities denied an Algerian woman citizenship for refusing to shake hands with male officials at a French nationalization ceremony due to her religious convictions. The country’s top administrative court ruled that there were sufficient grounds to do so since the woman’s refusal “in a place and at a moment that are symbolic, reveals a lack of assimilation” and that the decision was not detrimental to her freedom of religion.

Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment. Government data estimated there were 20,000 Roma in the country.

On March 22, the CNCDH highlighted in its annual report the presence of “intensified racism” leading to abuse of the fundamental rights of the Roma. The report noted that anti-Roma sentiment in the country was expressed both by public “rejection of [their] cultural differences” and the perception that Roma posed a “threat to the national [security] order.” The report also cited authorities’ “ambiguous policy towards slum dismantling,” which in turn encouraged “organized wandering” by members of the Romani community.

On June 9, a group of youths from the Mistral area, in Grenoble, travelled to a slum where several Romani families lived, threatened to set fire to their barracks, and then sprayed them with gasoline. Faced with threats and violence, the inhabitants of the slum fled, abandoning their shelters and possessions. During the night the attackers returned and set fire to five barracks in the slum prior to the arrival of firefighters at around 3:30 a.m. The following night attackers burned eight more huts.

Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma. According to the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Human Rights League data, authorities evicted 11,309 Roma from their homes in 2017, a 12 percent increase from the previous year, including 8,161 forcefully evicted. In the first half of the year, the ERRC reported the eviction of 4,382 Roma in 50 different localities.

Citizens, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the Defender of Rights. According to the most recent data available, the office received 3,758 discrimination claims in 2017, 17.6 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Authorities pursued and punished perpetrators of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The statute of limitations is 12 months for offenses related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

More than half of individuals who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBTI) had been victims of homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic behavior, according to the French Institute of Public Opinion, which conducted an online survey of 994 LGBTI persons from May 23 to June 6.

Anti-LGBTI acts in the country increased by 4.8 percent in 2017, compared with 2016, according to an annual report published on May 15 by the domestic NGO SOS-Homophobie. This marked the second consecutive year that the number of reported anti-LGBTI acts increased in the country. The NGO stated it received 1,650 reports of anti-LGBTI incidents of all types in 2017, compared with 1,575 incidents in 2016. The data reflected a 15 percent increase in reports of physical assaults in 2017, to 139 cases, compared with 121 cases in 2016. The majority of the victims were men (58 percent) and 35 years of age or younger (56 percent). The report noted there was a 38 percent increase in anti-LGBTI incidents in school environments and a 22 percent increase in anti-LGBTI content on the internet.

On August 5 in Marseille, two unknown assailants chased, attacked, and insulted two individuals who belonged to Le Refuge, an association that assisted victims of homophobia. After the two Refuge members ran back to the association’s office and barricaded themselves inside, the attackers launched a tear gas bomb before fleeing the scene. One of the victims was transgender, which was the probable motive for the attack, according to local press reporting.

On May 3, the criminal court of Nimes sentenced two men to six months in prison for the assault of a homosexual couple in 2017 in Pont-Saint-Esprit (Gard). The assault was recorded on camera, according to a judicial source. The couple had been walking when a group molested and insulted them. One of the victims died of a heart attack a month after the assault.

A parliamentary report published June 19 indicated that violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons was more significant in the country’s overseas territories than in mainland France. The report stated that anti-LGBTI hate was reinforced by the prominence of “family, religion, sexist prejudices, and insularity” in territories where “anonymity does not exist” and where the “law of silence dominates.”

In May the public prosecutor’s office in Nancy opened an investigation of discrimination against same-sex couples wishing to adopt. The Association of Homoparental Families had filed a complaint against the president of the family council of wards of the state of Meurthe-et-Moselle for allegedly giving preference to heterosexual couples in adoption cases.

Human rights organizations such as Inter-LGBT criticized the government for continuing to require transgender persons to go to court to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.

Individuals violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($51,800) fine to up to five years imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine if the discrimination occurs in a venue open to the public. Companies violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from a minimum fine of 225,000 euros ($259,000) to a maximum fine of 375,000 euros ($431,000) if the discrimination takes place in a venue open to the public. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition, a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum service levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.

Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some of their leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations. Union representatives noted that antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law recognizes the offenses of forced labor and forced servitude as crimes. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assist victims.

Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subject to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates on the extent of forced labor among domestic workers, many of whom were migrant women and children. In 2017 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 170 victims of forced labor, 72 percent of whom were women.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16. There are exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.

The government effectively enforced labor laws, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (also see section 6, Children) and forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Employers convicted of using child labor risk up to five years’ imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine. These penalties proved generally sufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the French overseas collective of Wallis and Futuna.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particular vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in this area. The International Labor Organization raised concerns that the labor code does not prohibit discrimination based on social origin.

A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees.

Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Roma community faced employment discrimination. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. In March 2017 INSEE released a study that indicated that in 2014, the most recent year for which data were available, women working the equivalent of full time earned 18.6 percent less than men did. The average monthly salary was 2,410 euros ($2,770) for men. Women on average earned 1,962 euros ($2,260) per month; salary depended on qualifications, age, and sex. The same study also indicated that 18 percent of salaried men in the private sector held managerial positions, while 13 percent of women with similar skills were managers.

The Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) and the fund for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Public Service released an audit in June that showed unemployment among persons with disabilities, who represented 19 percent (513,000) of the unemployed, increased 4.7 percent for the period January-September 2017. The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. The law requires noncompliant companies to contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH.

Approximately 39 percent of private-sector enterprises (41,270) met the requirement in 2017, while 48 percent contributed into the fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. In 2017 President Macron initiated a plan to promote the inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage met the poverty level. Employers, except those in the informal economy, generally adhered to the minimum wage requirement. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in September 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.

On August 2, the High Court ordered that the local subsidiary of a United Kingdom-based pest control services company pay 60,000 euros ($69,000) in damages for violating labor laws related to overtime. The company fired an employee in 2011 for not being reachable after normal working hours to handle emergency cases. The court determined the company could not require employees to respond to emergency calls after working hours if it did not compensate its employees for being on call. Employers must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” based on the employee agreement and a 2016 “right to disconnect” law that requires employers to allow employees to “disconnect” from email, SMS messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.

Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work in excess of 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work in excess of 39 hours per week was generally remunerated.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards cover all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or (for companies with more than 50 employees) their company health committee, but they did not have an explicit right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace.

The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, that must conform to separate, clearly defined standards. Labor inspectors enforced compliance with the labor law. Disciplinary sanctions at work are strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees could pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation. Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.

Penalties for labor violations depend on the status of the accused. The law provides for employers and physical persons convicted of labor violations to be imprisoned for up to three years and pay fines of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800) with additional penalties, including a prohibition on conducting a commercial or industrial enterprise. The law provides for companies found guilty of undeclared work to be fined up to 225,000 euros ($259,000) and face additional sanctions, such as closing the establishment, placing it under judicial supervision, making the judgment public, confiscating equipment, or dissolving the establishment as a legal person.

Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and hospitality services. In July the newspaper La Provence reported on the abuse of migrant agricultural laborers in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. The workers, who mainly came from South America, reportedly were paid less than the lawful minimum wage, made to work more hours than the law allows, and were not paid overtime or given breaks. According to the newspaper, workers were kept isolated, often living in cramped conditions in vans and mobile homes on their employer’s property. An investigation by the local agricultural labor union found “a manifest and organized violation” of workers’ rights on 12 farms in the region, where laborers were forced to work 30 days out of 30 (see section 7.b.).

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and headed by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has held power since 1967. Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a highly questionable vote count in Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held in two rounds. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. The African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections; however, fewer did so than in the 2011 legislative elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh prison conditions; political prisoners; criminal libel; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; trafficking in persons; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute officials and punish those convicted of abuses. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem.

Authorities took steps to investigate alleged abuses by Gabonese peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic and to mitigate future risks.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances. In December 2017 the family of television journalist and opposition activist Jocelyn Obame Nsimoro reported him missing. Throughout the year his family attempted unsuccessfully to locate him through police, judicial, and other official channels and through social media. As of October authorities had yet to open a formal investigation into Nsimoro’s disappearance.

In September 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. As of October the government had not conducted an official inquiry.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but security force personnel sometimes employed cruel and degrading treatment.

For example, in January, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former member of parliament, stated he was subjected to mistreatment and torture while in detention after a mobile phone was found in his cell at the Libreville Central Prison. His lawyer stated that prison officials beat him with police batons, pickaxe handles, and electric cables. After his lawyer filed a complaint concerning mistreatment, the prison director was replaced.

Refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security forces. According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and soldiers occasionally beat noncitizen Africans who lacked valid resident permits or identification. Authorities sometimes detained noncitizen Africans, ordered them to undress to humiliate them, and exacted bribes from them.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (transactional sex) and abuse against two Gabonese peacekeepers deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by UN and Gabonese authorities were pending at year’s end along with investigation of three allegations of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships) and abuse (rape, including of minors) against at least 20 Gabonese peacekeepers reported in prior years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 3,000. Reports also indicated overcrowding in other prisons.

No credible data or estimates were available on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were reports of difficulties in obtaining access to prisons. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Malachie visited prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention; however, the government did not always respect these provisions. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained civil society and labor leaders following peaceful protests and marches.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, and the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, gendarmerie, republican guard, and all other branches of the security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish those found responsible for abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, impunity was a significant problem.

Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Security force members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. The Inspector General’s Office was responsible for investigating police and security force abuse and corruption. Information on effectiveness of this office was not available.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit. Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.

Authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado or hold them under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrests. In August and September 2017, authorities arrested the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” As of December no trial date had been set for Oyougou or Massavala; both remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months for a misdemeanor and one year for a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that could sometimes last up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints, and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem.

To address military cases, each year the Office of the Presidency appoints a military court composed of selected magistrates and military members. A military court provides the same basic legal rights as a civilian court. Outside the formal judicial system, minor disputes may be referred to a local traditional chief, particularly in rural areas, but the government did not always recognize a traditional chief’s decision.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station, and authorities provided free interpretation as necessary, when staff members with the required language skills were available. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of choice and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals and have a right to be present at trial. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf, and appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In August the president stated there were no political prisoners in the country. One civil society group, however, claimed there were seven individuals in prison it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in August and September 2017, opposition leaders Frederic Massavala-Maboumba and Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention.

In 2016 a former PDG deputy who joined the opposition was arrested without a warrant and charged with disturbing public order, failure to help a person in danger, instigation of violence, and illegal firearms possession. He had yet to be tried and remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations may seek relief in the civil court system, although this seldom occurred.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities also monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August 2017 parliament enacted a law that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. On August 28, authorities prohibited union leaders from holding a march to protest austerity measures. Authorities detained several individuals who attempted to march but released them after a few hours without charge. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections. Members of the opposition questioned the fairness of the electoral process and complained of unequal media access. They also urged the government to reinstate presidential term limits, replace the first-past-the-post system with a two-round voting system, reform the Constitutional Court, and create a more effective biometric voting program–measures opposition members believed would increase the fairness of the electoral system.

In April and May 2017, these demands were a major focus of the National Dialogue. The dialogue included political parties and civil society organizations; however, presidential contender Jean Ping and some other opposition leaders boycotted the dialogue. In May 2017 dialogue participants recommended a two-round voting system, an increase in the number of national assembly deputies, and elimination of the National Electoral Commission, but they did not recommend presidential term limits. In January the president executed amendments to the constitution containing these changes.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April the Constitutional Court dissolved the National Assembly. The Senate assumed National Assembly responsibilities, and a new caretaker government was installed. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held. Both rounds of legislative elections were calm, with a voter turnout of 43 percent in the first round. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, vote buying, polling stations opening without the presence of opposition representatives, and unfair treatment of the opposition by the Gabonese Elections Center. Domestic and international organizations were not authorized to observe the elections. A limited African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated that the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.

There were restrictions on the formation of political parties. For example, in 2017 the Ministry of Interior refused to register the Heritage and Modernity wing of the PDG as an opposition political party. In July 2017 it overcame this obstacle by merging with an existing political party, the Front for National Unity and Utilitarian Development, which adopted the name and bylaws of Heritage and Modernity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. As of April women held only 13 of 41 ministerial positions, 18 of 120 National Assembly seats, and 19 of 102 Senate seats. The president of the Senate was a woman.

Members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions. Members of indigenous populations, however, rarely participated in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Police, gendarmes, and military members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. In February taxi drivers held a strike to protest higher fuel prices and police harassment, including exacting bribes. The 2016 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators suggested corruption remained a serious problem.

In 2015 the government officially launched a three-year Fight Against Corruption and Money Laundering Strategy in partnership with the UN Development Program, National Commission against Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI), National Agency for Financial Investigation, and private-sector and civil society partners. The strategy aims to encourage and reward ethical standards in public life, consolidate the rule of law, improve governance, increase transparency in the management of public finances, diminish inequality, and achieve a fair and transparent distribution of the benefits of growth.

Corruption: In 2017 the government started an anticorruption campaign. A number of officials, including several directors of agencies and two former ministers, were arrested on corruption charges. In January 2017 former minister of economy and presidential advisor Magloire Ngambia, along with Minister of Petrol and Hydrocarbons Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou, were arrested and charged with corruption. On October 5, Ngoubou was released on bail, but Ngambia remained in detention.

In January, following adoption of changes to the constitution, the government created the Special Criminal Court for the prosecution of persons charged with misappropriation of public funds in excess of 250,000 CFA francs ($425). As of October five individuals had been tried, four of whom were convicted. For example, on April 26, former public agent Blaise Wada was convicted of embezzlement and illicit enrichment and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two billion CFA francs ($3.4 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires executive-level civil servants and civil servants who manage budgets to disclose their financial assets to the CNLCEI within three months of assuming office. Most officials complied, but some attempted to withhold information. The government did not make these declarations available to the public. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but they were not enforced.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated, albeit with government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Several human rights NGOs reported governmental intimidation and a general lack of responsiveness to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights coordinates government efforts to improve respect for human rights, organize human rights training for government officials, and address major human rights problems. The National Human Rights Commission, composed of representatives from civil society, media, religious groups, and the judiciary had a degree of independence. Commission members provided basic human rights training to police and gendarmes and inspected detention conditions at Libreville police stations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law does not address spousal rape. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women virtually never filed complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provided in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work police intervened in response to incidents of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it remained a widespread problem. NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the military was pervasive.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women owned businesses and property, participated in politics, and worked in government and the private sector. Nevertheless, women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs. Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of awareness of the requirements of the law. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although education is compulsory until age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. There was no significant difference in the rates of enrollment between boys and girls; however, due to high rates of early pregnancy, girls were less likely to complete school than were boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, with penalties for conviction of up to life in prison, one million CFA francs ($1,700), or both. Child abuse occurred, but the law was not regularly enforced.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. Perpetrators convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Conviction of child trafficking is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 10 million to 20 million CFA francs ($17,000 to $34,000). Conviction of possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of six months to one year and a fine of up to 222,000 CFA francs ($378). These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access, hindering access to state services and the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. There was accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because buildings were not accessible. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.

Indigenous People

The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. The law grants members of indigenous ethnic groups the same civil rights as other citizens, but they experienced societal discrimination. They remained largely outside of formal authority–keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures–and did not have ready access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population. No specific government programs or policies assisted them.

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

The law does not criminalize sexual orientation or limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There were no reports LGBTI persons were targeted for abuse, but underreporting of such incidents was likely, in view of societal stigma. Societal discrimination in employment and housing was a problem, particularly for openly LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs removed occurred and often went unpunished. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing. The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported 24 victims of ritual killings and five disappearances from January to October. The actual number of victims was probably higher because many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. The law provides for the right to strike, with restrictions. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and the law provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activities. Unions must register with the government to obtain official recognition, and the government routinely grants registration. Agreements negotiated by unions also applied to nonunion workers.

Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after mandatory arbitration fails. Public-sector employees’ right to strike could be restricted where the government determines that it poses a threat to public safety. The law does not define the essential-services sectors in which strikes are prohibited; however, armed services are prohibited from unionizing and striking. The law prohibits government action against strikers who abide by the notification and arbitration provisions and excludes no groups from this protection. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country’s two export-processing zones.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources to protect the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike were adequate. Penalties for violations of these rights are compensatory, determined on a case-by-case basis, and generally sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes delayed.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Some unions were politically active, and the government accused them of siding with opposition parties. In March 2017 a six-month teachers’ strike by the Confederation of National Teachers’ Unions was ended by court order. The Ministry of Interior prohibited the teachers’ union from conducting activities, claiming the union had disturbed public order. Members filed suit with the Constitutional Court to annul the Interior Ministry’s decision. The Constitutional Court affirmed the union’s legal status but did not lift the Interior Ministry’s prohibition on activities.

Employers created and controlled some unions. Although antiunion discrimination is illegal, some trade unionists in both the public and private sectors complained of occasional discrimination, including the blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissals, and threats to workers who unionized. Trade union representatives complained they experienced hurdles accessing educational establishments during their efforts to represent and defend their members’ interests. Key labor union leaders noted the majority of labor violations stemmed from unwarranted dismissals, occasionally of workers on strike, leaving them without social security and insurance benefits.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law criminalizes child-bonded labor only. The government did not effectively enforce the law with respect to adult victims. The government enforced the law more actively to combat forced labor by children. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent and did not deter violations or reflect the serious nature of the offense, except for penalties for child trafficking.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The lack of sufficient vehicles, budget, and personnel impeded the ability of labor inspectors to investigate allegations of forced labor. Additionally, labor inspectors found it difficult to access family-owned commercial farms and private households due to inadequate roads. The government strengthened the capacity of labor inspectors during the year, and UNICEF provided training for labor inspectors in coordination with the Labor Ministry.

Boys were subject to forced labor as street hawkers or mechanics, as well as in work in handicraft shops. Boys and men were subject to forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Girls and women were exploited in domestic servitude, market vending, restaurants, and commercial sexual exploitation. Conditions included very low pay and long forced hours. Migrants were especially vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 without the expressed consent of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Professional Training, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Public Health. The law provides for fines from 300,000 to 600,000 CFA francs ($510 to $1,020) and prison sentences if convicted of up to six months’ imprisonment for violations of the minimum age law. These penalties were sufficient to contribute to deterring violations.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Professional Training is responsible for receiving, investigating, and addressing child labor complaints through inspectors. The Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Child Trafficking files and responds to complaints. Although the committee has a network of approximately 2,000 persons to provide social services and support to victims of child labor at the local level, these individuals do not play an enforcement role due to budget constraints. Complaints are referred to police, who carry out investigations and refer cases to the courts for prosecution.

The government enforced the law in the formal sector. During the year authorities removed at least 50 children from forced labor, and arrested and prosecuted at least 16 individuals suspected of employing them.

Children sometimes were subject to forced and exploitive labor. The government organized the repatriation of approximately 63 foreign children exploited in trafficking in 2017 and during the year, and it organized training sessions for authorities to handle potential victims of child trafficking.

Child labor remained a problem. Noncitizen children were more likely than were children of citizens to work in informal and illegal sectors of the economy, where laws against child labor were seldom enforced. An unknown number of children, primarily noncitizens, worked in marketplaces or performed domestic labor. Many of these children were the victims of child trafficking (see section 7.b.). Citizen children, particularly street children, also worked in the informal sector.

Child laborers generally did not attend school, received only limited medical attention, and often experienced exploitation by employers or foster families. In an effort to curb the problem, police often fined the parents of children who were not in school. Laws forbidding child labor covered these children, but abuses often were not reported.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and work conditions based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, national origin or citizenship, or social background. It does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work, and women’s pay lagged behind that of men. Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to indigenous persons, disabled persons, persons with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI persons. There were reports of labor exploitation of indigenous persons by their Bantu neighbors, who paid them much less than the minimum wage. Undocumented foreign workers frequently experienced wage discrimination and poor work conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage was 150,000 CFA francs ($255), greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The law provides for a minimum income of 80,000 CFA francs per month ($136). Government workers received an additional monthly allowance of 20,000 CFA francs ($34) per child and transportation, housing, and family benefits. Authorities did not enforce wage laws adequately, although workers could file suit if they received less than the minimum wage. Labor inspections were infrequent. There was no minimum wage in the informal sector, which accounted for the vast majority of workers.

The labor code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 consecutive hours. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work as determined by collective agreements or government regulations. By law the daily limit for compulsory overtime may be extended from 30 minutes to two hours to perform specified preparatory or complementary work, such as starting machines in a factory or supervising a workplace. It also may be extended for urgent work to prevent or repair damage from accidents. The daily limit does not apply to establishments in which work is continuous or to establishments providing retail, transport, dock work, hotel and catering services, housekeeping, security services, medical establishments, domestic work, and journalism.

The Ministry of Health establishes occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime, and safety and health standards in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Employers generally respected minimum wage standards. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding overtime or health and safety standards, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that contributed to deterring violations. In the formal sector, workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The government did not enforce labor code provisions in the informal economy or in sectors where the majority of the labor force was foreign, such as in the mining and timber sectors. Employers obliged foreign workers to work under substandard conditions, dismissed them without notice or recourse, and often physically mistreated them. Employers frequently paid noncitizens less than they paid citizens for the same work and required them to work longer hours, often hiring them on a short-term, casual basis to avoid paying taxes, social security contributions, and other benefits.

Georgia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for an executive branch that reports to the prime minister, a unicameral Parliament, and a separate judiciary. The government is accountable to the Parliament. The president is the head of state and commander in chief. Under a controversial new constitution that came into force after the December 16 presidential inauguration following the October-November presidential elections, future presidents will not be elected by popular vote. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described the first round of the presidential elections in October as competitive and professionally administered, although they raised concerns including the lack of a level playing field, voter intimidation, and fear of retribution. OSCE observers repeated these concerns after the second round in November and assessed that the candidates “were able to campaign in a free environment; however, one side enjoyed an undue advantage and the negative character of the campaign on both sides undermined the process.”

While civilian authorities maintained effective control of the Ministry of Defense, there were indications that at times they did not maintain effective control of domestic security forces.

Human rights issues included an allegation of an unjustified killing by security forces; arbitrary detentions and deprivation of life by Russian and de facto authorities of the country’s citizens along the administrative boundary lines (ABLs) with the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; unlawful interference with privacy; allegations of high level corruption of government officials; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate some allegations of human rights abuses, but shortcomings remained. Such shortcomings included lack of accountability for the May 2017 reported abduction from Georgia and rendition to Azerbaijan of Azerbaijani journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli.

De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside central government control and were supported by several thousand Russian troops and border guards occupying the areas. A cease-fire remained in effect since 2008. Russian border guards restricted the movement of local populations. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted.

De facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia restricted the rights, especially of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel. Although de facto South Ossetian authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out due to the 2008 conflict to return to South Ossetia, a special crossing arrangement existed for those from Akhalgori district. De facto authorities did not allow most international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance. Russian “borderization” of the ABLs continued, separating residents from their communities and livelihoods.

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

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

There was one allegation that the government or its agents committed an unjustified killing. There was at least one report of de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied regions of Georgia committed an arbitrary on unlawful killing.

Eighteen-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili died in a Tbilisi hospital on January 10 after security forces shot him during a counterterrorism raid in the Pankisi Gorge in December 2017. His father, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, alleged the killing was unjustified. The Public Defender emphasized the importance of a transparent, objective, and timely investigation; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the subsequent investigation as lacking integrity.

In February de facto South Ossetian authorities arrested ethnic Georgian and former soldier Archil Tatunashvili near the ABL. Tatunashvili died in custody. After initially refusing to return his remains, the de facto authorities released the body to Georgian authorities in March. An autopsy found that his organs had been removed, and the government determined Tatunashvili had been tortured.

In June the government published the “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili list,” named for Tatunashvili and another citizen, Giga Otkhozoria, who was killed by de facto Abkhaz authorities in 2016. The list named 33 alleged human rights violators accused of committing grave acts against Georgians in the occupied territories; the government imposed sanctions on the 33 persons named, including restrictions on finances, property, and movement.

On October 30, Tbilisi City Court found former deputy defense minister Davit Akhalaia guilty in connection with the high-profile murder of Sandro Girgvliani in 2006 and the kidnapping of Vamekh Abulashvili and Kakha Dabrundashvili in 2005. The court convicted Akhalaia of abuse of power, illegal deprivation of human liberty, and humiliation of human dignity, and it sentenced him in absentia to seven years and six months in jail.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office (CPO) announced October 17 that it was reinvestigating the 2008 death of Badri Patarkatsishvili, after the Office released audio tapes dating back to 2007 that appeared to reveal the premeditation of his murder. The CPO charged former government officials Levan Kardava, Revaz Shiukashvili, and Giorgi Merebashvili, who were heard on the tapes discussing different methods of murdering Patarkatsishvili that would make the cause of death appear natural. The CPO released an October 17 statement that the murder was planned “on former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s orders” because “Patarkatsishvhili was a political rival and the archenemy of the government.” Some observers, however, alleged the CPO released the tapes for political reasons in context of the presidential election. The investigation was ongoing as of November.

b. Disappearance

The government’s investigation into the reported kidnapping of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli by government officials in May 2017 appeared stalled. Concerns remained that the government was involved in Mukhtarli’s disappearance from Tbilisi and arrest by Azerbaijan authorities on the border with Georgia border (see section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).

There were frequent reports of detentions of Georgians along the ABLs of both the occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including the case of Archil Tatunashvili (see section 1.a.).

More than 2,300 individuals were still missing following the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. In its May report to parliament for 2017, the Public Defender’s Office (PDO)stated that effectively combating torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment remained “one of the most important challenges of the country.”

The PDO reported it asked the Office of the Chief Prosecutor to investigate 72 allegations of such mistreatment by police officers and prison staff between 2013-17; of these, the prosecutor’s office did not identify any perpetrators according to the PDO. The PDO reported an increase in the number of cases of mistreatment by police it referred to the CPO in 2017 and an increase in 2017 in the rate of injuries sustained by individuals admitted to temporary detention facilities and during or after administrative arrests. Of the 10 cases the PDO asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate in 2017, the prosecutor’s office had not identified any perpetrators according to the PDO’s report to parliament. The PDO continued to consider the existing system of investigation into alleged torture and other mistreatment by law enforcement officials neither effective nor independent. NGOs and the PDO continued to recommend the creation of an independent mechanism to investigate allegations of misconduct. They also continued to call for greater oversight of security officials.

The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) reported it submitted six complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment from inmates in penitentiary facilities to the CPO for investigation. GYLA also reported it submitted 10 complaints of such treatment by law enforcement officers, compared with five in 2017. In an additional case, GYLA accused the mayor of Marneuli of degrading treatment (see section 3). The CPO opened investigations into the complaints, but had not reached a final decision in any of the cases as of mid-December.

On the 2015 alleged physical assault of lawyer Giorgi Mdinaradze by then head of the Vake-Saburtalo Police No. 5 Lasha Kvirkaia, in March the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld the Tbilisi City Court ruling that found Kvirkaia guilty of abuse of power but acquitted him on the charge of violence in October 2017. In response to the CPO’s appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that the abuse of power included violence and sentenced Kvirkaia to five years in prison on October 26. The PDO reported that the prosecution did not submit charges against any additional police officers who allegedly participated in the assault and noted the lower court hearings had been postponed a number of times because police officers called as witnesses did not appear in court.

As of mid-December, several former officials remained on trial at Tbilisi City Court in various cases of torture and other crimes allegedly committed during the time during the former government, including former deputy chief of the general staff Giorgi Kalandadze, former deputy culture minister Giorgi Udesiani, and former director of Gldani No. 8 prison Aleksandre Mukhadze (see Section 1.d). On February 27, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld former deputy defense minister Davit Akhalaia’s 2016 conviction for conspiracy to commit murder and abuse of power during the 2006 Navtlughi special operation that resulted in the killing of three unarmed men. In April Tbilisi City Court convicted former defense minister Bacho Akhalaia of organizing torture and sexual violence.

In June Tbilisi City Court convicted former president Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia and sentenced him to six years in prison for abuse of power for ordering a physical assault of former member of parliament Valery Gelashvili. Ministry of Internal Affairs special forces attacked Gelashvili shortly after a 2005 dispute between Saakashvili and Gelashvili. The United National Movement opposition party claimed the case against Saakashvili was politically motivated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While overall prison and detention facility conditions improved, conditions in some old facilities were inhuman and lacked sufficient ventilation, natural light, minimum living space, and adequate health care.

Inmate-on-inmate violence, criminal subcultures, and informal management remained persistent systemic problems.

Physical Conditions: While the law requires authorities to hold persons in pretrial detention separately from convicted prisoners, the PDO reported overcrowding still led authorities to place persons held in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together in several prison facilities, especially Gldani #8 and Kutaisi #2.

In July the Ministry of Corrections, which is responsible for the penitentiary system, became part of the Ministry of Justice. According to the Ministry of Justice, 15 prisoners died in the penitentiary system in 2017, compared with 27 in 2016.

While the Ministry of Justice maintained a special medical unit for prisoners with disabilities, the PDO reported prisons and temporary detention centers did not take into account the needs of persons with disabilities, including for medical services. The PDO also noted the majority of institutions failed to compile data on and register the needs of persons with disabilities. According to the Penitentiary Department, some facilities began to adapt their infrastructure to accommodate persons with disabilities (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Prison conditions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia were reported to be chronically substandard.

Administration: The PDO noted there was only one ombudsperson authorized to respond to complaints by prisoners and reported that obstacles such as a lack of information on their rights, fear of intimidation, distrust of the outcome, and lack of confidentiality could deter prisoners from filing complaints with judicial authorities. According to the Ministry of Justice, amendments to the administrative procedure code adopted in June 2017 improved complaint procedures as well as the complaint mechanism with regard to parole decisions.

According to the PDO, records on registering and distributing detainees in temporary detention centers were often incomplete or erroneous.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international prison monitoring organizations, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and some local and international human rights groups. The national preventive mechanism operating under the PDO had access to penitentiaries, conducted planned and unscheduled visits, and was allowed to take photographs during monitoring visits. National preventive mechanism members, however, did not have unimpeded access to video recordings of developments in penitentiaries.

The ICRC had full access to prisons and detention facilities in undisputed Georgian territory and some access to prison and detention facilities in South Ossetia. The ICRC did not have access to prisons and detention facilities in Abkhazia.

Improvements: Following the 2017 introduction of house arrest as an alternative to incarceration for adult offenders, the government opened a prerelease center in January that offered both home and work release to inmates who had less than a year of their sentence left to serve. Authorities allowed female inmates with infants and children to leave facilities during the weekends after their child turned three and to keep a baby born in prison with them for up to three years. The government increased the number of local councils (i.e., parole boards) to six in an effort to improve the case review process. The Department of Corrections continued to develop a list of authorized documents inmates may retain in cells, including indictments, court judgments, receipts for personal property held upon intake, and up to 100 pages of their case files. The PDO reported that the Department had not finalized the list despite a 2015 recommendation to do so. In June 2017 Parliament passed legislation, which entered into force in January, to allow low risk inmates and inmates serving sentences in juvenile rehabilitation institutions to acquire higher education. Also in January the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched a project with UNICEF to provide psychological services to juveniles by December. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that during the year, it renewed training courses for Temporary Detention Department staff on recording detainees’ injuries, including by photograph, renovated two temporary detention facilities, and opened medical units in four facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. The government’s observance of these prohibitions was uneven.

As of November 7, the trial of former justice minister Zurab Adeishvili remained underway in Tbilisi City Court. In 2016 the CPO charged Adeishvili in absentia in connection with the alleged illegal detention and kidnapping of a former opposition leader, Koba Davitashvili, in 2007.

In January Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s July 2017 decision finding a former senior official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, David Devnozashvili, and the former director of Gldani Prison #8, Aleksandre Mukhadze, guilty of misuse of power in the 2011 “photographers’ case” in which the previous government arrested four photographers and charged them with espionage. The defendants appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which declared the appeal inadmissible in June. In response, the CPO motioned the Tbilisi Court of Appeals to revisit the 2011 decision against the photographers and acquit them of all charges. As of December, the case was ongoing.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of public order. The ministry is the primary law enforcement organization in the country and includes the national police force, the border security force, and the Georgian Coast Guard. The SSSG is the internal intelligence service responsible for counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anticorruption efforts. The Ministry of Finance and the CPO have investigative services with police powers in financial investigations, and the CPO is required to investigate high-profile cases and other criminal offenses. The office may take control of any investigation if it determines doing so is in the best interest of justice (e.g., in cases of conflict of interest and police abuse cases). In certain politically sensitive cases investigated by the Prosecution Service–including the case of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli and instances of political violence–impunity remained a problem.

The Ministry of Defense is responsible for external security, although the government may call on it during times of internal disorder.

While civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of Defense, senior civilian authorities reportedly did not always maintain effective control over the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the SSSG.

The effectiveness of government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse by law enforcement officials and security forces was limited, and domestic and international concern over impunity remained high.

There were large protests in May surrounding the conduct of law enforcement bodies’ investigation and prosecution of the killing of two juveniles that occurred in December 2017, known as the “Khorava Street murders.” Civil society groups questioned the investigation’s impartiality. As a result of the controversy, the country’s chief prosecutor resigned, and parliament, for the first time, set up an Investigative Commission in June. In September, the commission, headed an opposition party leader, concluded that the investigation was compromised in favor of former influential Prosecutor’s Office official Mirza Subeliani, as some investigatory procedures, including the questioning of witnesses and collection of material evidence, completely bypassed Subeliani and two of his relatives allegedly implicated in the crime. The commission also accused former Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze of either “negligence” or “abuse of power.” Government officials partially agreed with the commission’s conclusions that the investigation did not properly execute procedures regarding evidence collection, examinations, and questioning witnesses, but they also contested the claim that undue outside influence compromised the investigation. Zaza Saralidze, father of one of the boys killed, continued to lead protests.

During the year, the president, the public defender, local and international NGOs, and the international community continued to express concerns about impunity for government officials in connection with the reported May 2017 abduction and forced rendition of Azerbaijani freelance journalist and activist Afgan Mukhtarli from Georgia to Azerbaijan. As of mid-December, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office claimed it continued to investigate the incident and was waiting for a response to its request to Azerbaijan’s government to interview Mukhtarli. The Public Defender’s Office, NGOs, and Mukhtarli’s wife criticized the investigation for its lack of urgency and transparency, as well as for the authorities’ refusal to grant Mukhtarli “victim status.” Such status would have allowed Mukhtarli’s lawyers to request special protection for the life, health, and property of Mukhtarli and his close relatives. NGOs accused investigators of ignoring alleged abuses of power by government authorities. These developments, combined with the government’s failure to issue an interim report on the investigation and the July comment of Vakhtang Gomelauri, the head of the SSSG, that “some investigations are never solved” added to concerns of government involvement in Mukhtarli’s disappearance from Tbilisi and arrest on the Azerbaijan-Georgia border.

There were reports of impunity for abuses of state resources, including politically motivated surveillance (see section 1.f.) and interference by SSSG officials (see section 3).

The CPO continued training prosecutors on proper standards for prosecuting cases of alleged mistreatment by public officials. In 2017 the CPO started 127 investigations for alleged mistreatment by penitentiary and law enforcement officers from 2013 to 2016. Of these, 17 persons faced prosecution proceedings in 2017: three police officers and 14 penitentiary employees.

The trial in the Tbilisi City Court against the former head of the Constitutional Security Department, Davit Akhalaia, and three additional former Ministry of Internal Affairs officials for their role in the violent dispersal of a protest in 2011 remained underway as of November.

In July prominent NGOs released a joint report addressing the police raids of Tbilisi nightclubs (see section 1.d.). The NGOs questioned the legitimacy of measures taken by law enforcement in the nightclubs, arguing their actions were excessive. Government officials defended their actions as appropriate and in line with international standards.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Law enforcement officers must have a warrant to make an arrest except in limited cases. The criminal procedure code provides that an arrest warrant may be obtained only where probable cause is shown that a person committed a crime for which conviction is punishable by imprisonment and that the individual may abscond or fail to appear in court, destroy evidence, or commit another crime. GYLA noted the law did not explicitly specify the role and powers of a judge in reviewing the lawfulness of arrests, and that courts often failed to examine the factual circumstances of the detention.

Upon arrest, a detainee must be advised of his or her legal rights. Any statement made after arrest but before a detainee is advised of his or her rights is inadmissible in court. The arresting officer must immediately take a detainee to the nearest police station and record the arrest, providing a copy to the detainee and his or her attorney. The Public Defender reported, however, that maintenance of police station logbooks was haphazard and in a number of cases the logbooks did not establish the date and time of an arrest.

Detainees must be indicted within 48 hours and taken to court within 72 hours. Anyone taken into custody on administrative grounds has the right to be heard in court within 12 hours after detention. Violating these time limits results in the immediate release of the person.

The law permits alternatives to detention. NGOs and court observers reported that the judiciary failed to use alternative measures adequately. The government also lacked a monitoring mechanism for defendants not in custody.

Detainees have the right to request immediate access to a lawyer of their choice and the right to refuse to make a statement in the absence of counsel. An indigent defendant charged with a crime has the right to counsel appointed at public expense. The threshold for aid was so low, however, that many low income defendants could not afford counsel during critical stages of criminal proceedings.

Detainees facing possible criminal charges have the right to have their families notified by the prosecutor or the investigator within three hours of arrest; persons charged with administrative offenses have the right to notify family upon request. The 2017 report of the national preventive mechanism released in July 2018 noted that this right was mostly observed. The Public Defender’s Office documented that 71 percent of detainees in 2017 made use of this right, compared to 56 percent in 2016. The law requires the case prosecutor to approve requests by persons in pretrial detention to contact their family.

Witnesses have the right to refuse to be interviewed by law enforcement officials for certain criminal offenses. In such instances, prosecutors and investigators may petition the court to compel a witness to be interviewed if they have proof that the witness has “necessary information.” The public defender reported that police continued to summon individuals as “witnesses” and later arrested them. According to the public defender, police used “involuntary interviews” of subjects, often in police cars or at police stations. The report of the national preventive mechanism for 2017 noted that police failed to advise interviewees of their rights prior to initiating interviews and failed to maintain records of individuals interviewed in police stations or vehicles.

Concerns persisted regarding the authorities’ use of administrative detention to detain individuals for up to 15 days without the right to an effective defense, defined standards of proof, and the right to a meaningful appeal.

Pretrial Detention: NGOs noted inconsistent application of the standards to grant bail or order detention. Although there was a noticeable improvement in the substantiation of motions and rulings, prosecutors and judges at times did not articulate a reasoned and specific justification for requesting or ordering detention and did not discuss the lawfulness of the detention. According to Supreme Court statistics, as of July, pretrial detention was used in 41.6 percent of cases compared with 32.8 percent for the same period in 2017. Trial monitors attributed the increase in detention rates to a decrease in substance abuse cases, which often resulted in the defendant being remanded released on bail, and an increase in reported domestic violence cases, which usually involved the detention of the defendant. PDO reported the increase did not necessarily reflect an increase of domestic violence or reliance on detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The criminal procedure code provides that in exigent circumstances, a person can be arrested without a court warrant. A person must be released immediately if the substantial breach of an arrest procedure has been identified. This decision can be made by a prosecutor or a judge at the first appearance hearing within 72 hours from the arrest. The law provides that the arrested person shall be fully reimbursed from the state budget for the damage incurred as a result of an unlawful and unjustified arrest. The national preventive mechanism noted that, as in previous years, persons under administrative arrest rarely exercised their right to a defense attorney in 2017. There is no meaningful judicial review provided by the code of administrative violations for an administrative arrest.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside of the judiciary.

The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, Transparency International, and others continued to raise concerns over a lack of judicial independence. During the year, they highlighted problems including the strengthening of an influential group of judges primarily consisting of High Council of Justice members and court chairs, that allegedly stifled critical opinions within the judiciary and obstructed proposals to strengthen judicial independence; the impact of the High Council’s powers on the independence of individual judges; manipulation of the case distribution system; a lack of transparency in the High Council’s activities; and shortcomings in the High Council’s appointments of judges and court chairpersons.

The president, the public defender, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to highlight shortcomings in the 2017 legislative package informally known as the “third wave of judicial reform.” They pointed to problems in the laws’ implementation and highlighted challenges to judicial independence, including flawed processes for selecting judges at all court levels, many to lifetime appointments, which left the judiciary vulnerable to political influence.

In May Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze resigned over allegations that his office improperly influenced the investigation of the Khorava Street murders (see section 1.d.). Civil society groups widely criticized Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani for nominating a new chief prosecutor in advance of the adoption of new constitutional rules designed to ensure impartiality in appointment of the chief prosecutor. The new constitution empowers a new 15-member Prosecutor’s Council, rather than the justice minister, to nominate the chief prosecutor.

In August Supreme Court Chief Justice and Chair of the High Council of Justice Nino Gvenetadze resigned. Civil society and opposition politicians widely believed she stepped down due to political pressure. Civil society organizations urged then-President Margvelashvili to nominate a new chief justice; the president declined to do so, saying he had “failed to achieve broad public consensus” over a candidate.

On December 24, the High Council of Justice (HCOJ) nominated 10 controversial candidates to the Supreme Court. Civil society, opposition, and some ruling party members accused the nominees, all of whom were alleged to be a part of, or closely affiliated with, the influential group of judges that civil society referred to as a “clan.” They also criticized the lack of a transparent nomination procedure or clear criteria for nominees. The non-transparent nature of the nominations immediately became a divisive issue within Parliament and, on December 27, the Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee, a Georgian Dream member of parliament (MP), resigned in protest. That evening, the HCOJ granted a lifetime lower court appointment to Levan Murusidze, who had been accused of corruption. This prompted a major outcry, and several NGOs released a statement blaming Georgian Dream for not having the will to reform the judiciary. On December 28, Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze agreed that criteria for selecting judges had to be modified and, as of year’s end, the debate continued in Parliament.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. The Public Defender reported numerous violations of the right to a fair trial, and NGOs noted this right was not enforced in some high profile, politically sensitive cases. NGOs reported courts were inconsistent in their approaches to closing hearings to the public and at times did not provide an explanation for holding a closed hearing.

Defendants are presumed innocent and must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to have a public trial except where national security, privacy, or protection of a juvenile is involved.

In August, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Giorgi Mamaladze, who had been convicted in 2017 of “preparing for premeditated murder.” The Tbilisi Appeals Court had already upheld the original conviction in February. The PDO and NGOs consistently raised concerns that the investigation and court proceedings deprived the defendant of a fair trial.

The law allows for trial in absentia in certain cases where the defendant has left the country. The code on administrative offenses does not provide the necessary due process provisions including the presumption of innocence, especially when dealing with violations that can result in a defendant’s deprivation of liberty.

The law does not prescribe a maximum period for investigation of cases but stipulates a maximum period for trial if a suspect is arrested. The criminal procedure code requires trial courts to issue a verdict within 24 months of completing a pretrial hearing.

GYLA noted that unreasonable delays in cases and court hearings were a serious factor in limiting the right to timely justice. The requirement of a continuous trial was met only in jury trial cases. In bench trials with defendants not in custody, trials were scheduled with intervals as long as one month. GYLA also reported that judges were unable to maintain order in many cases. The Public Defender’s Office highlighted weak reasoning in court judgments.

Examples of delayed proceedings included the related cases of Temur Barabadze and founding Millennium Challenge Fund Georgia Chief Executive Officer Lasha Shanidze and his father Shalva. According to court documents, Barabadze was forced to testify against the Shanidzes under duress in 2009, but subsequently recanted his testimony. Pending for more than seven years, court hearings in Barabadze’s case began in spring 2017. Completion of judicial review of the Shanidzes’ 2011 embezzlement convictions based on Barabadze’s coerced testimony continued to await resolution of Barabadze’s case. In June Barabadze’s case was separated from the Shanidzes’ case, and the trial court acquitted him. The Prosecutor’s Office appealed the trial court’s decision, however, and the trial remained underway as of year’s end.

Defendants have the right to meet with an attorney of their choice without hindrance, supervision, or undue restriction. Defendants enjoy the right to have an attorney provided at public expense if they are indigent, but many did not always have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The Public Defender’s Office noted that while a state appointed lawyer generally was available for those in need, state appointed attorneys often were not present until submitting charges or plea bargaining.

In criminal proceedings, defendants and their attorneys have the right of access to prosecution evidence relevant to their cases no later than five days before the pretrial hearing and can make copies. Defendants have the right to question and confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf at trial. Defendants have the right to refuse to testify or incriminate themselves. While a defendant generally has the right to appeal a conviction, making an effective appeal under the administrative code was difficult. By law, defendants have 30 days to file an appeal once they receive the court’s written and reasoned judgment. Administrative sentences that entail incarceration must be appealed within 48 hours and other sentences within 10 days. On October 19, the Constitutional Court issued a decision in a case related to appeal procedure in administrative violation cases. It noted that the existing appeal procedures were substandard and declared them unconstitutional. Based on this decision, the existing provisions were scheduled to lose legal force on March 31, 2019 and be replaced by new procedures allowing meaningful appeals in cases of administrative violation.

By law a court must certify that a plea bargain was reached without violence, intimidation, deception, or illegal promise and that the accused had the opportunity to obtain legal assistance. Plea bargaining provisions in the criminal procedure code provide safeguards for due process, including the removal of a no contest plea and allowing charge bargaining. The evidentiary standard for plea agreements stipulates that evidence must be sufficient to find a defendant guilty, without a full trial of a case, and must satisfy an objective person that the defendant committed the crime. GYLA reported that courts did not fairly evaluate the voluntariness of a defendant’s plea agreement and that, out of 303 motions proposed by the prosecution, judges approved 98 percent (298). According to Supreme Court statistics for the first eleven months of the year, the rate of cases disposed of via plea agreements stood at 6.6 percent, while cases resolved by trial constituted 33.4 percent. During the same period, courts fully acquitted defendants in 7.1 percent of trials and partially acquitted them in 2.9 percent of trials. Of cases reviewed on their merits, courts terminated the prosecution in 3.1 percent of trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Opposition party members and family members of prisoners stated the government held political prisoners. The government permitted international and domestic organizations to visit persons claiming to be political prisoners or detainees, and several international organizations did so.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, but there were concerns about the professionalism of civil judges and transparency in their adjudication. The constitution and law stipulate that a person who suffers damages resulting from arbitrary detention or other unlawful or arbitrary acts, including human rights violations, is entitled to submit a civil action. Individuals have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after they have exhausted domestic avenues of appeal.

There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used taxes on property to pressure organizations, as was the case with the International Black Sea University (see section 2.a.).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In Abkhazia, the de facto legal system prohibits property claims by ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia before, during, or after the 1992-93 war, thereby depriving internally displaced persons of their property rights in Abkhazia.

In a 2010 decree, South Ossetian de facto authorities invalidated all real estate documents issued by the Georgian government between 1991 and 2008 relating to property in the Akhalgori Region. The decree also declared all property in Akhalgori belongs to the de facto authorities until a “citizen’s” right to that property is established in accordance with the de facto “law,” effectively stripping ethnic Georgians displaced in 2008 of their property rights in the region.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) had little indication that de facto South Ossetian authorities demolished houses belonging to Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Eredvi during the year, as they did in 2017, but EUMM observed scavengers at work.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting nonconsensual electronic surveillance or monitoring operations without a warrant. NGOs, media, and others asserted that the government did not respect these prohibitions. For example, there were widespread reports that the government monitored the political opposition. Local and international NGOs also reported that government officials monitored independent Azerbaijani journalists and activists residing in the country. In a June 18 report, Transparency International/Georgia and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center raised concerns about the State Security Service’s secret surveillance system due to lack of political neutrality and weak oversight.

As of year’s end, cases submitted to the Constitutional Court challenging a law on electronic surveillance were pending. The plaintiffs (NGOs and the PDO) asserted the law did not satisfy the requirements of a 2016 Constitutional Court ruling requiring an independent body to oversee electronic surveillance.

Some opposition politicians raised concerns that the government was prolonging a 2016 the investigation in order to justify monitoring political opponents allegedly involved in the recording or to sway voters ahead of the fall presidential elections (see Section 3). The investigation concerns audio tapes in which, allegedly, certain opposition leaders discuss organizing a revolution.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; government respect for those rights was uneven.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of assembly. Human rights organizations expressed concern, however, about provisions in the law, including the requirement that political parties and other organizations give five days’ notice to local authorities to assemble in a public area, thereby precluding spontaneous demonstrations. NGOs reported that police sometimes restricted freedom of assembly. For example, on December 17, 14 NGOs accused the authorities of restricting opposition access to the site of a planned Inauguration Day demonstration on December 16. The government responded that it had provided an area for demonstrations, but that protestors had refused to use it. As of mid-December, two supporters of Georgian Dream and one opposition activist were in detention after inauguration day incidents. Two Georgian Dream activists were arrested after allegedly assaulting an opposition activist in Velistsikhe, and opposition leader Davit Kirkitadze was arrested after he reportedly assaulted a police officer who was blocking the highway with a bus. Kirkitadze and his supporters claimed his arrest was politically motivated. NGOs also stated police abused the administrative offences code to detain participants of peaceful assemblies based on articles 166 (petty hooliganism), 173 (non-compliance with a lawful order of a law enforcement officer), and 150 (defacing the appearance of a self-governing unit).

There were several protests in May, including those against raids on popular nightclubs and in support of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT). In May LGBTI organizations were unable to hold a sanctioned IDAHOT rally due to safety concerns following large rallies attended in part by far right groups that threatened violence against LGBTI supporters. Several LGBTI activists still met in front of the State Chancellery under heavy police presence. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

There were reports that some government representatives and supporters of the ruling party pressured political opposition figures and supporters and state employees (see Section 3).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation of citizens, but de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces limited this freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The government cooperated with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and most other persons of concern. The Public Defender’s Office and NGOs, however, alleged that authorities made politically motivated decisions on asylum and other requests affecting selected Turkish and Azerbaijani citizens.

In-country Movement: There were substantial impediments to freedom of internal movement due to a lack of access to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The majority of the approximately 300,000 IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia wished to return to their areas of origin but lacked adequate security provisions and political, human, economic, and movement rights absent a political resolution to the conflicts.

Foreigners were restricted from moving in and out of South Ossetia but could access Abkhazia with approval from the de facto authorities. There were reports that late in the year citizens of Commonwealth of Independent States countries were prohibited from entering Abkhazia except from Russia, which violated Georgian law. This placed additional restrictions on international humanitarian access to Abkhazia. Crossing permits introduced by de facto South Ossetian authorities were the only document that allowed movement across the South Ossetia ABL to or from Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT).

Some residents of Abkhazia who used their Georgian passports had to obtain permission from de facto security services to cross the Abkhazia ABL to or from TAT. Georgian passport holders could cross a checkpoint if they possessed invitation letters cleared by the de facto state security services allowing them to enter Abkhazia. The latter did not consistently provide permission to cross and limited movement to specific areas. In August de facto authorities suddenly declared older Soviet-era passports, used by thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, to be no longer valid for crossing, threatening the livelihood of many residents. De facto authorities then blocked some ethnic Georgians who had used Soviet-era passports to cross into TAT from returning to Abkhazia. De facto authorities claimed that residents without valid crossing documents would be allowed to apply for residence permits, which would enable them to cross, but it remained unclear how these new regulations would be implemented.

Georgian law prohibits entry into and exit from the breakaway regions through the territory of neighboring states (i.e., Russia).

Russian and Abkhaz de facto authorities limited international organizations’ ability to operate in Abkhazia. Russian and South Ossetian de facto authorities limited international organizations, including humanitarian organizations, access to South Ossetia; however, the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions–representing the United Nations, the OSCE, and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia–visited South Ossetia quarterly prior to each round of the discussions, accompanied by UNHCR. The ICRC office in Tskhinvali was the only international organization representation in South Ossetia.

De facto authorities and Russian forces in the Russian-occupied territories also restricted the movement of the local population across the ABL, although they showed flexibility for travel for medical care, pension services, religious services, and education. Villagers who approached the line or crossings risked detention by Russian Federation “border guards.” Russian border guards along the ABL with Abkhazia typically enforced the boundary-crossing rules imposed by de facto authorities through detentions and fines. Along the South Ossetia ABL, Russian border guards frequently transferred individuals to de facto authorities. The SSSG reported that detentions by de facto authorities typically lasted two to three days until the detainee paid “fines” set by the de facto “court,” although some sentences for “violations of the state border” carried considerably longer terms.

The European Union Monitoring Mission was aware of 14 individuals detained along the ABL with Abkhazia and 92 detained along the line with South Ossetia as of November. There were credible reports based on local sources that, on several occasions, local South Ossetian or Russian “border guards” crossed into government-controlled territory to detain an individual. There were also reports of arbitrary arrests of ethnic Georgians by de facto authorities, particularly in the Tskhinvali and Gali regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively. Most often, the arrested individuals were accused of violating the “state border.” According to EUMM, many detainees were obliged to sign documents in Russian that they did not understand.

De facto authorities continued to expand fencing and other physical barriers along the ABL between the government-administered area and South Ossetia. This expansion of the Russian “borderization” policy further restricted movement, creating physical barriers and obstructing access to agricultural land, water supplies, and cemeteries. In November, Russian occupation forces in South Ossetia erected fencing along a one-kilometer line at the village of Atotsi, Kareli Municipality. Local residents reported they had already tilled and sowed the land that was then taken away, and they would not be able to reap the harvest.

In March 2017 Abkhaz de facto authorities closed two crossing points across the ABL, leaving crossing points open only at the Enguri Bridge and Saberio-Pakhulani. As access to government-administered territory became more restricted and visits to family and friends living across the ABL much more difficult to arrange, the closure of crossing points further impoverished and isolated the population in lower Gali and contributed to a growing sense of isolation. The closure also prevented children from attending classes in their native Georgian language across the ABL.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

As part of a broader consolidation plan, the government abolished the Ministry for Refugees, Accommodation, and Internally Displaced Persons in August, dividing the ministry’s responsibilities among the Ministries of Interior, Labor, Health, and Social Affairs, as well as the State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. According to the government, as of August, there were approximately 280,000 IDPs from the 1992-93 and 2008 conflicts. UNHCR estimated 235,176 persons were in an “IDP-like” situation, some 50,000 of whom were in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. This number included individuals who have returned to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as those displaced in the 2008 conflict who subsequently were relocated, or have obtained housing or cash compensation.

Most persons displaced in 2008 received formal IDP status in accordance with national legislation, although some individuals who were not displaced by the 2008 conflict and lived close to the ABL were officially described as being in an “IDP-like situation.” The government provided monthly allowances to persons recognized as IDPs, promoted their socioeconomic integration, and sought to create conditions for their return in safety and dignity.

Despite their 1994 agreement with Georgia, Russia, and UNHCR that called for the safe, secure, and voluntary return of IDPs who fled during the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz de facto authorities continued to prevent the return of those displaced by the war. Between 45,000 and 60,000 IDPs have returned since that time to the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli regions of lower Abkhazia, but Abkhaz de facto authorities refused to allow the return of IDPs to other regions. De facto authorities prevented IDPs living elsewhere in the country from reclaiming homes in Abkhazia, based on a “law” that expropriated all “abandoned property” from the 1992-93 war. IDPs who returned were allowed to sell but were barred from buying property.

Ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia lacked fundamental rights and confronted onerous registration requirements that threatened their continued status. De facto authorities continued to pressure ethnic Georgians to acquire a “foreign residency permit,” which allows the holder to cross the ABL and remain in Abkhazia for a period of five years. An applicant must, however, accept the status of an alien (i.e., a Georgian living as a foreigner in Abkhazia), may not purchase property, may not transfer residency rights of property to children born in de facto controlled territory, may not vote, and must accept a lack of other basic rights. As of December 31, de facto authorities continued to allow ethnic Georgians to cross the ABL with “Form Number Nine,” an administrative pass that de facto authorities had previously threatened to discontinue.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: A 2017 law remained in effect guaranteeing access to international protection, including access to asylum or refugee status. NGOs, however, alleged that executive and judicial authorities made politically motivated decisions in response to asylum requests by some Turkish citizens and a number of Azerbaijani citizens.

The law distinguishes among three types of protection: a) refugee status (as per the 1951 Refugee Convention), b) protected humanitarian status (complementary protection), and c) temporary protection. In 2017, the government’s acceptance rate for granting refugee or humanitarian status was 18 percent. During the first six months of the year, the overall acceptance rate was 6.8 percent (25 were recognized as eligible for refugee or humanitarian status while 343 were rejected).

In February, authorities released on bail a Turkish citizen, Mustafa Emre Cabuk. The release followed a statement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s co-rapporteurs for Georgia questioning the use of pretrial detention for asylum seekers and urging that asylum requests “should be based only on humanitarian and human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights, whose requirements should be fully applied.” In July 2017, the government had denied asylum Cabuk and his family after it detained him following a Turkish government extradition request, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The Public Defender’s Office and local and international NGOs continued to raise concerns about the government’s refusal to grant asylum, other protected status, or residency permits to a number of Azerbaijani journalists and activists. The NGOs claimed the individuals were politically persecuted in Azerbaijan and accused the Georgian government of rejecting the asylum and residence permit requests despite continued pressure against activists by the Azerbaijani government. The NGOs reported the government based its refusal of asylum and residence permits on national security interests without giving clear reasons or citing relevant legislation. In 2017 three NGOs reported that Azerbaijani dissidents no longer viewed the country as a safe haven.

The Public Defender’s Office reported it found several unreasonable instances of refusal to grant citizenship, asylum/refugee status, and residency permits to foreigners on national security grounds after reviewing the government’s confidential considerations in some cases.

Employment: Asylum seekers (from the start of the asylum procedure) and persons under international protection have legal access to the labor market. Foreigners, including persons under international protection, can register at the “Worknet” state program for vocational training and skills development.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided limited assistance to persons with protected status. In 2017 the government opened an integration center to provide structured integration programs for such persons. The country’s reception center had adequate services for asylum seekers and had capacity for approximately 150 persons.

The law enables refugees and asylum seekers to receive a temporary residence permit during the entirety of their asylum procedure as well as documentation necessary to open a bank account and register a business or property. Refugees receive a renewable temporary residence permit for three years, while protected humanitarian status holders receive a permit for one year, renewable upon a positive assessment of the need for continued protection. Access to education remained a problem due to the language barrier, notwithstanding the government’s provision of Georgian language classes.

Durable Solutions: The government offered a path to naturalization for refugees residing on its territory. The naturalization process began in 2009, when there were 1,200 Chechen refugees in Pankisi. As of November, 58 percent (699) applied for citizenship. Out of these applications, the government naturalized 78 percent (545) and rejected 22 percent (154). Approximately 17.5 percent (211) of the initial refugee population remained in Pankisi and had yet to be naturalized, including several whose applications authorities rejected because they failed to pass the required language and history tests. Authorities purportedly denied others naturalization based on national security concerns.

Temporary Protection: The law provided for avenues to temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The law provided temporary residence permits, but these permits are not a form of international protection per se in the meaning of refugee law. The Ministry of Internal Affairs may grant these temporary permits to individuals who meet the criteria for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but who were rejected on national security grounds. From January to June, 433 persons applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to three percent (13). In the first six months of 2017, 379 individuals applied for asylum and authorities granted humanitarian status to six percent (22).

STATELESS PERSONS

According to government statistics, as of October, authorities granted 22 percent of the year’s applications for stateless status (eight out of 32).

The law defines a stateless person in line with the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and lists specific rights and responsibilities of stateless persons. The law provides that an adult can be granted citizenship if he or she has permanently resided on the country’s territory during the previous five years; knows the state language; is familiar with the country’s history and laws and able to pass the relevant tests; and has a job or owns real estate on the country’s territory, conducts business, or owns shares in a Georgian company or industry. In exceptional cases, the president may grant citizenship to individuals who do not satisfy these requirements.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. On December 16, a new constitution, approved in September 2017, went into effect. The constitution eliminated direct election of the president and maintained the current parliamentary electoral system until 2024.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: An OSCE/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission assessed that the October 28 first round of the presidential elections “was competitive and professionally administered.” While they recognized that candidates campaigned freely and voters had a genuine choice, the observers raised concerns about the “misuse of administrative resources,” an “unlevel playing field,” “sharp polarization of the private media, negative campaigning and harsh rhetoric,” “legal changes that increased the representation of the ruling party at all election administration levels,” and “insufficient transparency in the selection of nonpartisan members” that “undermined the perception of impartiality.”

OSCE/ODIHR’s election observation mission stated that the November 28 second round of the presidential election was marked by an undue advantage for the ruling party backed candidate and that “the negative character of the campaign on both sides undermined the process.” The assessment said the “increased misuse of administrative resources further blurred the line between party and state” and that private media showed sharp polarization while public media did not ensure editorial independence and impartiality and “displayed a clear bias against the opposition.” The observation mission reported the handling of election complaints “often lacked proper consideration of substance, and commissions took narrow or inconsistent interpretations of the law, all of which impacted the right to effective remedy.” The National Democratic Institute (NDI) stated reports of intimidation of state employees to vote for the ruling party backed candidate, or not to vote, “were widespread ahead of the run-off, including firsthand accounts from family members of NDI staff.” In a November 27 joint statement, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia, and GYLA also reported widespread intimidation before the run-off, with “employees of municipal public institutions, private sector employees, socially vulnerable voters and voters with previous conviction” pressured. Most reportedly were urged to vote for the ruling party backed candidate or were threatened because of their support for the opposition candidate. Municipal employees reported dismissal threats.

In August United National Movement (UNM) party members released an audio recording allegedly demonstrating ruling Georgian Dream party collusion with the Central Election Commission (CEC) to stack district and precinct election commissions with Georgian Dream supporters. Several opposition parties called for the resignation of the CEC chairperson. The CEC promised a strong response if the allegations of collusion were substantiated. Several election monitors raised the issue in their reports, and the chair of the Krtsanisi district election commission resigned. In October, the CEC concluded there was no collusion or violations and closed the investigation.

Political Parties and Political Participation:

Establishing accountability for political violence remained a problem, including for a number of attacks on opposition figures before the second round of the presidential election. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported in November 22 people were charged with violent crimes. In one such incident in Akhalkalaki, four UNM activists were beaten and sustained injuries serious enough to require hospitalization for several days; the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged five Georgian Dream activists with violence. In some other cases, the Ministry rejected opposition assertions that assaults were election related.

NDI noted that “most striking about this election were the aggressive, personalized, and unprecedented attacks by senior state officials against…civil society organizations and their leaders in the days and weeks leading up to election day” (see section 5).

Following a June assault by the then mayor of Marneuli on a citizen whom he forced to apologize to “41” (Georgian Dream’s ballot number) and whose face he smeared with his own urine, the Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into those involved, including the mayor, United National Movement MP Azer Suleymanov, a Georgian Dream member of the Marneuli Sakrebulo (city council) Ramin Allahverdiyev, and one of the mayor’s relatives of Marneuli’s mayor. The mayor was charged with degrading and inhumane treatment and faced five to 10 years in prison if convicted. The trial was underway as of November 7.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate.

De facto authorities in Abkhazia stripped ethnic Georgians of their Abkhaz “citizenship” in 2014, preventing them from participating in elections. Ethnic Georgians willing to apply for Abkhaz “passports” generally did not receive them in time to participate in elections due to extensive delays. Ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia were also required to accept a South Ossetian “passport” and “citizenship” to participate in political life.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption. While the government implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption, NGOs cited weak checks and balances and a lack of independence of law enforcement agencies as among the factors contributing to high-level corruption. NGOs assessed there were no effective mechanisms for preventing corruption in state-owned enterprises and independent regulatory bodies. While noting that petty bribery was extremely rare, Transparency International continued to describe corruption as a “serious problem” in the country.

Corruption: During the pre-election period several sets of audio recordings were released purporting to implicate current and former government officials in alleged corruption, torture, and abuse of power. Various parties questioned their authenticity. In one set, former CPO official Mirza Subeliani described himself as the government’s chief “fixer” in the Khorava Street murder case (see section 1.d.), and claimed to have resorted to violence to force witness testimonies in this, and to have employed torture to coerce witness testimony in several other cases. In another, the head of the Omega Group, a large conglomerate including Iberia TV, alleged that current and former high-level officials had demanded bribes and engaged in violent racketeering, to include the physical abuse of a former minister. As of December, the investigation into these tapes was ongoing.

As of November 14, current and former public servants faced prosecution on charges of bribery while an additional 79 were charged with other misspending or abuse of office. In July authorities questioned the former ministers of infrastructure and economy in connection with a high-profile corruption case. Some observers considered these investigations politically motivated. The investigation continued at year’s end. Although the law restricts gifts to public officials to a maximum of five percent of their annual salary, a loophole allowing unlimited gifts to public officials from their family members continued to be a source of concern for corruption watchers. As of August, the Anticorruption Agency of the SSSG had detained five public servants at the local and central levels for taking bribes. NGOs continued to call for an independent anticorruption agency outside the authority of the SSSG, alleging its officials were abusing its functions.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual declarations of their income and property for tax inspection; these were posted online. Declarations were not subject to verification, and Transparency International estimated that 16 members of parliament had undeclared assets as of November. The Civil Service Bureau receives annual financial declarations from public officials and publishes them in mid-January.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups in most instances operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Tension between the government and a number of leading NGOs increased, however, especially in the run-up to presidential elections. Soon after 13 NGOs highlighted concerns about indications of high level corruption (see Section 4) and informal clan rule in early October, prominent members of the government launched verbal attacks on those groups and their leaders. The Public Defender and NGOs expressed alarm regarding these attacks on civil society, asserting that a coordinated government attack on civil society harmed democracy. Also in October, the Speaker of Parliament labeled a prominent civil society leader “an accomplice to fascists” for asserting that a television director’s provocative comments did not violate the election code. Some government officials accused NGOs of publishing unsubstantiated accusations against the government, for example, when the NGOs reported a confidential source had alleged that government officials printed false identification cards in advance of presidential elections.

Some government officials accused NGOs of alleged political bias and publishing unsubstantiated accusations against the government, for example, when the NGOs reported a confidential source had alleged that government officials printed false identification cards in advance of presidential elections.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia due to limited access, allegations of abuse persisted. In March the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for immediate access for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and international and regional human rights mechanisms to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In June the OHCHR reported that de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia had not granted the requested access and expressed concern that, despite repeated requests since 2011, these de facto authorities had never granted it access. The OHCHR stated that the lack of access raised legitimate questions and concerns about the human rights of the populations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Government Human Rights Bodies: NGOs viewed the Public Defender’s Office, which has a mandate to monitor human rights and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination, as the most objective of the government’s human rights bodies. The amended constitution that came into force December 16 limits the public defender to one six-year term in office.

The public defender’s authority does not include the power to initiate prosecutions or other legal actions but the office can recommend action, and the government must respond. While the office generally operated without government interference and was considered effective, the public defender reported that government offices at times responded partially or not at all to inquiries and recommendations, despite a requirement to respond to information requests within 10 days and initiate follow up action within 20 days. Among government offices that failed to satisfy such requests in 2017, the Public Defender’s Office report highlighted the SSSG and the Ministry of Justice and its entities.

The public defender retains the right to make nonbinding recommendations to law enforcement agencies to investigate particular human rights cases. The public defender must submit an annual report on the human rights situation for the calendar year but can also make periodic reports. The office may not report allegations of torture unless the victim gives clear consent or a monitor from the office witnesses the torture.

By law the chief prosecutor is responsible for protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights unit of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office monitored overall prosecution and supervised compliance with national and international human rights standards. The unit reviews statistical and analytical activities within the prosecution system and is responsible for examining and responding to recommendations of national and international institutions involving human rights. The Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office also have mandates to monitor and investigate allegations of abuse and discrimination.

The Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which is designed to cover Abkhazia and South Ossetia and includes security actors from the government, Russia, and de facto authorities of the breakaway regions, considered human rights abuses reported in the occupied territories and along the ABL. Due to a dispute over agenda items, however, the IPRM meetings in Gali (Abkhazia) have been suspended since June. IPRM meetings in Ergneti (South Ossetia) resumed in December following a three-month suspension. De facto authorities in the occupied territories did not grant representatives of the Public Defender’s Office access.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but criminal law does not specifically address spousal rape. A convicted first time offender may be imprisoned for up to eight years. Through June, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated investigations in 14 rape cases, compared to seven in 2017. The government enforced the law effectively.

In cases that do not result in injury, penalties for conviction of domestic violence include 80 to 150 hours of community service or imprisonment for up to one year. Domestic and other violence against women remained a significant problem, which the government took several steps to combat. Such steps included designating specialized prosecutors to handle such offences and creating a risk assessment tool for police officers responding to such incidents. In May Parliament adopted amendments enabling courts to take away the right to carry firearms from persons convicted of domestic violence.

NGOs reported the Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs took significant steps to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence, including a new risk assessment tool announced by the ministry to aid police in protecting victims. The ministry developed the tool, which went into effect September 1, in tandem with NGOs and human rights organizations. Media reported, however, some instances of police ignoring or covering up cases of domestic violence, particularly if the accused were associated with the ministry.

NGOs and the government expanded the services provided to victims of domestic violence in recent years. NGOs claimed public awareness of legal remedies had grown, leading to the quadrupling of reported cases of domestic violence in recent years. In 2017 authorities prosecuted 1,986 domestic violence cases, as compared to 550 in 2014. In 2014 only 14 percent of defendants were placed in pretrial detention, while that figure reached 83 percent in 2017. NGOs reported law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Tbilisi showed improved professionalism in handling domestic violence crimes.

Domestic violence laws mandate the provision of temporary protective measures, including shelter and restraining orders that prohibit an abuser from coming within 330 feet of the victim and from using common property, such as a residence or vehicle, for six months. The Public Defender’s Office stated that victims often reported receiving inadequate responses from law enforcement officers to restraining order violations. As of August, violating a restraining order was considered a criminal offense on the first rather than the second occurrence.

Local NGOs and the government jointly operated a 24-hour hotline and shelters for abused women and their minor children, although space in the shelters was limited and only four of the country’s 10 regions had facilities.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Kidnapping women for marriage occurred in remote areas and ethnic minority communities but was rare. The Public Defender’s Office reported some cases of kidnapping for marriage, forced marriage, and early marriage in its 2017 report. In October, the Georgian Women’s Movement, a group of human rights and gender equality activists, criticized police delays in teen bride kidnapping investigations, almost exclusively concentrated in ethnic minority regions.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem. The criminal code criminalizes harassment. In March the Ministry of Internal Affairs began investigating a sexual harassment case initiated by several women against the head of a prominent civil organization. The case sparked public debate about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Public Defender’s Office reported it received 14 allegations of sexual harassment during the year. The PDO referred two of these cases to the courts, but the majority were outside the statute of limitations, which stands at three months after the victim becomes aware of the discrimination against them. The government initiated a sexual harassment training course for all civil servants to raise awareness of the problem.

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

Discrimination: Civil society organizations continued to report discrimination against women in the workplace. In April Parliament passed a gender equality action plan. On May 15, Parliament held the first National Conference on Gender Equality in Local Municipalities, which underlined the importance of women in leadership. The Public Defender’s Office monitored gender equality cases, in particular of domestic violence and workplace harassment.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory, and children born to stateless parents in the country are citizens. According to UNICEF, 99 percent of births were registered before the child reached the age of five.

Since 2015, UNHCR has reported a widening documentation gap in Abkhazia, noting that fewer residents of Gali District held valid documents due to the expiration and nonrenewal of documentation by de facto authorities there. The solution offered by de facto authorities, i.e., to issue permanent residence permits, did not provide the full scope of rights and was not welcomed by the majority of Gali District residents who did not wish to declare themselves foreigners living in their ancestral land. While IDP returnees were in principle able to get their children’s births registered with de facto authorities, they preferred to have their births registered with Georgian authorities.

Education: Children of noncitizens often lacked the documentation to enroll in school. The level of school attendance was low for children belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as street children and children with disabilities or in foster care. The Public Defender’s Office reported that violence, negligence, and other forms of mistreatment were still acute in educational institutions. According to a UNICEF study released in July, the majority of street children did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.

Child Abuse: Various forms of child abuse, including trafficking, forced labor, or forced begging, were punishable by a spectrum of prison terms and fines. Domestic violence against minors was punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, and the trafficking of minors was punishable by imprisonment anywhere from eight to twenty years depending on the specific circumstance.

Authorities referred children who suffered abuse to the relevant community and government services in coordination with stakeholders, including police, schools, and social service agencies.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18. Conviction of forced marriage of an individual younger than 18 is punishable by two to four years’ imprisonment. As of August, the Public Defender’s Office was reviewing 22 instances of alleged early marriage. During the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into four cases. Reports of child marriages continued throughout the year, although there were no official statistics. Child marriages reportedly occurred more frequently among certain ethnic and religious groups.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Convictions relating to commercial sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Street children and children living in orphanages were reportedly particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The law classifies sexual intercourse with a juvenile as rape, provided the perpetrator is proven to be aware of the victim’s age. The penalty is up to nine years’ imprisonment; the government generally enforced the law. Conviction of other sexual crimes carried increased levels of punishment if the victim was a juvenile. As of July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into 17 cases of rape of a minor and 159 cases involving other sex-related crimes.

In July UNICEF reported street children were particularly vulnerable to violence from caretakers and fellow street youth. According to testimonies from children living on the streets of Tbilisi, internal group dynamics among these children sometimes entailed sexual “reward” structures that exposed primarily girls to abuse at the hands of older group members.

Displaced Children: The Public Defender’s Office reported a lack of information about street children and noted the inadequacy of resources devoted to them. It was unclear how many were geographically displaced and a significant portion belonged to families that migrated seasonally to Georgia from Azerbaijan.

Institutionalized Children: The government continued replacing large-scale orphanages with smaller foster parenting arrangements. According to the Social Service Agency, as of August, 340 children were housed in 47 small-group homes and 1,483 children were placed in different forms of foster care. The government provided grants for higher education for institutionalized and foster-care children, including full coverage of tuition and a stipend, and provided emergency assistance to foster families.

UNICEF and a foreign development agency supported the government in developing small-scale facilities for children with severe and profound disabilities with the view to closing the Tbilisi infant home.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community to be no more than 6,000 persons. There were no reliable reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system and right to a fair trial, and the provision of other government or private sector services, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The PDO reported that persons with disabilities continued to encounter barriers to participating fully in public life. Many families with children with disabilities considered themselves stigmatized and kept their children from public view. Discrimination in employment was also a problem.

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities and stipulates fines for noncompliance. Very few public facilities or buildings, however, were accessible. Public and private transportation generally did not accommodate persons with disabilities, and sidewalk and street crossing access was poor.

The Public Defender’s Office stated that inclusive education remained a major challenge. Despite the introduction of inclusive education in professional and general educational institutions, preschool and higher education were not part of the system. Only a limited number of preschools among the 165 monitored by the PDO in Tbilisi in 2016 were accessible to children with disabilities. The PDO has not conducted specific monitoring of preschool institutions since then, but maintained that the situation has not changed.

The PDO reported that state-run institutions caring for persons with disabilities lacked the infrastructure, trained staff, psychosocial services, and contact with the outside world and families needed to provide for the delivery of services. It raised concerns about a high number of deaths of residents in regional facilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs opened investigations into several deaths at state-run institutions, but the PDO reported its study of these investigations revealed the investigations were ineffective.

In April 2017, parents of children with disabilities protested the unequal distribution of government assistance for persons with disabilities and claimed that children in only some regions received government funding. The parents requested an increased budget for rehabilitation programs for children with disabilities then, but the budget for the year showed no change.

Out of 46,708 public sector employees, just 55 were persons with disabilities in 2017. Legislation that disqualifies a person with disabilities working the public sector from receiving state disability assistance may be a disincentive to such work.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The PDO and NGOs reported some instances of discrimination against minority communities. During the year, the PDO received nine claims of discrimination based on national/ethnic origin. In only one of these cases, in which a person with permanent residence was denied access to state health care programs, did the courts determine that a person had been discriminated against based on their nationality/ethnicity. Despite noting advancements in minority protection and civic integration during the year, the PDO reported efforts to address remaining gaps remained insufficient. NGOs found on minority rights that victims rarely registered claims due to a lack of knowledge about their rights and criticized authorities for not raising greater awareness in minority communities.

As of November 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported five individuals were detained for committing a crime on the basis of nationality, race, or ethnicity.

In September minority rights activist Vitali Safarov was killed outside a popular bar in central Tbilisi. Human rights NGOs alleged the two men responsible were members of a neo-Nazi group, and witnesses reported the altercation began because the activist was speaking Russian rather than Georgian. The NGOs advocated for the addition of xenophobic pretext to the murder charges, which would carry a heavier punishment. On October 31, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office added the charge of “premeditated murder due to racial, religious, national or ethnic intolerance due to his nationality and profession.” As of November, the investigation continued. The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.

The media reported numerous cases of hate speech targeting minority groups.

Weak Georgian-language skills remained the main impediment to integration for members of the country’s ethnic minorities, in addition to political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration. Some minorities asserted that the law requiring “adequate command of the official language” to work as a civil servant excluded them from participating in government. The Public Defender’s Office reported that involving ethnic minorities in national decision-making processes remained a problem due to the small number of representatives of ethnic minorities in the central government.

The government continued its “1+4” program for ethnic minorities to study the Georgian language for a year prior to their university studies. According to a quota system, the government assigned 12 percent of all bachelor or higher certificate-level placements to students with ethnic minority backgrounds. Of these reserved slots, ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities each received 40 percent of the slots (about five percent of the total slots), while Ossetian and Abkhaz communities received 10 percent each (about one percent of the total slots).

The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians deported in 1944. According to the former ministry of refugees and accommodation–whose functions were spread over the Ministries of Infrastructure, Internal Affairs, and Labor, Health, and Social Affairs–1,998 of more than 5,841 applications were approved by August. Of this number, 494 applicants received “conditional citizenship,” which, according to a presidential decree, grants them “full Georgian citizenship” upon renouncing their foreign citizenship within five years.

De facto Abkhaz authorities enacted policies that threaten the legal status of ethnic Georgians living in the Gali District of Abkhazia. They closed village schools and forced ethnic Georgians to study strictly in the Russian language. De facto authorities dismissed ethnic Georgian teachers in Abkhazia deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Russian. In 2015 de facto authorities shifted the language of instruction for students in first through fourth grades in Lower Gali to Russian. Russian was the only instructional language in the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, and the de facto authorities have prohibited Georgian language instruction since the 2008 conflict. The Public Defender’s Office noted that, in the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli Districts, ethnic Georgian students and teachers had poor command of Russian, and therefore Russian-only instruction had significantly affected the quality of their education. Local communities had to either pay for teachers, arrange for teachers to cross from undisputed government territory to teach, or send their children across the ABL for Georgian-language lessons. According to the EUMM, some Gali students seeking to attend school in government administered territory faced difficulties at the start of the school year crossing the ABL to attend school. Secondary school graduates had to cross the administrative boundary to take university entrance examinations. In February the EUMM noted that fewer schoolchildren were crossing the ABL, and there were more reports of barriers to studying in their mother tongue.

South Ossetian de facto authorities also required ethnic Georgians of all ages to study in Russian.

The government continued to report discrimination against ethnic Georgians in the occupied territories. The public defender noted the case of Tamar Mearakishvili, an activist in South Ossetia who alleged persecution by the de facto authorities because of her Georgian ethnicity.

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

The criminal code makes acting on the basis of prejudice because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor for all crimes. According to NGOs, however, the government rarely enforced the law, and law enforcement authorities lacked robust training on hate crimes. According to the LGBTI community, the law provides for legal gender recognition for transgender persons.

The PDO reported that LGBTI individuals continued to experience systemic violence, oppression, abuse, intolerance, and discrimination. LGBTI rights organizations reported several instances of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year. The authorities opened investigations into several of the cases, including one that resulted in the court instructing law enforcement officers to be more responsible when performing their duties. The PDO reported violence against LGBTI individuals, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge. LGBTI organizations, NGOs, and the PDO reported that the government’s ineffective antidiscrimination policy reduced the LGBTI community’s trust in state institutions, and they pointed to homophobic statements by politicians and public officials as furthering hatred and intolerance against the LGBTI community.

LGBTI activists reported that it was common for them to close their offices due to threats to their staff’s safety. On September 28, four individuals associated with Equality Movement, a prominent LGBTI rights NGO, allegedly came under attack in their office’s backyard. The attackers allegedly shouted homophobic slurs during the physical assault. Facing ongoing threats, Equality Movement moved its office to a temporary location under private guard protection. As of November, the investigation was pending.

There were no results in two separate government investigations into the August 2017 accusations by two LGBTI organizations’ leaders that Batumi police officers physically abused them after police officers failed to intervene in their physical assault by several persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were major barriers to HIV/AIDS prevention and service utilization. NGOs reported that social stigma caused individuals to avoid testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Some health-care providers, particularly dentists, refused to provide services to HIV-positive persons. Individuals often concealed their HIV/AIDS status from employers due to fear of losing their jobs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law generally provides for the right of most workers, including government employees, to form and join independent unions, to legally strike, and to bargain collectively. Employers are not obliged, however, to engage in collective bargaining, even if a trade union or a group of employees wishes to do so. The law permits strikes only in cases of disputes where a collective agreement is already in place. While strikes are not limited in length, the law limits lockouts to 90 days. A court may determine the legality of a strike, and violators of strike rules can face up to two years in prison. Although the law prohibits employers from discriminating against union members or union-organizing activities in general terms, it does not explicitly require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

Certain categories of workers related to “human life and health,” as defined by the government, were not allowed to strike. The International Labor Organization noted the government’s list of such services included some it did not believe constituted essential services directed related to human life and health and cited as examples restrictions on all employees in “cleaning municipal departments; natural gas transportation and distribution facilities; and oil and gas production, preparation, oil refinery and gas processing facilities.” The government provided no compensation mechanisms for this restriction.

The government did not effectively enforce laws that provide for workers’ freedom of association and prohibit antiunion discrimination, and violations of worker rights persisted. There were no effective penalties or remedies for arbitrarily dismissed employees, and legal disputes regarding labor rights were subject to lengthy delays. Without a fully functioning labor inspectorate and mediation services in the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Affairs, the government was unable to enforce collective bargaining agreements (as required by law) or provide government oversight of employers’ compliance with labor laws. Employees who believed they were wrongfully terminated must file a complaint in a local court within one month of their termination.

In 2017 the Prime Minister authorized the Minister of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs to chair a new Tripartite Commission that aimed to facilitate social dialogue among representatives of industry and organized labor. At the first Tripartite Commission, focused on Social Partnership, held on February 18, the Minister emphasized the importance of finalizing labor safety issues. Some labor rights organizations, however, noted that the Commission did not take any significant steps during the year except to define the eleven sectors that would constitute “hard, hazardous, and harmful work” under an occupational safety and health (OSH) law that passed in March.

Workers generally exercised their right to strike in accordance with the law but at times faced management retribution. The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) reported that the influence of employer-sponsored “yellow” unions in the Georgian Post and Georgian Railways continued and impeded the ability of independent unions to operate. NGOs promoting worker rights did not report government restrictions on their work.

GTUC resumed its engagement in the Tripartite Commission following the Tkibuli mine incidents in the spring during which several miners died in accidents. The GTUC had suspended discussion with the Commission over a 2017 dispute with Georgian Post and Georgian Railways.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government’s enforcement of the laws was not always effective. Forced labor is a criminal offense with penalties for conviction that would be sufficient to deter violations; the low number of investigations into forced or compulsory labor, however, offset the effect of strong penalties and encouraged the use of forced and compulsory labor.

The Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found no cases of forced or compulsory labor although the GTUC claimed this was because there were no improvements in the government’s efforts to improve labor inspection. The law permits the ministry’s inspection department to make unannounced visits to businesses suspected of employing forced labor or human trafficking. The ministry reported that, as of August, it had inspected 154 companies on suspicions of human trafficking and forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum legal age for employment is generally 16, although in exceptional cases children may work with parental consent at age 14. Children younger than 18 may not engage in unhealthy, underground, or hazardous work; children who are 16 to 18 are also subject to reduced workhours and prohibited from working at night. The law permits employment agreements with persons younger than 14 in sports, the arts, and cultural and advertising activities.

In March, the government adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan that includes a chapter on children’s rights. The Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported that it found no cases of child labor law violations during the year. The lack of a labor inspectorate with the authority to levy fines seriously undermined enforcement efforts, and the low number of investigations into child labor made it unclear how effectively the government enforced the law. Except in cases of suspected human trafficking or forced labor violations, the Department of Labor Inspection was only able to conduct monitoring if enterprises voluntarily invited inspectors and asked them to assess their Occupational Safety and Health situation. Even in such cases, inspectors did not have a mandate to sanction firms for violations of OSH regulations and could only issue recommendations. Depending on the offense, conviction of child labor is punishable by fine, removal of operating permits, community service, probation, or imprisonment.

According to the National Child Labor Study for 2016, the latest year for which data was available, the majority of working children (an estimated 83 percent) were employed in agriculture, mainly helping self-employed family members in a family enterprise or farm. In older age groups, children became increasingly involved in other industries. Many children younger than 16 worked on small, family-owned farms. In most cases, authorities did not consider this work as abusive or categorized as child labor. In some ethnic minority areas, family farm obligations interfered with school attendance, and school participation by ethnic minority children was especially low. Some families in rural Kvemo Kartli (an ethnic Azeri region) and Kakheti (where there was also a significant ethnic Azeri population) worked on distant pastures for six to nine months a year, so their children seldom attended school. Estimates of the number of children affected were not available.

Street begging remained the most visible form of child labor, especially in Tbilisi. In July, UNICEF reported children of street families and unaccompanied children moved following the agricultural and tourist seasons, including to tourist sites along the Black Sea during the summer. Such children were vulnerable to violence and did not have access to either education or medical services beyond emergency care.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment but it does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status or social origin. The law further stipulates that discrimination is considered “direct or indirect oppression of a person that aims to or causes the creation of a frightening, hostile, disgraceful, dishonorable, and insulting environment.”

As there was no legal basis for labor inspection or a labor inspectorate with the authority to impose fines, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination in the workplace was widespread. GTUC reported cases of discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and union affiliation. Companies and public workplaces frequently reorganized staff to dismiss employees who had reached the qualifying age to receive a pension. In addition, vacancy announcements often included age requirements as preconditions to apply for a particular position. GTUC reported widespread instances of harassment in both the public and private sectors based on union affiliation, notably in the railway and postal services.

While the law provides for equality in the labor market, NGOs and the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs agreed that discrimination against women in the workplace existed and was underreported. Although some observers noted continuing improvement in women’s access to the labor market, women were largely confined to low-paying, low-skilled positions, regardless of their professional and academic qualifications, and salaries for women lagged behind those for men.

There was some evidence of discrimination in employment based on disability. There were also reports of informal discrimination against members of Romani and Azerbaijani Kurdish populations in the labor market.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for state-sector employees was GEL 115 ($43) per month. The official minimum wage in the private sector has not changed since the early 1990s, and it remained GEL 20 ($7.50) per month. Both official monthly minimum wages did not meet the official subsistence income level, which the National Statistics Office lists as GEL 175 ($65) per month. Employers did not apply the official minimum wage in practice, however, as the lowest paid jobs in the private sector typically did not pay less than GEL 200 ($75) per month.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek and a weekly 24-hour rest period unless otherwise determined by a labor contract. Overtime is defined as work by an adult employee in excess of the regular 40-hour workweek, based on an agreement between the parties. An executive order establishes essential services in which overtime pay may not be approved until employees work more than 48 hours a week. Shifts must be at least 12 hours apart. Employees are entitled to 24 calendar days of paid leave and 15 calendar days of unpaid leave per year. Pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may not be required to work overtime without their consent. Minors who are 16 to 18 may not work in excess of 36 hours per week. Minors who are 14 or 15 may not work in excess of 24 hours per week. Overtime is only required to “be reimbursed at an increased rate of the normal hourly wage…defined by agreement between the parties.” The law does not explicitly prohibit excessive overtime.

In March the government adopted new Occupational Safety and Health legislation for “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries. The legislation requires businesses in eleven identified sectors to allow unannounced occupational safety, and health inspections; establishes occupational safety and health standards for these industries; and authorizes labor inspectors to issue fines up to 50,000 GEL ($18,800) for lack of compliance. These sectors are transport, light industry, furniture manufacturing, glass production, heavy industry, oil and gas, metallurgy, mining, construction, electricity, and chemical production. Provisions concerning the compulsory insurance of employees by the employer against accidents will come into force on January 1, 2019. GTUC and NGOs criticized the legislation for being limited to occupational, safety, and health, and for limiting the standards to only “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, occupational safety, or health standards in sectors outside of the 11 identified “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.” Inspection in these cases remained voluntary, and employers in most cases received five days’ notice before labor inspectors visited worksites. Inspectors did not have the ability to levy fines or other penalties on employers for substandard working conditions, in part because the law does not stipulate acceptable conditions of work. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. As of August, the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs reported it had 25 inspectors and an additional 19 in training. The ministry also reported it inspected 36 companies on labor safety grounds and 118 on forced labor grounds as of August, but none of the allegations was substantiated. NGOs claimed the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. A law governing entrepreneurial activity also inhibited labor inspectors’ access to enterprises by disallowing unannounced visits by inspectors except in cases of suspected trafficking in persons and occupational, safety, and health issues in the eleven “hard, harmful, and hazardous” industries.

Employer violations of workers’ rights persisted, and it was difficult for workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Workers hired on fixed term contracts frequently feared that calling employers’ attention to situations that endangered health or safety would be cause for employers not to renew their contract.

Conditions for migrant workers were generally unregulated. While the government did not keep specific statistics of migrant laborers in the country, the Public Services Development Agency issued up to 5,000 residence permits to migrant workers. According to the International Organization for Migration, a significant number of migrant workers came to the country to work on foreign-financed projects, where they lived at the worksite. It also reported that other labor migrants found employment in the tourism industry or arrived in the country without previously secured employment, were unable to find concrete employment opportunities, and had insufficient resources to remain in the country or finance their return home.

NGOs reported that a significant number of workers were employed in the informal economy and were often exploited in part because of the frequent lack of employment contracts. Such conditions, they alleged, were common among those working as street vendors or in unregulated bazaars.

According to the Public Defender’s December 8 statement, 35 persons had been killed and 77 injured in workplace and industrial accidents. The mining and construction sectors remained especially dangerous. Of the 33 deaths reported, 12 died in the Tkibuli coal mines during a three-month period. This series of accidents prompted authorities to close the mine and open an investigation of labor safety conditions that resulted in the detention of six company officials running the mine.

Germany

Executive Summary

Germany is a constitutional democracy. Citizens choose their representatives periodically in free and fair multiparty elections. The lower chamber of the federal parliament (Bundestag) elects the head of the federal government, the chancellor. The second legislative chamber, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), represents the 16 states at the federal level and is composed of members of the state governments. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy, including over law enforcement and education. Observers considered the national elections for the Bundestag in September 2017 to have been free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included refoulement of those with pending asylum applications; crimes involving violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and members of other minority groups.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them. According to some human rights groups, authorities did not effectively investigate allegations of mistreatment by police and failed to establish an independent mechanism to investigate such allegations. According to a July study by the University of Bochum, in 2016, authorities investigated 2,838 cases for excessive use of force by police officers. Investigations were discontinued in 90 percent of the cases, and officers were formally charged in approximately 2 percent of the cases.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In September, Ahmed A., a 26 year-old Syrian national, died after suffering burns from a fire in his prison cell. In July when he was arrested in Kleve, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Kleve authorities failed to verify Ahmed A.’s place of birth or fingerprints and mistakenly identified him as a match for several warrants issued for a different individual. Kleve authorities initially characterized the fire as a suicide attempt, and Kleve’s public prosecutor opened an investigation into the case. In November, NRW Minister of Justice Peter Biesenbach presented an interim report on the investigation. The report stated the prisoner had a lighter in his cell and likely caused the fire himself. Prison guards ignored a distress signal, however, and only activated the fire alarm four minutes later. The minister of justice proposed measures to prevent similar mistakes in the future, including improving fire safety in cells, better communication between detention rooms and prison staff, measures to detect mental illnesses among inmates, and enhancing identity verification of inmates. In November the state parliament set up a parliamentary investigatory committee into the incident. Herbert Reul, North Rhine-Westphalia’s interior minister, publicly admitted procedural mistakes in the case and asked the victim’s family for forgiveness.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

On May 15, Bavaria’s parliament expanded police powers. The law now enables the police to take preventive actions against an “impending danger.” Critics argued this gives Bavarian police the power to intervene even before an offense has taken place and may expand their surveillance power. In May the Social Democratic Party (SPD) sued to block the law in federal and state courts. In September the Greens, the Left, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) formed an alliance and sued in the Federal Constitutional Court to block the law. The case was continuing at year’s end.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Responsibility for internal and border security is shared by the police forces of the 16 states, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and the federal police. The states’ police forces report to their respective interior ministries; the federal police forces report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (FOPC) and the state offices for the protection of the constitution (OPCs) are responsible for gathering intelligence on threats to domestic order and certain other security functions. The FOPC reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and the OPCs report to their respective state ministries of the interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police forces in all 16 states, as well as the BKA, the federal police, and the OPCs. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, and there was a review of police behavior in Bonn following the 2017 G20 protests in Hamburg. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International Germany noted there is no nationwide requirement for police to wear identity badges. While police are not required to wear identity badges in North Rhine-Westphalia, they are required to wear badges in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, and Saxony-Anhalt, as are riot police in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, and Thuringia.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must have a warrant issued by a judicial authority to arrest an individual. Police may also arrest individuals they apprehend in the act of committing a crime or if they have strong reason to suspect the individual intends to commit a crime. The constitution requires authorities to bring a suspect before a judicial officer before the end of the day following the arrest. The judge must inform the suspect of the reasons for his or her detention and provide the suspect with an opportunity to object. The court must then either issue an arrest warrant stating the grounds for continued detention or order the individual’s release. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Although bail exists, judges usually released individuals awaiting trial without requiring bail. Bail is only required in cases where a court determines that the suspect poses a flight risk. In such cases authorities may deny bail and hold detainees for the duration of the investigation and subsequent trial, subject to judicial review. The courts credit time spent in pretrial custody toward any eventual sentence. If a court acquits an incarcerated defendant, the government must compensate the defendant for financial losses as well as for “moral prejudice” due to his or her incarceration.

Detainees have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, and the government provides an attorney at public expense if detainees demonstrate financial need. The law entitles a detainee to request access to a lawyer at any time including prior to any police questioning, and authorities must inform suspects of their right to consult an attorney before questioning begins.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The trial shall be fair, public, and held without undue delay. The law requires that defendants be present at their trials. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, and the government provides an attorney at public expense if defendants demonstrate financial need. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and the government provides an interpreter to any defendant who cannot understand or speak German and does so free of charge if the defendant demonstrates financial need or is acquitted. Defendants have access to all court-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants may question the prosecution’s witnesses, and may introduce their own witnesses and evidence in support of their case. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have a right to appeal.

The law does not allow courts to punish a person twice for the same crime. A court may, however, order an offender convicted of rape, homicide, or manslaughter to spend additional time in “subsequent preventive detention” after completing a sentence. The court can only order preventive detention if it determines that the offender suffers from a mental disorder or represents a continuing serious danger to the public. The law permits the imposition of such detention for an indefinite period, subject to periodic reviews.

Because the law does not regard such detention as punishment, authorities are legally required to keep those in preventive detention in separate buildings or in special prison sections with better conditions than those of the general prisons. Authorities must also provide detainees with a range of social and psychological therapy programs. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 553 offenders were held under preventive detention through the end of March.

In February the Dortmund jury court acquitted the main suspect in the retrial of a 32-year-old murder case. In 1986 the court had found the 54-year-old suspect, a person with disabilities, guilty of murdering a seven-year-old boy and sentenced him to a psychiatric institution. Eleven years after the suspect’s conviction, another man confessed to the crime. In 2013 the convicted individual’s lawyer first learned of the confession and initiated court proceedings. The court acquitted the individual and awarded compensation for his imprisonment.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may file complaints about violations of their human rights with petition committees and commissioners for citizens’ affairs. Citizens usually referred to these points of contact as “ombudsmen.” Additionally, an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters provides court access for lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Persons who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported it made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Since the end of World War II through 2017, according to the Federal Ministry of Finance, the government paid approximately 75.5 billion euros ($86.8 billion) in Holocaust restitution and compensation. The country has also supported numerous public and private international reparation and social welfare initiatives to benefit Holocaust survivors and their families.

After World War II, the government adopted legislation, including the Federal Compensation Law and the Federal Restitution Law, to resolve compensation claims stemming from Nazi atrocities and Holocaust-era property confiscation. In 1952 the government designated the U.S.-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference or JCC) as its principal partner in handling restitution and compensation claims made by Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

In December the government and the JCC agreed that Jewish children who were evacuated in 1938 and 1939 to the United Kingdom without their parents (Kindertransporte) would receive a one-time 2,500-euro ($2,875) payment.

Before German reunification in 1990, in accordance with the Federal Restitution Law, West German authorities provided property restitution and compensation payments for properties and businesses that were confiscated or transferred during the Holocaust era. For confiscated Jewish property that was located in what was formerly East Germany, the JCC filed additional claims under the 1990 Property Law, enacted after reunification. Since 1990 authorities have approved and granted restitution in 4,500 cases and provided compensation in approximately 12,000 cases. The JCC assumed ownership of and auctioned off heirless properties, using the proceeds to fund the organization’s efforts to support Holocaust survivors and fund Holocaust education. There were approximately 5,000 assets pending processing at the Federal Office for Central Services and Unsettled Property Issues, including land, real estate, and company shares.

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

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

The federal and state OPCs continued to monitor political groups deemed to be potentially undermining the constitution, including left-wing extremist groups inside the Left Party, which has seats in the Bundestag, and the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). Monitoring requires the approval of state or federal interior ministries and is subject to review by state or federal parliamentary intelligence committees. In August the Bremen and Lower Saxony state OPCs began monitoring the youth organization of the right-wing, nativist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party due to right-wing extremists within the groups. The state OPCs in Bavaria and Brandenburg reported they were monitoring individual AfD members associated with right-wing extremists.

All OPC activities may be contested in court, including the Federal Constitutional Court. Following a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling, the government stated the FOPC would no longer monitor Bundestag members.

On May 24, Reporters without Borders announced an agreement with the Federal Intelligence Service to end the agency’s monitoring metadata records of calls.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, the government restricted this freedom in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed several nonprohibited, right-wing extremist, or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators. In October the immunity of the Green party Bundestag member Canan Bayran was lifted, and the Berlin police opened an investigation to determine whether she had blocked a demonstration. In February she reportedly blocked an antiabortion rally. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

Foreign politicians may not hold rallies in Germany if they are election candidates in their country within three months of the proposed rally. In the months preceding the Turkish presidential election in June, local authorities canceled a number of rallies that featured Turkish cabinet ministers or politicians.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution provides for the freedom of association, the government restricted this freedom in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The FOPC and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates that surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

The FOPC monitored approximately 16,500 so called Reichsbuerger (“citizens of the empire”) and Selbstverwalter (self-administrators), a significant increase from the 10,000 monitored in 2016. These individuals denied the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and rejected its legal system. The FOPC considered the groups to represent a potential threat due to their affinity for weapons and their contempt for national authorities. In 2017 members of Reichsbuerger and Selbstverwalter groups committed 911 politically motivated crimes; of these, authorities categorized 783 crimes as extremist and 130 as violent.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities in various states continued to detain for up to 18 months some asylum seekers whose applications were rejected pending their deportation. Courts permit authorities also to deport rejected asylum seekers without advance notification. Authorities could only detain asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants awaiting deportation to a country within the EU under the Dublin III regulation if there was evidence they posed a flight risk. In March authorities were holding 82 rejected asylum seekers pending deportation.

The government deported asylum seekers while their applications were pending review. One Uighur had an asylum hearing scheduled for the day he was returned to China, but state-level officials stated they did not receive a notification fax from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) (see below, Refoulement). On August 13-15, the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture monitored treatment of unsuccessful asylum seekers during a charter flight returning them to Afghanistan.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; and attacks on government-provided asylum homes continued during the first half of the year. In February a man stabbed three refugees in the city of Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The attack severely injured a 25-year-old Iraqi man, and the other two men sustained minor injuries. In June prosecutors charged the suspect with attempted murder.

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals, those with refugee and asylum status, and foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

Several states had an assigned residence rule requiring refugees with recognized asylum status to live within a specific city for a period of three years. As of April the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt implemented the residence rule. Local authorities who supported the rule stated it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools. In September the administrative court in Muenster, North Rhine-Westphalia, ruled that, while North Rhine-Westphalia could require those with recognized refugee status to live within the state, it could not require them to live in a specific city.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: In August, Bavarian authorities deported a 22-year-old Uighur man to China (see above Abuse of Refugees, Migrants, and Stateless Persons) prior to his asylum hearing. The asylum seeker’s lawyer was unable to establish contact with his client following his deportation and feared that Chinese authorities had detained him. In December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the Uighur man had been arrested in China, and that they were working to have him returned to Germany.

In June the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and three states began deportations to that country. Previous federal policy only permitted deportations of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. In August, 700 demonstrators in Munich protested the policy change. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017 as well as an additional 110,324 who requested asylum during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases, and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries that the government identified as “safe”–the member states of the European Union, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia–and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April, BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. According to media reports, the official colluded with three lawyers and a translator between 2013 and 2017 to divert Yazidi applicants to Bremen. In May the Chief Public Prosecutor in Nuremberg announced an investigation of BAMF President Jutta Cordt for failing to prevent the practices in Bremen. The Federal Court of Auditors is currently auditing BAMF, and the allegations prompted a large-scale internal BAMF review of 2018 asylum cases.

In August the government resumed issuance of family reunification visas for those with subsidiary protection, a measure suspended in late 2016. The government is authorized to approve reunification visas for up to 1,000 family members per month–defined as spouses, minor children, or parents–of individuals who have subsidiary protection.

In February a Yazidi woman with refugee status living in Schwaebisch Gmuend (Baden-Wuerttemberg) reportedly encountered the ISIS member who tortured and raped her in Iraq in 2014. The case raised concerns about the government’s ability to protect refugees and screen migrants for ties to ISIS and other terror groups. The woman reported the case to the police, who opened an investigation. Police stated, however, that they were unable to locate the perpetrator, who was not registered as a refugee or resident in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The woman reported she felt unsafe, and she returned to Iraq. In June the federal attorney general’s office in Karlsruhe opened an investigation in the case, which continued at year’s end. The Baden-Wuerttemberg interior ministry’s spokesperson reported there were seven reports of Yazidi women encountering their attackers in Germany, one of which was found to be unsubstantiated.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through the “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The government defines “safe countries of origin” to include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and EU states. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country, often remained in a legal grey zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 482,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation from certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and access to employment opportunities. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from “safe countries of origin” to work if they applied for asylum after August 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Pro Asyl criticized a refugee center in Manching, Bavaria, that was converted into a “transit center” in May. The center housed more than 1,000 refugees and could process asylum applicants in one location from start to finish. Critics claimed the center’s isolated location in an industrial area and a policy that did not allow NGOs to access the center made it difficult for refugees to seek legal counsel and enroll in education and language programs.

Several states, including Berlin, Brandenburg Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia, provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie, however, criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to access emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had already fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted with the safe and voluntary return to their homes of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance to 1,500 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The number of voluntary return beneficiaries decreased during the year, which BAMF attributed to the overall decrease in asylum seekers in the country.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($920 to $1,380) per person to asylum seekers whose applications are pending but who are unlikely to have their applications approved. Among others, refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan extensively used the program.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 15,542 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 6,639 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR reported 13,458 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2017. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and 45 parliamentarians from 25 countries observed the country’s federal elections in September 2017 and considered them well run, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated without restriction or outside interference unless authorities deemed them a threat to the federal constitution. When federal authorities perceive such a threat, they may petition the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the party. The court banned two parties in the 1950s.

Under the law each political party receives federal public funding commensurate with the party’s election results in state, national, and European elections. Under the constitution, however, extremist parties who seek to undermine the constitution are not eligible for public funding. In April the Bundestag filed a request with the Federal Constitutional Court to determine if the right-wing extremist NPD is considered to be undermining the constitution and whether it is eligible for public funding.

In February the Lower Saxony parliament excluded the AfD party from the board of Lower Saxony’s Holocaust Memorial Site Foundation. The law reduced the number of board members to four, leaving the AfD without a member as the fifth largest caucus after the SPD, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Greens, and the FDP. The foundation oversees the concentration camp memorial site Bergen-Belsen. Holocaust survivors wrote an open letter worrying the AfD might trivialize the Nazi crimes. On July 30, the AfD challenged the constitutionality of the new law in Lower Saxony’s State Constitutional Court.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On February 28, Bundestag member Marcus Held (SPD) resigned as mayor of Oppenheim in Rhineland-Palatinate after he was charged with corruption. Mainz prosecutors investigated Held for embezzlement and bribery pertaining to irregular real estate dealings in Oppenheim. The Bundestag lifted Held’s immunity in July and November 2017. As of September, Held was still a member of the Bundestag, but he went on medical leave in January, and at year’s end his seat was inactive.

Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A number of government bodies worked independently and effectively to protect human rights. The Bundestag has Committees for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, as well as Petitions. The Petitions Committee fields a variety of complaints from the public, including human rights concerns. The German Institute for Human Rights has responsibility for monitoring the country’s implementation of its international human rights commitments, including treaties and conventions. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) is a semi-independent body that studies discrimination and assists victims of discrimination. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The justice ministry’s commissioner for human rights oversees implementation of court rulings related to human rights protections.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The government enforced the law effectively. Officials may temporarily deny those accused of abuse access to their household without a court order or impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the law.

In 2017 more than 17,000 cases of sexual violence against men and women were reported to police.

On June 6, an Iraqi asylum seeker reportedly raped and killed a 14-year-old who was found dead in Wiesbaden. The suspect was also accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl in a refugee shelter in March. Although the suspect initially fled to Iraq, he was subsequently returned to Germany and at year’s end awaited trial in custody.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. During the year approximately 350 women’s shelters operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF stated the number of refugee women seeking protection in shelters rose following the refugee influx in 2015.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals who they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C. FGM/C affected segments of the immigrant population and their German-born children. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth worked with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and provides penalties that include life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively and financed programs aimed at ending “honor killings.”

A court in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia, ruled that the killing of a 35-year-old Iraqi Yazidi woman, Hanaa S., was an honor killing, and in January sentenced her brother-in-law to life in prison. The court also sentenced the woman’s 20-year-old son to nine and a half years in prison, and her husband and another brother-in-law each received sentences of 10 and a half years for accessory to murder.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of as many as five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.

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

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials receive birth registration applications, they generally process them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable by five months to 10 years in prison. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored a number of programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

The law no longer recognizes marriages conducted in other countries for minors younger than 18 years, even if the individual was of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals ages 16 to 18 years can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they faced a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized.

Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality. The media reported that at the end of April, immigration authorities registered 299 married minors, a decrease from 1,475 minors in 2016. The majority of married minor registrants were from Syria; other countries of origin included Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution and practices related to child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation and the younger partner is under 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.” The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues offered a sexual abuse help online portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.

In Staufen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, police charged the mother of a 10-year-old boy and her partner, a convicted child sex abuser, with the rape and sexual abuse of her son, as well as forced prostitution and distribution of child pornography. The couple also advertised the boy for sale online, and between April and August the Freiburg regional court sentenced a Swiss national, a Spanish citizen, and two Germans to prison for sentences ranging from eight to 10 years for raping and physically abusing the boy. In August the boy’s mother and her partner were sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison, followed by preventive detention. The case received extensive national media attention and led to strong criticism of the authorities involved, including child protective services and the court system, for failing to protect a child whom they reportedly knew to be in contact with a convicted child abuser.

Displaced Children: Police reported resolving 5,129 of the 6,186 cases of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants identified in 2017. According to the NGO Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF), many of these minors joined relatives. BumF noted that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking. For more information, please see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

According to estimates by the NGO Off Road Kids, as many as 2,500 children between the ages of 12 and 18 become at least temporarily homeless every year. Off Road Kids reported most runaways stayed with friends and were not living on the streets. These minors were generally school dropouts who did not receive assistance from the youth welfare office or their parents, and instead used digital networks to find temporary housing.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 98,000 registered Jewish community members.

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. For example, on October 3 at a Unification Day demonstration in Berlin, media observed several participants performing the Nazi straight-arm salute, which is illegal in the country. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons. Jewish organizations also noted an increase of anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth.

According to government data, there were 401 anti-Semitic crimes in the country from January through June. The vast majority, 87 percent, came from the extreme right, the government stated. In 2017 the Ministry of Interior reported 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, an increase from the 1,420 anti-Semitic crimes in 2016. Several prominent and violent incidents started a public debate about the extent and origin of anti-Semitism in the country’s society. According to a report released in April 2017 by the Independent Expert Group on Anti-Semitism, modern anti-Semitism, such as conflating individual Jews with actions by Israel, remained prevalent. The report also noted anti-Semitism existed on both the extreme right and extreme left of the political spectrum as well as among Muslims in the country. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism noted the reported number of anti-Semitic attacks was likely too low, and that a significant number of cases were unreported due to fear.

The FOPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents decreased from 31 in 2016 to 28 in 2017. It noted membership in skinhead and neo-Nazi groups remained steady at approximately 6,000 persons. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.

In April prosecutors authorized the performance of a satirical play based on Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf in Constance, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The play’s organizers promised free entry to spectators who wore the swastika, and those who paid for a ticket had to wear a Star of David “as a sign of solidarity with the victims of Nazi barbarism.” Several legal complaints were filed against the theater. Although the law prohibits the public display of Nazi symbols, local prosecutors allowed the theater to hold the play and allow free entry for those wearing swastikas, citing free speech articles that permit artistic performances. The region’s German-Israeli Society called for a boycott of the play.

In July in Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, a 20-year-old German with Palestinian roots assaulted a visiting Israeli professor from the Johns Hopkins University. The attacker, upon seeing the professor, shouted “No Jews in Germany!” and then knocked the professor’s yarmulke off his head. When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene. The police mistakenly believed the victim was the attacker and used excessive force to detain him. Police later apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm. Cologne police opened an internal investigation and assigned the police officers involved in the incident to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results.

In April rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah, whose songs include anti-Semitic lyrics, received the country’s Echo music award based on high record sales. Following backlash from civil society and artists who had previously won the award, the German Music Industry Federation revoked the prize. In June the Duesseldorf Public Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the two rappers for incitement of hatred. The Duesseldorf prosecutor stated that, while their songs contained anti-Semitic and misogynist lyrics, prosecutors found they were characteristic of their genre and were a form of protected artistic freedom. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter that the rappers’ lyrics were “repugnant.”

On August 27, a group of approximately 12 neo-Nazis reportedly attacked the kosher restaurant Schalom in Chemnitz. They shouted, “Get out of Germany you Jewish pig,” threw stones and bottles at the restaurant, damaged the building’s facade, and shattered a window. The restaurant’s owner, Uwe Dziuballa, was reportedly injured when a rock hit him on the shoulder.

On September 21, an estimated 100 neo-Nazis rallied in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, and chanted anti-Semitic slogans such as “He who loves Germany is anti-Semitic.”

In December media reported that Frankfurt prosecutors were investigating five police officers who had exchanged right-wing extremist messages, including racist slogans, swastikas, and pictures of Hitler, via text message. Investigators began their work after a lawyer who defended victims’ families in the 2013-18 trials related to the right-wing terrorist organization National Socialist Underground (NSU) received in August a threatening letter signed “NSU 2.0” at her private address, which was not publicly known. When she reported the threat, investigators found that an officer in Zeil had conducted an unauthorized search for her address and uncovered the right-wing extremist messages. At year’s end the Frankfurt prosecutor’s investigation into the five police officers and the Hesse criminal police investigation into potential additional cases continued.

The foreign minister condemned anti-Semitism in schools and several politicians called for action. In response to increased pressure from community groups and the perception that anti-Semitism was increasing, the federal government created the country’s first federal anti-Semitism commissioner within the Ministry of Interior. The states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hessen, Bavaria, and North Rhine-Westphalia also decided to create state-level anti-Semitism commissioners. The positions’ responsibilities varied by state but involved meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs.

In 2017 the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.

In December the federal government commissioner for matters relating to persons with disabilities, Juergen Dusel, reported that more than 84,000 individuals with disabilities were not allowed to vote in federal elections. The stated reason was that 81,000 of them were the subjects of court orders declaring they were not capable of independently managing their administrative and financial matters.

Persons with disabilities faced particular difficulties in finding housing.

State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or special needs schools. In 2016, 523,813 children with special education needs attended school; of these, 318,002 attended special needs schools. In some instances, teachers in mainstream schools protested against teaching students with special needs. In July a Bremen administrative court ruled a teacher could not refuse to teach five students with disabilities.

In March the German Institute for Human Rights reported that refugees with disabilities were in need of special protection but noted that authorities did not always register their special needs at arrival. The institute called on federal, state, and local authorities to identify refugees with disabilities and provide them with additional support.

In March a Duesseldorf court sentenced a 46-year-old defendant to two years and eight months in prison for blackmailing a 60-year-old mentally disabled and blind colleague. When the victim placed his arm on the shoulder of a female colleague, the defendant told him that this was a severe sexual assault, but that he would not report the case to police if the victim paid him 3,000 euros ($3,450), an amount he later increased to 8,000 euros ($9,200).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The annual FOPC report for 2017 recorded 1,054 violent, politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds. Of these, 744 were categorized as xenophobic.

The fatal stabbing of a German man, reportedly by two immigrants sparked a series of anti-immigrant demonstrations in Chemnitz. On August 26, the AfD and PEGIDA organized a nonviolent gathering for 100 far-right supporters in Chemnitz. Later that same day, approximately 800 persons gathered for a spontaneous protest in downtown Chemnitz, including right-wing extremists. The demonstrators overwhelmed police, reportedly shouted xenophobic slogans, and tried to attack those who appeared to be migrants. Protests continued, and on August 27, approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counterprotestors again took to the streets of Chemnitz. Newscasts showed right-wing extremists giving the Hitler salute, which is illegal, and chanting anti-immigrant slogans. During the demonstrations 18 demonstrators and two police officers were injured.

Harassment of foreigners and members of racial minorities such as Roma remained a problem throughout the country. Hostility focused on the increasing number of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The NGO Amoro Foro documented 252 cases of discrimination against Sinti and Roma individuals in 2017 in Berlin. According to the NGO, most of the incidents occurred in contact with public authorities such as job centers, educational institutions, and healthcare centers.

Persons of foreign origin faced particular difficulties finding housing. FADA reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic-German origin, particularly of Turkish and African origin, in order to maintain a majority ethnic-German population in certain neighborhoods.

In the lead-up to the Bavarian state elections in October, the AfD party in Bavaria hung campaign posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”

From December 2017 through April, Tafel, an NGO food bank in Essen, suspended issuance of membership cards to foreign nationals. Foreign nationals reportedly comprised 70 percent of the organization’s food aid, and several German clients complained they were treated rudely by young foreign men. In May the food bank announced new membership rules, stating that individuals who were handicapped, single parents, single and older than 50, and families with children would receive preference.

In June a court in Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, sentenced a 56-year-old man to a two-year suspended sentence for grievous bodily harm. In November 2017 the man stabbed Altena mayor Andreas Hollstein in the neck while shouting, “You let me die of thirst, but you bring 200 foreigners to town.” In May 2017 Altena had won the first-ever National Prize for Integration for accepting more refugees beyond the assigned quota.

In August the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, North Rhine-Westphalia, overruled a lower court’s sentence and decided that the identity check of a citizen of color in 2013 at a train station violated the law’s basic nondiscrimination principle. According to the ruling, police cannot conduct identity checks solely based on skin color.

In March 2017, a 20-year-old Serbian Rom sued the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for damages and compensation. He claimed he was wrongfully diagnosed as having mental disabilities when he entered elementary school in Bavaria. In July, Cologne’s local court ruled the plaintiff was entitled to compensation.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI activists criticized the requirement that transgender persons be diagnosed as “mentally ill” in order to obtain legal gender recognition.

In 2017 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional for birth certificates to offer only “male” and “female” sex markers. In December parliament passed a law allowing for a third sex marker on government forms for intersex individuals. The law also allows intersex individuals to update retroactively their first name and sex marker on their birth certificates. Individuals are required to present a medical certificate when electing to use the intersex sex marker. Activists expressed concern that the new sex marker would apply only to those with a medical certificate and to intersex, and not transgender, individuals.

In March the LGBTI magazine Siegessaeule reported a series of attacks on transgender sex workers in Berlin. Groups of men reportedly drove up to the victims, threw objects at them, and threatened them with knives.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The NGO German AIDS Foundation reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work. A domestic AIDS service NGO continued to criticize authorities in Bavaria for continuing mandatory HIV testing of asylum seekers.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In March unknown perpetrators wrote anti-Muslim graffiti on the Fatih Mosque in Bremen-Groepelingen. The Bremen Police State Protection unit investigated. The chair of the Fatih Mosque, Zekai Gumus, called on the Bremen senate and authorities to solve the crime, noting police had not identified suspects responsible for a 2017 attack on the mosque.

In July in Berlin an unknown person or persons poured a flammable substance over two homeless individuals while they were sleeping and set them on fire. Both men suffered severe burns. Police were investigating at year’s end.

Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations provide for the right of employees to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Wildcat strikes are not allowed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and offers legal remedies to claim damages, including the reinstatement of unlawfully dismissed workers.

Some laws and regulations limit these labor rights. While civil servants are free to form or join unions, their wages and working conditions are determined by legislation, not by collective bargaining. All civil servants (including some teachers, postal workers, railroad employees, and police) and members of the armed forces are prohibited from striking. In June the Federal Constitutional Court upheld the prohibition on civil servants’ right to strike, rejecting a motion from four teachers seeking permission to strike. The court also held that the prohibition is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Employers are generally free to decide whether to be a party to a collective bargaining agreement. Even if they decide not to be a party, companies must apply the provisions of a collective agreement if the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs declares a collective bargaining agreement generally binding. Employers not legally bound by collective bargaining agreements often used them to determine part or all of their employees’ employment conditions. Employers may contest in court a strike’s proportionality and a trade union’s right to take strike actions. The law does not establish clear criteria on strikes, and courts often rely on case law and precedent.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively. Actions and measures by employers to limit or violate freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are considered unlawful and lead to fines. Penalties were adequate and remediation efforts were sufficient.

Laws regulate cooperation between management and work councils, including the right of the workers to information about company operations that could affect them. Work councils are independent from labor unions but often have close ties to the sector’s labor movement. The penalty for employers who interfere in work councils’ elections and operations is up to one year in prison or a fine. Findings from 2017 showed that a considerable number of employers interfered with the election of work council members or tried to deter employees from organizing new work councils. This led to calls by labor unions to strengthen legislation that shields employees seeking to exercise their rights under the law.

In response to a parliamentary inquiry submitted in February, North Rhine-Westphalia’s justice ministry disclosed that in 2017 it responded to 47 complaints on the obstruction of work councils. No wrongdoing was found in 38 cases, eight investigations were pending, and one case resulted in an indictment.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and federal law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor range from six months to 10 years in prison and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government effectively enforced the law when they found violations, but NGOs questioned the adequacy of resources to investigate and prosecute the crime. Some traffickers received suspended sentences, consistent with the country’s sentencing practices for most types of crime.

There were reports of forced labor involving adults, mainly in construction and the food service industry. There were also reported cases in domestic households and industrial plants. In 2017 police completed 11 labor-trafficking investigations that identified 180 victims, mostly from Macedonia (29 percent) Romania (22 percent), and Latvia (22 percent). The nationality of 39 victims (22 percent) was unknown.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 with a few exceptions: Children who are 13 or 14 may perform work on a family-run farm for up to three hours per day or perform services such as delivering newspapers, babysitting, and dog walking for up to two hours per day, if authorized by their custodial parent. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may not work during school hours, before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.; or on Saturdays, Sundays, or public holidays. The type of work must not pose any risk to the security, health, or development of the child and must not prevent the child from obtaining schooling and training. Children are not allowed to work with hazardous materials, carry or handle items weighing more than 22 pounds, perform work requiring an unsuitable posture, or engage in work that exposes them to the risk of an accident. Children between the ages of three and 14 may take part in cultural performances, but there are strict limits on the kind of activity, number of hours, and time of day.

The government effectively enforced the applicable laws and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Isolated cases of child labor occurred in small, family-owned businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, family farms, and grocery stores. Inspections by the regional inspection agencies and the resources and remediation available to them were adequate to ensure broad compliance.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in all areas of occupation and employment, from recruitment, self-employment, and promotion to career advancement. Although origin and citizenship are not explicitly listed as grounds of discrimination in the law, victims of such discrimination have other means to assert legal claims. The law obliges employers to protect employees from discrimination at work.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations during the year. Employees who believe they are victims of discrimination have a right to file an official complaint and to have the complaint heard. If an employer remains inactive or fails to protect the employee effectively, employees may remove themselves from places and situations of discrimination without losing employment or pay. In cases of violations of the law, victims of discrimination are entitled to injunctions, removal, and material or nonmaterial damages set by court decision. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

In 2017 FADA’s quadrennial report found serious discrimination risks at the country’s employment agencies. For example, staff at government-run local employment agencies discriminated against single parents or persons with disabilities, in some instances, leading to missed opportunities for job seekers. FADA highlighted that applicants of foreign descent and with foreign names faced discrimination even when they had similar or better qualifications than others. FADA stated the majority of complaints concerned the private sector, where barriers for persons with disabilities persisted.

In 2017, three female teachers in Berlin filed separate lawsuits against schools after not being hired, accusing the schools of having rejected them because they wore headscarves. The schools invoked the neutrality act that prohibits teachers from wearing religious symbols at work. In February, one defendant received 8,680 euros ($9,980) after the Berlin labor court concluded the school violated equal opportunity laws. In May the same court found against the second teacher, ruling that the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level. In July the Berlin labor court decided in favor of the third complainant, ordering compensation of approximately 7,000 euros ($8,050).

In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,750) in compensation to a job applicant for discrimination on the grounds of religion. The job applicant, a trained information technology (IT) expert, claimed that her job application to work as a teacher was denied because she wore a headscarf. The trained IT expert had applied for a post as a teacher. In May the local labor court had ruled that because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without her headscarf. The state court saw no indication that the teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” quoting the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that this was a necessary condition for prohibiting teacher’s from wearing headscarves.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. In March the Federal Statistical Office found the gross hourly wages of women in 2017–16.56 euros ($19.04)–were on average 21 percent lower than those of men, which were 21 euros ($24). It blamed pay differences in sectors and occupations in which women and men were employed, as well as unequal requirements for leadership experience and other qualifications as the principal reasons for the pay gap. Women were underrepresented in highly paid managerial positions and overrepresented in some lower-wage occupations (see section 7.d.). FADA reported women were at a disadvantage regarding promotions, often due to career interruptions for child rearing.

The law imposes a gender quota of 30 percent for supervisory boards of certain publicly traded corporations. It also requires approximately 3,500 companies to set and publish self-determined targets for increasing the share of women in leading positions (executive boards and management) by 2017 and to report on their performance. Consequently, the share of women on supervisory boards of those companies bound by the law increased from approximately 20 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, the representation of women on management boards in the top 200 companies remained at 8 percent.

There were also reports of employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate among persons with disabilities decreased to 11.4 percent in 2017, remaining considerably higher than that of the general population (on average 5.7 percent for 2017). Employers with 20 or more employees must hire persons with more significant disabilities to fill at least 5 percent of all positions; companies with 20 to 40 employees must fill one position with a person with disabilities, and companies with 40 to 60 employees must fill two positions. Each year companies file a mandatory form with the employment office verifying whether they meet the quota for employing persons with disabilities. Companies that fail to meet these quotas pay a monthly fine for each required position not filled by a person with disabilities. In 2017 more than 123,000 employers did not employ enough persons with disabilities and paid fines.

The law provides for equal treatment of foreign workers, although foreign workers faced some wage discrimination. For example, employers, particularly in the construction sector, sometimes paid lower wages to seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The nationwide statutory minimum wage is 8.84 euros ($10.17) per hour, which represents 47 percent of the median hourly wage for full-time employees in the country, hence below the internationally defined “at-risk-of poverty threshold,” which is two-thirds of the national median wage. The minimum wage does not apply to persons under 18, long-term unemployed persons during their first six months in a new job, or apprentices undergoing vocational training, regardless of age. Sectors setting their own higher minimum wages through collective bargaining, included construction, the electrical trades, painting, scaffolding, roofing, financial services, forestry and gardening, stonemasonry and chimney sweeping, cleaning services, nursing care, meat processing, the vocational training industry, special mining services, and temporary employment agencies.

The government effectively enforced the laws and monitored the compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work through the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit (FKS). The FKS conducted checks on 52,000 companies in 2017 and initiated 5,442 criminal proceedings. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act, and courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a substantial fine.

Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. For the 78 percent of employees who are directly or indirectly affected by collective bargaining agreements, the average agreed working week under current agreements is 37.7 hours. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the actual average workweek of full-time employees was 41.7 hours in 2016. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.

Extensive laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its state-level counterparts monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. At the local level, professional and trade associations–self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions–as well as work councils oversaw worker safety. The number of inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance.

While the number of work accidents continued to decline among full-time employees, workplace fatalities increased to 451 in 2017, up from 425 in 2016. Most accidents occurred in the construction, transportation, postal logistics, wood, and metalworking industries.

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in 2016 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; corruption in all branches of government; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and exploitative child labor, including forced child labor.

The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. This included the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). Impunity remained a problem, however.

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

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

There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In some cases authorities described these killings as having taken place in an “exchange of fire.”

In July police killed seven persons near Kumasi in an incident that sparked riots when authorities claimed the victims were suspected robbers. In September the ministerial committee established to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths submitted its initial report to officials. After studying the report, in a statement issued in November by the minister of information, the government directed that 21 police officers be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations. According to the statement, the government determined there was no evidence the victims were armed robbers. News coverage indicated that police headquarters had not yet received a copy of the committee’s investigative report.

As of November authorities had not been able to provide any further updates regarding police service enquiries concerning four officers implicated in the 2016 killing by police of a suspect in Kumasi. The government did not prosecute any officers for the incident, but it dismissed one officer and reprimanded five others.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. By September the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) had received 77 cases of police brutality and investigated 14 of those reports.

In December the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) completed an investigation into the brutal assault by military personnel against a 16-year-old boy in April 2016 for allegedly stealing a phone. The CHRAJ investigated the case according to the constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture among other related charters and conventions, and ultimately recommended payment to the victim of 30,000 Ghanaian cedis (approximately $6,400) and that the military personnel be tried according to the Armed Forces Act.

In February the United Nations reported that it received a complaint of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Ghana deployed in the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations investigated allegations that members of the unit were having sexual relations with women at one of the protection camps. Forty-six Ghanaian police officers were subsequently repatriated on administrative grounds. Ghanaian authorities continued to investigate.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated that it held 14,985 prisoners (14,827 men and 158 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began holding some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

In October foreign diplomatic representatives observed that several prisons suffered from severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and limited rehabilitation programs. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, prison overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more inmates than designed capacity. In July, following two days of hearings, a judge at the Kumasi Central Prison granted bail to 53 of 105 remand prisoners who had applied under the Justice for All program. According to reports, officials were still working to release remand prisoners who received bail in 2017 but who remained in custody because they could not meet the bail terms. Civil society organizations estimated Kumasi Prison alone had more than 400 remand prisoners.

The government reported 30 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis B, infection, heart failure, severe hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and septicemia.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service procured five pieces of equipment, including four mechanical planters, to improve agricultural production. Construction of a new camp prison was reportedly making progress as part of efforts to improve food production and decongest the prisons. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam a medical officer was recruited to operate the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to properly transport inmates off-site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held at least three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.

Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.

Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that construction of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they faced challenges accessing health care and recreational facilities.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. As of September the Prisons Service reported receipt of 1,381 complaints on various issues, including communication with relatives, health, food rations, sanitation, and court proceedings and appeals. In April a public relations officer from the Ghana Prisons Service wrote an opinion piece for an online newspaper, disputing claims inmates received food only once a day and were subjected to forced labor. The author, however, also called for bolstering resources for inmate meals and recognized overcrowding remained a serious difficulty. Information available in September indicated there was one report of two officers physically abusing a prisoner. They were tried administratively and awaiting a final verdict.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited fulfillment of this right.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, economic crimes, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in all 11 police administrative regions.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in February 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.” In July police killed seven suspected robbers, stirring outcry when the local Zongo (predominantly Muslim enclave) community maintained the young men were innocent. In November the minister of information called for 21 police officers to be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations.

The Office of the Inspector General of Police and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. Through August the PPSB had recorded 1,144 complaints, of which 210 investigations were completed and 934 remained under investigation. Over this period the PPSB investigated 233 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 217 of misconduct, 201 of unfair treatment, 160 of undue delay of investigation, 59 of unlawful arrest and detention, 77 of police brutality, 34 of harassment, 14 of fraud, 37 of extortion, and one of rape. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government is not required to provide it, although legal counsel is generally provided to those charged with first-degree felonies. As of September the government employed only 20 full-time legal aid lawyers, who handled criminal and civil cases, and 45 paralegals, who handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance at a later court date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5 percent of all complaint cases PPSB received through August.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated 1,944 prisoners, just under 13 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failing to investigate or follow up on cases, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation of criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances. Inadequate record keeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.

Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.

Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the most recent elections in 2016. The Electoral Commission took steps to ensure the elections were free and fair, including a voter registration verification exercise. The campaigns were largely peaceful, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence. Domestic and international observers, such as the EU Election Observation Mission and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, assessed the election to be transparent, inclusive, and credible. The Ghana Integrity Initiative, Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Ghana Anticorruption Coalition, Citizen’s Movement against Corruption, and European Union Election Observation Mission noted concerns over the misuse of incumbency and unequal access granted to state-owned media during the campaign, although the incumbent still lost. There were reports of postelection violence, including takeovers of government institutions by vigilante groups associated with the victorious New Patriotic Party.

The June ouster of the electoral commission chairperson and the president’s subsequent stacking of the Electoral Commission with persons considered to be biased in favor of the ruling party raised questions about whether the body might be used to stifle voter registration among the opposition’s base.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, held fewer leadership positions than men, and female political figures faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that fear of insults, questions about physical safety, and the overall negative societal perception of female politicians hindered women from entering politics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, and various reputable national and international surveys, such as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and Afrobarometer, highlighted the prevalence of corruption in the country. More than 91 percent of respondents to a 2015 survey by the Institute of Economic Affairs said overall corruption was high or very high. As of September the CHRAJ had received 33 cases of corruption to investigate, of which 22 were resolved.

Corruption: In June 2017 the Youth Employment Agency announced that an internal audit discovered payroll fraud of approximately 50 million cedis ($11.1 million). The matter remained pending in the courts.

The deputy commissioner of the CHRAJ stated that 20 percent of the national budget was lost to corruption annually. In November 2017 the government established the OSP to investigate and prosecute corruption-related crimes. The first special prosecutor, Martin Amidu, was sworn in by the president in February. Reports indicated the government was slow to provide the office with necessary staff, other resources, and office space to carry out its mandate. In the 2019 budget presented to parliament in November, the government allocated 180 million cedis (approximately $38.6 million) to the OSP. There were reports that one official sent friends and supporters to pressure the OSP to stop investigations into the official’s abuse of office. In an August news report, Special Prosecutor Amidu revealed an unknown source transferred money into his account and that he immediately asked his bank to remedy the situation, using the incident to “urge the public to gather confidence and reject such illegalities in order to fight corruption.”

Financial Disclosure: The constitution’s code of conduct for public officers establishes an income and asset declaration requirement for the head of state, ministers, cabinet members, members of parliament, and civil servants. All elected and some appointed public officials are required to make these declarations every four years and before leaving office. The commissioner for human rights and administrative justice has authority to investigate allegations of noncompliance with the law regarding asset declaration and take “such action as he considers appropriate.” Financial disclosures remain confidential unless requested through court order. Observers criticized the financial disclosure scheme, noting that infrequent filing requirements, exclusion of filing requirements for family members of public officials, lack of public transparency, and absence of consequences for noncompliance undermined its effectiveness.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views. The government actively engaged civil society and the United Nations in preparation for the country’s third Universal Periodic Review in November 2017. The government also invited civil society organizations to provide input and revisions to the OSP bill in 2017 and the Right to Information bill in 2018.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHRAJ, which mediated and settled cases brought by individuals against government agencies or private companies, operated with no overt interference from the government; however, since it is itself a government institution, some critics questioned its ability independently to investigate high-level corruption. Its biggest obstacle was a lack of adequate funding, which resulted in low salaries, poor working conditions, and the loss of many of its staff to other governmental organizations and NGOs. As of November there was ongoing construction to build more office space and reportedly the financial resources to hire additional personnel. Public confidence in the CHRAJ was high, resulting in an increased workload for its staff.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women but not spousal rape. Sexual assault on a male can be charged as indecent assault. Prison sentences for those convicted of rape range from five to 25 years, while indecent assault is a misdemeanor subject to a minimum term of imprisonment of six months.

Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems. Survey data released in 2016 suggested 28 percent of women and 20 percent of men had experienced at least one type of domestic violence in the 12 months prior to the study.

The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Board, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate resources and logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, hindered the full application of the Domestic Violence Act. Pervasive cultural beliefs in women’s roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. According to a 2014 study, almost one-third of girls and women ages 15-24 believed wife beating could be justified. The Domestic Violence Secretariat’s management board was not established by the new administration until March.

Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills, shelter facilities, and other resources to assist victims. Few of the cases wherein police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate resources and training on investigatory techniques, police prosecutor case mismanagement, and, according to the DOVVSU, lack of resources on the part of victims and their families to pursue cases. There was also no shelter to which police could refer victims. In cases deemed less severe, victims were returned to their homes. Otherwise, the DOVVSU contacted NGOs to identify temporary shelters. Authorities reported officers occasionally had no alternative but to shelter victims in their own residences until other arrangements could be made.

The DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. There was also an SGBV workshop provided for police in January.

Due to limited resources, a hotline for victims of domestic violence was suspended, although the DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. The DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and SGBV, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than 18 years. Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. A man was arrested in December 2017 and confessed to killing an elderly woman to use her body parts to perform a ritual. In the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” were banished by their families or traditional village authorities to “witch camps.” Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which persons with mental illness were sometimes sent by their families to seek spiritual healing. Some persons suspected of witchcraft were also killed. According to an antiwitchcraft accusation coalition, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000-2,500 adult women and 1,000-1,200 children. One camp had seen its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not have the resources to do so effectively.

The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the north, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, widows are required to undergo certain indigenous rites to mourn or show devotion for the deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.

In August, Second Lady Samira Bawumia launched the Coalition of People Against SGBV and Harmful Practices. UNFPA provided support. Its mission is to pursue high-level advocacy for resources to assist SGBV victims and increase prevention efforts in the country.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.

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

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas, women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, government contacts indicated that children would not be denied access to education on the basis of documentation. The country’s 2016 automated birth registration system aims at enhancing the ease and reliability of registration. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development were in talks about a proposal to issue birth certificates to children through the age of 15 as part of efforts to curb trafficking. There were no further specifics provided by the government, and it remained unclear how authorities would implement the policy.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. In September 2017 the government began phasing in a program to provide tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, beginning with first-year students. Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than 16 years with or without consent, incest, and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. In July the Ghana Education Service fired four high school teachers in the Ashanti Region for sexually assaulting some students, although four other teachers in the same region were kept on the payroll but transferred to other schools. The DOVVSU’s Central Regional Office reported a 28 percent increase in cases of sexual abuse of girls younger than 16. According to the Ghana Police Service, reports of adults participating in sexual relations with minors rose by almost 26 percent in 2017, with the highest number of cases reported in Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely had sufficient resources, such as transportation and equipment, to effectively respond to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years. The law makes forcing a child to marry punishable by a fine, one year’s imprisonment, or both. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the three northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. Through September the CHRAJ had received 18 cases of early or forced marriage.

The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry launched the first National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26). The framework prioritizes interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address issues of neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society stakeholders, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit also created a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, distributing 6,000 copies throughout the country, and created social media accounts to try to reach wider audiences. In November the country hosted a two-day summit on ending child marriage. First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo delivered opening remarks at the African Union-organized event, which convened gender ministers, civil society organizations, and technical advisors from across the continent.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years, and participating in sexual activities with anyone under this age is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to 5,000 penalty units (60,000 cedis or $13,300), or both.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region kill “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who are suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness about causes and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing.

Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children were often forced to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child prostitution and the school dropout rate. Girls were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation while living on the streets.

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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to public spaces with “appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability,” but inaccessibility to schools and public buildings continued to be problems. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf. The government lifted a hiring freeze and hired 27 persons with disabilities who were trained teachers to work in the mainstream education sector. As of September there were 150 pending applications from persons with disabilities for a government internship program through the Nation Builders Corps, a government initiative to address graduate unemployment. Overall, however, few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them. The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.

Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for seven consecutive days, and physically assaulted. In his statement about his 2018 visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted, “Persons with disabilities and families with a disabled child face a double burden of poverty.” Officials took few steps to implement a 2012 law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority. The Ministry of Health discontinued data collection on persons with disabilities in 2011. In July 2017 officials from the Mental Health Authority rescued 16 persons with mental disabilities whom they found chained at a prayer camp in Central Region; the individuals were later taken to the Ankaful psychiatric hospital for treatment. Despite these efforts, Human Rights Watch reported in October that it found more than 140 persons with real or perceived mental health conditions detained in unsanitary, congested conditions at a prayer camp. In December the Mental Health Authority released guidelines for traditional and faith-based healers as part of efforts to ensure that practitioners respect the rights of patients with mental illness.

There was public outcry when Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin remarked that the ministerial appointments of persons with disabilities had led to the National Democratic Congress party’s defeat. Bagbin tried to retract his remarks, but organizations such as the Ghana Blind Union expressed disappointment he did not apologize. Ivor Greenstreet, a person living with disabilities who ran in the 2016 presidential elections, called the remarks “unsavory and unacceptable” and “un-befitting …the high office of … Speaker.”

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. In June, following his visit to the country in April, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted that stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons made it difficult for them to find work and become productive members of the community. As of September the CHRAJ had received five reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI persons also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons, although some activists said that police attitudes were slowly changing. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.

While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons during the year, stigma, intimidation, and the attitude of the police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse.

Media reported in August that 400 members of the LGBTI community had registered with the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family “to undergo voluntary counselling and reformation.” Amnesty International earlier in the year criticized authorities for conducting involuntary medical tests on two young men who were allegedly found having sex. According to one survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals.

Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on these issues because of their social and political sensitivity. Speaker of Parliament Mike Oquaye said in May he “would rather resign than subscribe to these delusions,” referring to gay rights legislation. He also said it was unacceptable that foreign governments or groups champion homosexuality and bestiality as human rights. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bagbin said in a radio interview in April, “Homosexuality is worse than [an] atomic bomb” and “there is no way we will accept it in (this) country.” In November 2017 President Akufo-Addo made remarks in an interview interpreted by many citizens as supporting same-sex marriage. After much criticism the Office of the President issued a statement in April in which a bolded line read, “It will NOT be under his Presidency that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Ghana.” President Akufo-Addo later delivered remarks at an evangelical gathering where he assured the audience, “This government has no plans to change the law on same-sex marriage.” Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma surrounding the disease, as well as a fear that men getting tested would immediately be labeled as gay, continued to discourage persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and those who tested positive from seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. As of September the CHRAJ received nine cases of discrimination based on HIV status. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing to citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to respect confidentiality.

A 2016 law penalizes discrimination against a person infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS by a fine of 100 to 500 penalty units (1,200 cedi to 6,000 cedis, or $265-$1,330), imprisonment for 18 months to three years, or both. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV/AIDS and those suspected of having HIV/AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment/work, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV/AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.

As part of World AIDS Day, the Ghana AIDS Commission organized activities across three regions centered around the theme of antistigma and antidiscrimination. In the culminating event to mark World AIDS Day, the minister for sanitation and water resources read a statement on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo encouraging people to get tested.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Chieftaincy disputes, which frequently resulted from lack of a clear chain of succession, competing claims over land and other natural resources, and internal rivalries and feuds, continued to result in deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. According to the West Africa Center for Counterextremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest source of insecurity and instability in the country. Throughout the year disputes continued between Fulani herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. In April, for example, one person died and several houses were burned down when clashes between a farmer and Fulani herdsmen escalated. Similar clashes led to the deaths of two persons who were shot by suspected herdsmen, according to January reports.

In May a long-standing land dispute between the communities of Nkonya and Alavanyo in Volta Region led to violence when an assailant shot and killed one woman and injured another. Citing 85 lives lost since 1983, the Volta Regional Peace Council called for an end to reprisal killings. Earlier in the year, a chieftaincy dispute resulted in five injuries and 10 arrests. Early in the year, the National Peace Council began peace-building training with two towns in the Northern Region.

There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Such vigilantism was often seen as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing the police and judicial sectors.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The Ghana Labor Act provides for the right of workers–except for members of the armed forces, police, the Ghana Prisons Service, and other security and intelligence agency personnel–to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law requires trade unions or employers’ organizations to obtain a certificate of registration and be authorized by the chief labor officer, who is an appointed government official. Union leaders reported that fees for the annual renewal of trade union registration and collective bargaining certificates were exorbitant and possibly legally unenforceable.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but restricts that right for workers who provide “essential services.” Workers in export processing zones are not subject to these restrictions. The minister of employment and labor relations designated a list of essential services, which included many sectors falling outside the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) essential services definition. The list included services carried out by utility companies (water, electricity, etc.), ports and harbors, medical centers, and the Bank of Ghana. These workers have the right to bargain. In these sectors parties to any labor disputes are required to resolve their differences within 72 hours. The right to strike can also be restricted for workers in private enterprises whose services are deemed essential to the survival of the enterprise by a union and an employer. A union may call a legal strike only if the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or if the dispute remains unresolved at the end of arbitration proceedings. Additionally, the Emergency Powers Act of 1994 grants authorities the power to suspend any law and prohibit public meetings and processions, but the act does not apply to labor disputes.

The Ghana Labor Act provides a framework for collective bargaining. A union must obtain a collective bargaining certificate from the chief labor officer in order to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of a class of workers. In cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise, the majority or plurality union will receive the certificate but must consult with or, where appropriate, invite other unions to participate in negotiations. The certificate holder generally includes representatives from the smaller unions. Workers in decision-making or managerial roles are not provided the right to collective bargaining under the Labor Act, but they may join unions and enter into labor negotiations with their employers.

The National Labor Commission is a government body with the mandate of ensuring employers and unions comply with labor law. It also serves as a forum for arbitration in labor disputes.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides reinstatement for workers dismissed under unfair pretenses. It protects trade union members and their officers against discrimination if they organize.

The government generally protected the right to form and join independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. Although the Labor Act makes specified parties liable for violations, specific penalties are not set forth. An employer who resorts to an illegal lockout is required to pay the workers’ wages. Some instances of subtle employer interference in union activities occurred. Many unions did not follow approved processes for dealing with disputes, reportedly due to the perceived unfair and one-sided application of the law against the unions. The process is often long and cumbersome, with employers generally taking action when unions threaten to withdraw their services or declare a strike. The National Labor Commission faced obstacles in enforcing applicable sanctions against both unions and employers, including inadequate resources, limited ability to enforce its mandate, and insufficient oversight.

Trade unions engaged in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. No union completed the dispute resolution process involving arbitration, and there were numerous unsanctioned strikes during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Provisions of various laws prescribe fines, imprisonment, and an obligation to perform prison labor as punishment for violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources and penalties were insufficient to enforce legislation prohibiting forced labor. In January the government sentenced two individuals who pleaded guilty to child trafficking each to five years’ imprisonment. Two additional individuals were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for child trafficking. One individual was convicted in May of using child labor and fined 504 cedis ($112). In 2017 the government investigated 92 suspected labor trafficking cases, prosecuted 46 defendants for alleged forced labor, and convicted six individuals under the antitrafficking act; their sentences ranged from one year to five years’ imprisonment. The government also released 730,000 cedis ($162,000) for implementation of its national plan of action for the elimination of human trafficking (2017-21). As of October there were 17 convictions during the year–14 under the child labor law and three under the human trafficking law.

There were indications of forced labor affecting both children and adults in the fishing sector, as well as forced child labor in informal mining, agriculture, domestic labor, porterage, begging, herding, quarrying, and hawking (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum employment age at 15 years, or 13 years for light work unlikely to be harmful to a child or to affect the child’s attendance at school. The law prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those under age 18 and provides for fines and imprisonment for violators. The law allows for children age 15 and above to have an apprenticeship under which craftsmen and employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment along with training and tools.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations were responsible for enforcing child labor regulations. The government, however, did not provide sufficient resources to law enforcement and judicial authorities to carry out these efforts, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The ILO, government representatives, the Trades Union Congress, media, international organizations, and NGOs continued efforts to increase institutional capacity to combat child labor.

The government continued to work closely with NGOs, labor unions, and the cocoa industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Through these partnerships the government created several community projects, which promoted sensitization, monitoring, and livelihood improvement.

Authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively or consistently, and law enforcement officials, including judges, police, and labor officials, were sometimes unfamiliar with the provisions of the law that protected children.

Children as young as four years old were subjected to forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and mining industries, including informal gold mines, and as domestic laborers, porters, hawkers, and quarry workers. One child protection and welfare NGO estimated that 100,000 children were trapped in forced child labor, almost one-half of whom worked in the Volta Region where, in the fishing industry, they engaged in hazardous work, such as diving into deep waters to untangle fishing nets caught on submerged tree roots. The government does not legally recognize working underwater as a form of hazardous work. In October the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture Development launched a strategy to combat child labor and trafficking in the fisheries sector that addresses rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child laborers, as well as prevention of child labor.

Child labor continued to be prevalent in artisanal mining (particularly illegal small-scale mining), fetching firewood, bricklaying, food service and cooking, and collecting fares. Children in small-scale mining reportedly crushed rocks, dug in deep pits, carried heavy loads, operated heavy machinery, sieved stones, and amalgamated gold with mercury.

Child labor was present in cocoa harvesting. Children engaged in cocoa harvesting often used sharp tools to clear land and collect cocoa pods, carried heavy loads, and were exposed to agrochemicals, including toxic pesticides. The government did not legally recognize this type of work in agriculture, including in cocoa, as hazardous work for children.

Child laborers were often poorly paid and physically abused, and they received little or no health care.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on discrimination. The law stipulates that an employer cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of several categories, including gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, social or economic status, or disability, whether that person is already employed or seeking employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, HIV-positive persons, and LGBTI persons (see section 6). For example, reports indicated few companies could accommodate the special needs of persons with disabilities in the workplace. Many companies ignored or turned down such individuals who applied for jobs. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance persisted to women entering nontraditional fields and accessing education.

In June the government announced it would award 30 percent of government contracts for local companies to persons with disabilities and women, but the means of implementing and enforcing this provision remained uncertain.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A national tripartite committee composed of representatives of the government, labor, and employers set a minimum wage. In July 2018 the committee raised the minimum daily wage by 10 percent to 10.65 cedis (approximately $2.29), effective January 1. There were several cases of companies not complying with the new standard. According to an August report from the Ghana Statistical Service, 8.2 percent of Ghanaians lived in extreme poverty in 2016/2017. The extreme poverty line for an adult in 2017, based on a rebased poverty line and new consumption basket, was 982.20 cedis (approximately $211) per year, or 2.69 cedis per day (approximately $0.58). The maximum workweek is 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers are entitled to at least 15 working days of leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. Such provisions, however, did not apply to task workers or domestic workers in private homes, or elsewhere in the informal sector. The law does not prescribe overtime rates and does not prohibit excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health regulations. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. This legislation covers only workers in the formal sector, which employed less than 20 percent of the labor force.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations was unable to enforce the wage law effectively. The government also did not effectively enforce health and safety regulations, which are set by a range of agencies in the various industries, including but not limited to the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Roads Safety Commission, and Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission. The law reportedly provided inadequate coverage to workers due to its fragmentation and limited scope. There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal economy across all sectors. The minimum wage law was not enforced in the informal sector. Legislation governing working hours applies to both formal and informal sectors. It was largely followed in the formal sector but widely flouted and not enforced in the informal sector.

The small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors were poorly trained and lacked the resources to respond to violations effectively. Inspectors did not impose sanctions and were unable to provide data as to how many violations they responded to during the year. In most cases inspectors gave advisory warnings to employers, with deadlines for taking corrective action. Per regulations, workers are able to remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardy to employment, but in practice, few such cases come forward. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance.

Approximately 90 percent of the working population was employed in the informal sector, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2015 Labor Force Report, including small to medium-scale businesses such as producers, wholesale and retail traders, and service providers made up of contributing family workers, casual wageworkers, home-based workers, and street vendors. Most of these workers were self-employed persons.

Six construction workers were killed in April when a tunnel roof collapsed at a gold mine in the central region.

Greece

Executive Summary

Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a unicameral parliament, which approves a government headed by a prime minister. In 2015 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included criminalization of libel; allegations of refoulement of asylum seekers; corruption; and violence targeting LGBTI persons and refugee women and children.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports, however, that at times police mistreated and abused undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, demonstrators, and Roma (also see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons and section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

On July 17, the Hellenic Police Directorate for Internal Affairs reported investigating 201 cases of police abusing their authority from 2009-17. In these cases 69 percent of victims were foreign nationals. One example in the report described police physically abusing a foreign national, using racist language against him, briefly detaining him without charges, and subsequently abandoning him in a deserted area without his mobile phone. In his annual report for 2017 the ombudsman, who is entrusted with the independent investigation of abuse of authority by law enforcement staff, described the behavior of law enforcement staff in 15 cases as torture.

On July 27, human rights activists reported on social media that four armed police officers surrounded two refugees of Kurdish and Afghan origin outside the Archeological Museum in the center of Athens. Police reportedly asked the refugees to lie on the ground to be searched and then severely beat both with their batons, shouted insults, kicked one in the head, and dragged both into a police car. Social media reports indicated police told the refugees, “We’re going to count to 10 and you have to disappear.” Photos on social media showed bruises on the face, head, chest, back, and shoulders of both refugees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions, including holding cells, did not consistently meet national or international standards. Problems included severe overcrowding; insufficient security; lack of access to health care, especially mental, maternal, and reproductive healthcare; inadequate access to food and sanitation; inadequate supplies of resources such as blankets, clothing, and hygiene products; and lack of recreational activities. There were allegations of police mistreatment and physical and verbal abuse of migrants and refugees, including minors, at police stations and detention facilities throughout the year (also see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons).

Physical Conditions: According to government statistics published in June, prisons were slightly over capacity: nationwide, prisons can accommodate 9,935 individuals and in June they housed 10,198 inmates. In an annual report for 2017 published on March 26, the ombudsman noted that prisons did not have enough medical doctors, nurses, sociologists, and psychologists to provide 24-hour care. On February 7, media reported an investigation initiated by judicial authorities into the death of an inmate in a Larissa prison cell. The 26-year-old had reportedly died on February 2 due to a tooth infection that turned fatal. According to NGO “Solidarity Network for Prisoners,” the man did not receive proper and timely treatment.

Police detained undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in reception and identification centers (RICs) until they were registered, and these individuals continued to live in these RICs, but with freedom of movement on the island pending transfer to the mainland. Overcrowding continued to be a problem in detention and registration centers. According to some government and nongovernmental agencies–including parliamentarians, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Doctors without Borders, and Human Rights Watch (HRW)–overcrowding resulted in substandard and often precarious detention conditions, especially for vulnerable groups such as women and unaccompanied minors. The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights noted in a report issued November 6 that “serious overcrowding combined with poor hygiene conditions, insecurity and despair put the human rights of the … residents at high risk” in Moria RIC on Lesvos island. The commissioner also “observed with great concern that living conditions in reception camps present significant risks to people’s health, which are exacerbated by very difficult access to primary healthcare services.” On June 7, HRW issued a statement denouncing the authorities’ routine confinement of asylum-seeking women with nonrelated men in the Evros region, putting them at risk of sexual violence and harassment.

On September 29, a Syrian man was killed in the mainland camp of Malakasa by other residents of the camp during a fight.

Authorities assigned some underage asylum seekers to “protective custody” in the same quarters as adults or in overcrowded and under-resourced police stations with limited access to outdoor areas. Throughout the year, NGOs such as HRW reiterated findings from previous reports that unaccompanied minors under protective custody often lived in unsanitary conditions and faced problematic access to medical treatment, psychological counseling, or legal aid.

Police also detained rejected asylum applicants due to return to Turkey, some migrants waiting to return home under the International Organization for Migration’s Assisted Voluntary Return program, and migrants suspected of committing a crime in preremoval centers, which suffered from the same issues of overcrowding, limited access to outdoor areas, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical treatment, psychological counseling, and legal aid.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights published bimonthly detention-related statistics on the occupancy rate and the design capacity per prison.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent authorities and nongovernmental observers to monitor prison and detention center conditions. The government controlled access to RICs and official migrant and asylum seeker camps for NGOs, diplomatic missions, and foreign and domestic journalists, requiring them to submit formal access requests with advance notice for each specific site. Authorities rarely denied or postponed access. From April 10 to 19, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited detention facilities across the country. Its report noted wide disparities in conditions across the country’s detention centers and raised particular concerns about conditions in RICs, preremoval centers, and holding cells in local police stations.

Improvements: The government made several administrative and legislative improvements to conditions in prisons, including access to education for convicts. On March 2, parliament passed legislation establishing K-12 education and vocational training centers in all prison facilities. On March 5, the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights Secretariat General for Anticrime Policy instituted a telemedicine program in four prisons, in cooperation with three major hospitals in Athens and the Ministry of Health.

As of April 26, 40 inmates at 11 detention facilities around the country had been enrolled in distance learning programs on donated computers in cooperation with Hellenic Open University (HOU).

The government passed legislation on April 5 providing for the subsidization of 50 percent of tuition fees for a maximum of 20 prison employees per year to attend university distance courses on public administration, anticrime, and penitentiary policies via the HOU.

The Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights launched a new round of training seminars for 700 prison staff in seven cities on mental health issues, crisis management, and treatment and reintegration of inmates.

On July 4, media reported a ministerial decision by the secretary general for penitentiary policy to require that protective isolation cells for inmates with mental disorders have natural lighting, a bed and toilet, and camera monitoring. At year’s end, the government was in the process of making the necessary changes to the isolation cells. In cooperation with the Hellenic Psychiatrist Society and the Special Monitoring Committee for the Protection of the Rights of People with Mental Disorders, the government also announced training for prison staff on how to treat inmates with self-destructive behavior.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police are responsible for law enforcement, border security, and the maintenance of order and are under the authority of the minister for citizen protection. The Coast Guard is responsible for law and border enforcement in territorial waters and reports to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Island Policy. Police and the armed forces, the latter of which are under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, jointly share law enforcement duties in certain border areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, Coast Guard, and armed forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

NGOs reported incidents of security forces committing racially and hate-motivated violence. In a March 28 report, the most recent available, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN), a group of NGOs coordinated by UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights, reported that law enforcement officials committed 10 of the 102 incidents of racist violence recorded in 2017. Victims in these incidents included, among others, asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, a refugee, a UNHCR employee, and a male member of the Roma community. Police statistics were higher, reporting 184 potentially racially motivated incidents in 2017, 24 of which involved law enforcement officials as perpetrators. No further data on internal investigation results or penalties for offenders were available.

In a 2017 report, the ombudsman reported 117 allegations of law enforcement officials abusing their authority in nine different detention facilities. Charges included, inter alia, 15 cases of alleged torture, 15 cases of gun use, and 53 incidents related to the endangerment of human life and bodily integrity.

NGOs, universities, international organizations, and service academies provided police training on safeguarding human rights and combatting hate crimes and human trafficking.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and requires judicial warrants for arrests, except during the commission of a crime. The law requires police to bring detainees before a magistrate, who then must issue a detention warrant or order the detainee’s release within 24 hours of detention. Detainees are promptly informed of charges against them. Pretrial detention may last up to 18 months, depending on the severity of the crime, or 30 months in exceptional circumstances. A panel of judges may release detainees pending trial. Expedited procedures may be applied to individuals accused of misdemeanors. Individuals are entitled to state compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reports that police violated these laws.

Detainees may contact a close relative or third party, consult with a lawyer of their choice, and obtain medical services. Since police are required to bring detainees before an examining magistrate within 24 hours of detention, the short time period may limit detainees’ ability to present an adequate defense in some instances. Defendants may request a delay to prepare a defense. Bail and restriction orders are available for defendants unless a judicial officer deems the defendant a flight risk.

Rights activists and media reported instances in which foreign detainees had limited access to court-provided interpretation or were unaware of their right to legal assistance. Indigent defendants facing felony charges received legal representation from the bar association. NGOs and international organizations provided limited legal aid to detained migrants and asylum seekers.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government placed some unaccompanied minors into “protective custody” in local police stations (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention resulting from courts being over-burdened and understaffed remained a problem. The court authorized pretrial detention under certain conditions, including when there was a flight risk or when the court was concerned that the suspect could commit additional crimes. Pretrial detention was only used for felony charges and negligent homicide cases. In the case of acquittal through a final court decision, the affected individual may seek compensation for time spent in pretrial detention. Some legal experts criticized what they considered excessive use of this measure. In addition, compensation procedures were time-consuming and the amounts offered were relatively low (9-10 euros ($10.35-$11.50) per day of imprisonment). Based on Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights statistics, approximately 30 percent of those with pending cases were in pretrial detention in January 2017.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Observers reported the judiciary was at times inefficient and sometimes subject to influence and corruption. Authorities respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law grants defendants a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and thoroughly of all charges. Delays were mostly due to backlogs of pending trials and understaffing. Trials are public in most instances. Defendants have the right to communicate and consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner and they are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Lawyers, whether chosen by the defendant or appointed by the state, are given adequate time and space inside prison facilities to consult with their clients and prepare a defense. The government provides attorneys to indigent defendants facing felony charges. Defendants may be present at trial, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and question prosecution witnesses. Defendants have the right of appeal. Defendants who do not speak Greek have the right to free interpretation through a court-appointed interpreter, although some NGOs criticized the quality and lack of availability of interpretation.

A new law enacted October 11 limits the use of sharia (Islamic law) to only family and civil cases in which all parties actively consent to its use.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. The law provides citizens with the ability to sue the government for compensation for alleged violations of rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies including the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law addresses property restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Many Holocaust-era property claims have been resolved, but several issues remained open. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki had a pending case against the Russian government for its retention of the community’s prewar archives. Additionally, the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw held a number of religious artifacts allegedly stolen from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in 1941; the community requested the return of these items. The Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Jews in Greece (OPAIE) also claimed more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war, but now occupied by government facilities. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of OPAIE for one of the properties, and the Jewish community has proposed the formation of a committee to discuss the disposition of the other properties.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate.

On July 12, the Thrace appeals court rejected a request from the unofficial “Turkish Union of Xanthi” to reinstate its legal status. The association submitted this petition following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Greek court’s decision violated the right of association as protected by the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and a 2017 law allowing the reexamination of such previously rejected requests.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to a wide range of credible sources, including international organizations and NGOs, authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those residing in RICs. The RVRN recorded 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. (See also section 6, “National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.”)

Separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites. Credible reports described several incidents of violence involving asylum seekers, including fistfights, stabbings, and gender-based violence. The International Rescue Committee assessed that more than 70 individuals were sexually abused at the RIC in Moria from March to October. Several incidents of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, were also recorded in organized facilities on the mainland. Doctors without Borders reported that two victims of sexual abuse in the Moria RIC were under five years of age.

Media reported on April 28 that police arrested a refugee residing at a reception facility in Serres, northern Greece, after his 15-year-old daughter accused him of repeated rape.

On November 9, authorities arrested a male refugee in Agia Eleni camp in northern Greece on charges of sexually abusing a three-year-old boy inside the camp.

Refugee and migrant women who were victims of gender-based violence were legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance but few of them reported the abuse. Some NGO representatives said that even after victims reported rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp with the perpetrators.

NGOs noted inadequate psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in the six RICs. Doctors without Borders reported that 25 percent of the children they worked with in Moria RIC on Lesvos island from February to June had either self-harmed, attempted suicide, or had thought about committing suicide.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

During the year the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued. As of October 31, UNHCR figures indicated 67,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided throughout the country.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In February the NGO Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) published a compilation of testimonies of migrants and refugees who claimed they had been forcibly returned to Turkey despite their desire to claim asylum. On February 25, a GCR lawyer and coordinator of the GCR legal team who had previously served as secretary general for migration argued in an opinion article in a local newspaper that allegations of refoulement were not being properly investigated despite appeals by UNHCR, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, and other organizations. On May 3, GCR accused the government “of a systematic tactic of irregular forced returns in the Evros region, in violation of international law.” Government officials denied any authorized unlawful returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration Policy. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights and asylum procedures and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR also assisted the government with briefings and distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

On July 18, media reported the case of a Guinean national who was deported prior to having the chance to appeal the initial denial of asylum. His attorneys claimed that even though they communicated the applicant’s intent to file an appeal, authorities deported the applicant without prior notification. The government did not issue a public response.

Human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants reported long waits for asylum appeals decisions due to time-consuming processes, gaps in the payment of certified interpreters, backlogs in the appeals process, and a limited number of appeals committees. On May 22, parliament passed new legislation to accelerate the examination of asylum requests by reducing gaps in interpreter payments and introducing additional and more flexible means of communication between applicants and authorities. Despite changes in the law, structural problems in the asylum process continued to exist.

Asylum applicants from countries other than Syria complained that their asylum applications were delayed while Syrian applications were prioritized. Many asylum seekers also complained about difficulty scheduling an appointment and connecting with the Asylum Service system via Skype. NGOs, international organizations, and human rights activists reiterated concerns related to the asylum system, including the lack of adequate staff and facilities; difficulties in registering claims; questions about the expedited nature and thoroughness of the examination of initial claims and appeals; insufficient welfare, integration, counseling, legal, and interpretation services; discrimination; and detention under often inadequate and overcrowded conditions inside the RICs.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands would be confined to an RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey under the terms of the agreement.

Freedom of Movement: Undocumented migrants arriving at Greek islands were subjected to special border reception and registration procedures, and were not allowed to leave accommodation centers for up to 25 days. After this period undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they filed asylum applications deemed admissible by the asylum authorities or were deemed “vulnerable.” Once asylum applications were filed, found admissible, and in process, migrants could move to an accommodation center on the mainland, space permitting. There was no restriction on movement in or out of the mainland accommodation centers.

On April 24, 21 local and international NGOs issued a statement condemning the government’s practice of confining migrants and asylum seekers to certain “hotspot” islands for initial processing.

Unaccompanied minors were placed under “protective custody” due to lack of space in specialized shelters. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. In March the managing board of the Greek Manpower Organization (OAED) extended the right to register for the official unemployment to migrants and refugees residing in shelters or with no permanent address, allowing them to benefit from training programs and state allowances.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures were granted to asylum seekers in possession of a valid residency permit; however, staffing gaps, lack of interpreters, and overcrowded migrant sites limited certain asylum seekers’ access to these services. Legal assistance was limited and was usually offered via NGOs, international organizations, and volunteer lawyers and bar associations.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded with inadequate shelter, healthcare, wash facilities, and sewer connections, creating security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better. The general rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons visited Athens, Kavala, Drama, and Lesvos from July 10-12. The rapporteur found that in contrast to the acceptable accommodation centers in Kavala and Drama, Lesvos RIC conditions “continued to be appalling,” with persons suffering from “severely overcrowded accommodation facilities.”

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. (See section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions.)

Many vulnerable asylum-seeking individuals were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via a housing framework implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities.

Administrative and facility management staff in reception centers were usually permanent state employees, eight-month government-contracted personnel, and NGO and international organization-contracted staff. Media reported cases, especially in the islands, in which assigned staff was inadequate or improperly trained.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers, referring emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases continued to face problems with obtaining proper medication. According to a July 27 HRW report, pregnant women in Evros reception and detention facilities had no access to proper medical and prenatal care.

Domestic and international NGOs continued to criticize authorities for failing to identify asylum seekers with nonvisible vulnerabilities, such as victims of torture. In a 2018 annual review, HRW noted that authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland had “impeded their access to proper care and services.” HRW argued that official policies, living conditions, and the uncertainty of the slow asylum claim decision-making process contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands.

Durable Solutions: Recognized refugees may apply for naturalization after three years of residence in the country under this status. The government continued to process family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.

Temporary Protection: As of June 30, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,102 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. As a result of the elections, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras formed a governing coalition consisting of the SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (Independent Greeks) parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. On July 19, parliament passed legislation raising the minimum required percentage of male and female candidates in local and regional elections from each party to 40 percent from 30 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Although observers expressed concern over perceived high levels of official corruption, the Directorate for Internal Affairs of the Hellenic Police reported an 8.5 percent reduction in the number of corruption-related complaints filed in 2017 compared to 2016. Permanent and ad hoc government entities charged with combating corruption were understaffed and underfinanced.

Corruption: Reports of official corruption continued. On May 3, an appeals court sentenced and fined 17 defendants, including former officials of the Ministry of Defense, for receiving kickbacks for purchasing an electronic simulation system for the army. The court sentenced them to 10-16 years in prison and levied a total fine of 48.5 million euros ($55.8 million).

On May 11, an appeals court upheld the conviction of a former minister of transport for accepting a bribe from a foreign company, but allowed him to pay a fine instead of serving jail time.

The European Union (EU) announced October 4 that the European Antifraud Agency (OLAF) was investigating allegations that the Greek Defense Ministry mismanaged 52 million euros ($59.8 million) in EU funding for catering at refugee sites. On October 8, Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou ordered a domestic inquiry into allegations that the government mismanaged EU migration funding.

On October 24, media reported on a unanimous decision by the prosecutor and investigative magistrate to hold former defense minister Yannos Papantoniou and his wife in pretrial detention for allegedly accepting more than 2.8 million Swiss francs in kickbacks for defense procurements in 2003.

The government intensified efforts to combat tax evasion by increasing inspections and crosschecks among various authorities; however, media reported allegations of tax officials complicit in individual and corporate tax evasion.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, including private sector employees, such as journalists and heads of government-funded NGOs. Several agencies are mandated to monitor and verify disclosures, including the General Inspectorate for Public Administration, the police internal affairs bureau, the Piraeus appeals prosecutor, and an independent permanent parliamentary committee. Declarations were made publicly available, albeit with delays. The law provides for administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. Penalties range from two to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of from 10,000 to one million euros ($11,500 to $1.15 million).

The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) reported “mixed praise with criticism regarding Greek efforts to fight corruption in both the legislative and judicial branches of government.” GRECO commended the government for increasing transparency by broadening the scope for income, assets, and interest declaration by members of parliament. GRECO noted that the government did not comply with a recommendation for greater transparency in political party financing.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, with the exception of restricted access to reception and detention facilities for migrants on the islands and–in certain circumstances–to official camps on the mainland. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, a state body considered independent and effective, investigated complaints of human rights abuses by individuals. Five deputy ombudsmen dealt with human rights, children’s rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life problems, respectively. The office received adequate resources to perform its functions. In its 2017 annual report, the office reported the number of complaints received increased by 30 percent to 15,348 total complaints. The office reported 76 percent of these complaints were satisfactorily resolved.

The autonomous, state-funded National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) advised the government on protection of human rights. The NCHR was considered independent, effective, and adequately resourced.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by penalties ranging from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of their sex. Domestic violence is a crime with penalties from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively. In November 2017 the president of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine told media that only 200 of an estimated average of 4,500 rape incidents per year were officially reported. Police reported they had identified the perpetrators in 73 percent of cases of rape and attempted rape recorded in 2017, the most recent year with complete records available.

The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors.

On April 4, the government passed legislation ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Under the same law, the government abolished the provision of the Penal Code that had allowed men convicted of statutory rape of a minor under 15 to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.

The Hellenic Coast Guard found the body of 21-year-old college student Eleni Topaloudi in the sea near the island of Rhodes on November 28. Coast Guard officials told media that evidence suggested Topaloudi was physically and sexually assaulted before she died from drowning. Police arrested two men on December 4 on charges of gang raping and murdering Topaloudi. The men remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): On April 4, new legislation added provisions to the Penal Code stipulating punishment for individuals who coerce or force female individuals to undergo genital mutilation. Perpetrators of female genital mutilation face mandatory prison sentences under the new law.

Although there were allegations of migrant and refugee women residing in the country undergoing female genital mutilation prior to their arrival in Greece, there was no concrete evidence that female genital mutilation was practiced in the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides penalties ranging from two months to five years in prison. In its 2017 report on gender and equality, the ombudsman reiterated previous findings about the difficulty in substantiating sexual harassment claims due to lack of evidence, victims’ fear of repercussions of reporting cases, and the reluctance of witnesses to take sides. The report notes that many incidents of sexual harassment are not reported to the ombudsman. In his reports from previous years, the ombudsman had also noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, emphasizing that employers were often ignorant of their legal obligations when employees filed sexual harassment complaints.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equality between women and men. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, which provided for women to enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, with some exceptions when Muslim minority members in Thrace request the use of sharia by notarized consent of both parties. (See also National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities.)

According to a survey released on March 8 by a private company, the percentage of women holding executive positions in the country increased to 26 percent in 2017 from 20 percent in 2016. The government failed to provide data on the gender pay gap, as reported by Eurostat on March 8. Based on 2014 data, the last year that the government provided relevant statistics, local women were paid an average of 12.5 percent less than men.

On May 2, Eurostat reported that 17 percent of men and 26 percent of women were unemployed in January.

On March 8, the minister for labor, social insurance, and social solidarity announced the government would no longer reveal the gender of unemployed individuals they recommend for job vacancies to avoid gender bias in hiring decisions. The government also decided to allow female victims of domestic violence residing in special shelters or lacking permanent residence to register for unemployment benefits, including training programs and state allowances.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows belated birth registration but imposes a fine.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. On July 11, the NGO “Smile of the Child” reported having received 497 reports of serious cases of abuse related to 854 children through its helpline “SOS 1056” from January 1 to June 30. Of these children, 40 percent were less than six years of age. The law prohibits corporal punishment and mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children in addition to foster care or accommodation in shelters. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs reported insufficient space, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters.

On May 15, the government passed new legislation allowing foster care and adoption procedures to be completed in under a year, making these a viable option for children in urgent need of protection.

On July 13, local NGO ELIZA launched a program to train 450 police staff members on child abuse and proper registration of child abuse-related complaints.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although minors ages 16 and 17 may marry with authorization from a prosecutor. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported that illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and Romani boys marrying between the ages of 15 and 20. Based on 2000-16 data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, 9,407 minors were married during that period, 86 percent of whom were girls averaging 16 years of age.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children under the age of 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law.

Displaced Children: According to EKKA data from November 1, there were approximately 3,558 refugee and migrant unaccompanied children residing in the country. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. EKKA statistics indicated that 451 unaccompanied minors were homeless and 275 could not be located.

On July 17, parliament passed new legislation requiring an individual “legal guardian” for each unaccompanied minor. The legislation allowed older unaccompanied minors to reside in units of semi-autonomous living, established a special body entrusted with the protection of minors and the monitoring of guardianship in each prosecution office, created a special directorate for the protection of unaccompanied minors in the national government, established a registry of certified guardians who meet certain criteria, established a registry of unaccompanied minors, and created a registry of shelters/facilities for unaccompanied minors.

Institutionalized Children: Local and international organizations condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, resulting from a lack of available spaces in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions).

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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish community included approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials around the country, particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, took place throughout the year. The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in mainstream media and by some religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Church clerics. KIS reiterated concern about political cartoons and images in mainstream media mocking political controversies through the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust or through equating Jews and Nazis.

Thousands of protesters participated in a massive rally in Thessaloniki on January 21 against the country’s negotiations with Macedonia on the name issue. Mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris was absent from this rally, which led to insults and posters subsequently put up around the city calling Boutaris a “closet Jew!”

On January 22, NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) filed a judicial complaint against local governments, Orthodox priests, and media for propagating the custom of the “burning of Judas” during Orthodox Easter celebrations. GHM listed 69 different cities, parishes, and media outlets that organized and advertised this custom, which was repeatedly criticized by KIS for perpetuating anti-Semitism and officially denounced by the Orthodox Church. No outcome of this complaint was publicized by year’s end.

On March 10, police arrested four of the seven alleged members of the extreme-right group “Combat 18 Hellas.” The criminal group was accused of involvement in explosions, arson attacks, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments. A trial had not begun by year’s end.

On April 27, a Thessaloniki misdemeanor court sentenced unofficial mufti of Xanthi Ahmet Mete to eight months in prison for making racist and anti-Semitic comments. In a 2014 speech, Mete stated that, “Our brothers suffer in Gaza, because of Israel. Curse on Israel. They were turned into soap by the Germans, and Hitler was right when he said that you might get mad at me now [for annihilating the Jews] but one day I will be vindicated for [what I did to] the Jews.” On May 6, despite his recent conviction, Mete gave a public address in which he accused Jews of being “murderers of infants,” and told followers that religion requires Muslims who see “an evil action [to] change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot, then hate him with his heart.”

On May 4, unknown vandals destroyed nine marble stones in the Jewish section of a historic Athens cemetery. President of the Athens Jewish Community Minos Moissis called the destruction “the most severe incident [of anti-Semitism] in Athens in the past 15 years.” The mayor of Athens, the secretary generals for religious affairs and human rights, and all mainstream political parties condemned the vandalism and participated in a ceremony of solidarity with the Jewish community in the cemetery. Moissis told the press that police immediately gathered evidence and filed charges.

In a June 8 interview, Mayor of Argos-Mycenae Dimitris Kamposos criticized Boutaris for his position on certain domestic issues. Mayor Kampossos said that Boutaris gets away with supporting LGBT rights because “he is liked by the Jews,” and added “we, on the other hand, cannot say what we want because we have never worn the kippah.” Kamposos was expelled from the New Democracy party and the party spokesman said it would “not tolerate any bigoted and dividing speech by any party officials.”

On July 11, unknown perpetrators desecrated and threw paint on a monument marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery inside the Aristotle University campus in Thessaloniki. The university, government officials, and opposition party members denounced the act. There were at least five other similar examples of vandalism targeting Jewish monuments.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services such as special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported that government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent. There were no reported instances of police or other government officials inciting, perpetuating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities. Most children with disabilities had the option of attending mainstream or specialized schools, unless their disability was so significant they could not function in a mainstream classroom.

According to the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the dropout rate for students with disabilities was 30 percent. Only about 59 percent of disabled students were able to finish middle school.

Persons with disabilities, including children, continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, which the law mandates they should have, particularly to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and public transportation vehicles. While the law allows service animals to accompany blind individuals in all mass transit and eating establishments, blind activists maintained that they occasionally faced difficulties accessing public transportation, places, and services. On May 9, the president of the Association of Paraplegic Individuals stated to media that national railway employees prohibited him from traveling by train in his electric wheelchair and he was only able to travel after referring his concerns to the deputy minister of transport. On March 1, the legal representative of an association of families with autistic members reported on social media that after an institution near Piraeus port closed, about 30 autistic residents were transferred to another facility, which was unsafe and equipped with inadequate staff. Association members uploaded photos of the residents in restraints. On March 3, the same legal representative also told media that one resident died from a lung infection associated with stress after the transfer. Government officials publicly committed to improve conditions after his death; no further information was available at year’s end.

In his 2017 antidiscrimination report, the ombudsman described helping a totally blind individual obtain a handicapped parking pass for his vehicle, driven by his wife. Although the law does not explicitly provide handicapped parking spaces for blind individuals, the ombudsman intervened with municipal authorities to help them provide the parking pass under other statutes and to help them design regulations to govern similar requests.

On January 8 and February 28, the government launched new special education facilities in two separate locations around Athens; a special education primary and nursery school and a special education vocational school. On May 11, the deputy minister for education, research, and religions reported that 23 new special education schools had been established around the country. On July 18, the parliament passed legislation allowing third country nationals who hold residence permits on humanitarian grounds to receive disability allowances.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minorities, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.

Although the government recognized an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some members of these groups unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Turk and Turkish when based on ethnicity grounds, although individuals may legally call themselves Turks, and associations using those terms were not prohibited from operating. Government officials and courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian in identifying themselves, stating that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian in their self-identification.

The government officially recognized a Muslim minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, consisting of approximately 100,000-120,000 persons descended from Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature and including ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that ethnically Turkish members of the Muslim minority pressured them to deny the Pomak and Roma ethnicities were distinct from Turkish and provided monetary incentives to encourage them to say they were ethnically Turkish. The government operated 148 primary schools and two secondary schools in the Thrace region that provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish. The government also operated two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Some representatives of the Muslim minority said these facilities were inadequate to cover their needs.

Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police and alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling. On May 3, opposition MP Thanassis Davakis stated while addressing an audience in Sparta, “I plea and forbid any Gypsy and the rest of them to vote for me, whatever the political cost… Whoever from this social group votes for me, I won’t recognize them… I am sorry to say that, I am sorry for the little children born to these people without being asked to and for the situation the children find themselves in.” Davakis later apologized.

Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children remained problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools.

In cooperation with local authorities, the government announced on April 25 plans to assist Roma campers in moving to organized temporary living quarters, beginning with 45 Roma families residing in the Delphi area.

The Hellenic Police’s “Center for Security Studies” continued to implement a two-year program funded by the European Commission for the co-training of 378 police staff members with Romani cultural mediators aimed at countering mutual stereotypes and fighting Romani social exclusion.

RVRN documented 34 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2017. Fourteen of these incidents were reported to police.

Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants by far-right groups, including alleged supporters of Golden Dawn (GD), whose members of parliament publicly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views. The trial of 69 GD members, including 18 current and former members of parliament, continued. They were charged with weapons crimes and operating a criminal enterprise.

On March 23, right-wing extremist group Krypteia claimed responsibility for a March 22 arson attack on an Afghan community center in central Athens that caused significant damage but no injuries. According to press reports, assailants poured flammable liquid on the door of the community center and flames spread inside, damaging desks, tables, and computers. UNHCR condemned the attack, commenting that the center had been full of persons, including children, not long before the attack and called for steps to protect refugees and migrants. On April 2, the secretary general for human rights asked the Supreme Court head prosecutor to investigate the case.

On June 6, in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Ministry of Justice held a workshop on “Building a Comprehensive Criminal Justice Response to Hate Crime.” During the workshop, authorities signed an agreement for interagency cooperation on these issues, including the establishment of a national hate crime database and continued capacity building for prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

On October 16, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered a special investigation to determine whether a fire in June at a makeshift migrant workers’ camp in the agricultural area of Manolada was motivated by racism.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons when seeking housing, employment, naturalization, and government services such as health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting racist and hate crimes include crimes targeting LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in their mandates. LGBTI activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to lack of trust. Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem, and societal discrimination and harassment were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals. LGBTI refugees and migrants reported incidents of rape, physical violence, and discrimination perpetrated by other refugees and migrants, and reported that authorities and NGOs did not adequately investigate these crimes.

RVRN reported in 2017 “the assaults recorded against LGBTI persons outnumbered all other types of assault but had decreased slightly.” RVRN did not record any incidents involving severe physical violence but only incidents of milder forms of violence and instances of repeated violence against the same individuals, including verbal abuse and personal injuries. RVRN reiterated observations from recent years about a firm tendency of perpetrators to target LGBTI activists and about the LGBTI community’s lack of trust in police. RVRN also noted an upward trend of cyber and social media attacks on individuals due to their LGBTI status. In 2017 RVRN recorded 29 incidents of attacks based on sexual orientation and another 18 based on gender identity. Five of these incidents resulted in injuries. According to RVRN organizations, only six of these 47 incidents were reported to police.

On September 21, a well-known LGBTI activist was beaten and killed in downtown Athens. On October 16, the Supreme Court prosecutor ordered an investigation and charged the two men who initiated the violence with grievous bodily harm. In December, after the final autopsy, four police officers accused of beating the activist while he was lying on the pavement to be handcuffed were charged with inflicting fatal bodily harm that resulted in the activist’s death.

On June 6, the NGO “Transgender Support Association” (SYD) issued a press statement denouncing the exclusion of transgender individuals from the police cadet recruitment process based on the assertion that they suffer from psychosexual disorders. SYD urged the Ministry of Interior and Hellenic Police to remove this exclusion because it violated the equal treatment law and stigmatized and offended transgender individuals.

On May 22, media reported on research findings from LGBTI rights advocacy youth group “Color Youth.” Color Youth conducted a survey among students to assess the prevalence of homophobia in schools, which found that about 85 percent of surveyed students attached a negative connotation to the word “gay;” 96 percent said they had heard comments about students not acting “in a manly way;” and approximately 75 percent said they had heard transphobic comments. Overall, one in three students said they have experienced some form of verbal harassment related to their perceived gender identity.

Unmarried transgender individuals over the age of 15 may update identity documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The law requires that a judge validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. On June 4, SYD issued a press statement that judicial officials often failed to properly apply this law; SYD alleged that judges did not always secure the necessary privacy for the hearing and often used derogatory language and employed an intimidating stance toward transgender individuals and their lawyers.

On June 26, media reported that a civil court in Thessaloniki accepted a refugee transgender woman’s request that her asylum papers and residence permit reflect her gender identity. The Hellenic League for Human Rights, an NGO that supported the applicant in filing her claim with the court, called this a “pioneer decision” given the fact that the 2017 law did not openly grant this right to transgender individuals whose birth was not registered in the country.

The 14th Athens Pride Parade took place in June without incident. At the start of the seventh annual LGBTI Pride parade in Thessaloniki, two gay men were pushed into the sea. Six days later, media reported that police had launched an investigation into the incident. Twenty-two locally based Christian associations announced that they would boycott businesses sponsoring the Thessaloniki Pride event.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of HIV-positive individuals, societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV/AIDS were exempt from serving in the armed forces on medical grounds. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision. There were also no reports of employment discrimination in the private or civil service sectors on the grounds of HIV/AIDS during the year. In 2017 a court in Athens ruled there was no obligation for HIV-positive individuals with a low viral load to disclose their condition, provided they followed their treatment plans and took precautionary measures. The court acquitted an HIV-positive male accused by his female partner of intentionally trying to transmit the disease to her by not revealing his medical condition.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of members of the military services, to form and join independent unions, conduct their activities without interference, and strike. Armed forces personnel have the right to form unions but not to strike. Police have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.

The law does not allow trade unions in enterprises with fewer than 20 workers and places restrictions on labor arbitration mechanisms. The law also generally protects the right to bargain collectively but restricts that right for persons under the age of 25. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows company-level agreements to take precedence over sector-level collective agreements in the private sector. Civil servants negotiate and conclude collective agreements with the government on all matters except salaries.

Only the trade unions may call strikes. A strike may be considered unlawful if certain conditions and procedures are not observed, but also in the light of the proportionality principle, which enables courts to decide in each case whether the anticipated benefit from the strike is greater than the economic damage to the employer.

There are some legal restrictions on strikes, including a mandatory four-day notification requirement for public utility and transportation workers and a 24-hour notification requirement for private-sector workers. The law mandates minimum staff levels during strikes affecting public services. The law also gives authorities the right to commandeer services in national emergencies through civil mobilization orders. Anyone receiving a civil mobilization order is obliged to comply or face a prison sentence of at least three months. The law exempts individuals with a documented physical or mental disability from civil mobilization. The law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation. The government passed legislation on January 17 requiring at least half of the members of a first-level union to endorse a strike for it to be held. Previously, only a third of members were required to vote for a strike for it to be held.

The government generally protected the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining, which provide for fines of 3,000 euros ($3,450) and minimum three-month prison sentences, reportedly were insufficient to deter violations in all cases. Courts may declare a strike illegal for reasons including failure to respect internal authorization processes and secure minimum staff levels, failure to give adequate advance notice of the strike, and introduction of new demands during the course of the strike. Unions complained that this deterred some members from participating in strikes. Administrative and judicial procedures to resolve labor problems were generally subject to lengthy delays and appeals. On February 2, media reported on a court decision removing a company’s union from the official registry. The court found that six of the 24 employees who had signed the union’s founding declaration were not on the payroll at the time the union was officially registered. Employees argued that the company was purposely hiring staff on a seasonal basis in order to exercise pressure and restrict their labor rights.

There were reports of antiunion discrimination. On January 26, media reported that an employee at a Thessaloniki airport business was allegedly fired for participating in a January 12 strike. Media also reported that the Board of the General Mining and Metallurgical Company (LARCO) suspended employees who participated in the January 12 strike from work for a week. Employees claimed that employers explicitly told them that they were punished for striking.

On April 25, the Union of Journalists suspended membership of 10 journalists working for “SKAI” media because they did not take part in a strike conducted on October 24 and 25. The suspensions ranged from six months to one year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides additional protections for children, limiting their work hours and their work under certain conditions. Although several government entities, including the police antitrafficking unit, worked to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking, there were reports of forced labor of women, children, and men, mostly in the agricultural sector. Forced begging (also see section 7.c.) mostly occurred in metropolitan areas and populous islands, focusing on popular metro stations, squares, and meeting places. Penalties for violations included more than 10 years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 euros ($115,000) but were not sufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age is 12 in family businesses, theaters, and cinemas. A presidential decree permits children who are 15 or older to engage in hazardous work in certain circumstances, such as when it is necessary as part of vocational or professional training; in this case a worker should be monitored by a safety technician or a medical doctor. Hazardous work includes work that exposes workers to toxic and cancer-producing elements, radiation, and similar conditions.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, with penalties for violators ranging from fines to imprisonment. Information is not available on whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Employers generally observed child labor laws in the formal economy. Trade unions, however, alleged that enforcement was inadequate due to the inspectorate’s understaffing, and that the government did not adequately protect exploited children. On June 14, a researcher affiliated with the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) think tank reported 39,000 officially employed minors, 1,700 of which were migrants and refugees. The report found that the legislative framework punishing labor exploitation was adequate in terms of sufficient penalties, but prosecutors made no effort to identify when and where violations occurred.

Child labor was a problem in the informal economy. Younger family members often assisted families in agriculture, food service, and merchandising on at least a part-time basis. Family members compelled some children to beg, pick pockets, or sell merchandise on the street, or trafficked them for the same purposes. The government and NGOs reported the majority of such beggars were indigenous Roma or Bulgarian, Romanian, or Albanian Roma. There were reports that unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and worked mainly in the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing sectors. On June 11, NGO ARSIS reported there were approximately 300 minors selling small items or begging on street corners in Thessaloniki.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties provided by law were not sufficient to deter violators. Penalties included prison sentences up to three years and fines up to 5,000 euros ($5,750). Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex (including pregnancy), disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity occurred. There was discrimination against migrant workers (see section 7.e.).

On June 29, media reported that a store allegedly fired an employee after 10 years of service because she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. On April 24, a union of employees denounced “the unlawful and abusive dismissal” of a pregnant woman who was working at a pastry shop. The employee claimed the employer was treating her as “sick,” using derogatory language, and changing her responsibilities to encourage her to resign. The employee filed three complaints with the Labor Inspectorate about the employer’s behavior and her dismissal. On January 30, media reported that a first instance court in Piraeus ruled that the burden for proving a dismissal’s lawfulness fell on the employers and employees need not prove it unlawful, noting that there should be a well-grounded reason linked with the employee’s behavior or ability or the operational needs of the business.

In its 2017 report on equal treatment, the ombudsman found that pregnancy and maternity tend to consistently place working women at a disadvantage, as their absence from work for those reasons generally results in negative consequences for their employment rights, despite the increased legal protection provided to them for these particular periods of their lives. The ombudsman also noted women working in high-ranking jobs who return to their positions following maternity leave should legally return to the same job or an equivalent one. In practice, however, women often found themselves demoted when they returned to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage in the private sector for unspecialized workers age 25 or older was 26.18 euros ($30.11) per day and for workers below 25 years of age, 84 percent of that amount, or 22.83 euros ($26.25) per day. These wages were above the poverty income level. The government did not always enforce wage laws effectively, and penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations.

The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on the amount of overtime work which, based on conditions, may exceed eight hours in a week. The law regarding overtime work requires premium pay, and employers must submit information to the Ministry of Labor for authorization. Premium pay ranged from 20 to 80 percent of the daily wage, based on the total number of extra hours and the day (Sundays, holidays, etc.), and whether it was night service. Employers also provided compensatory time off. These provisions were not always effectively enforced in all sectors, particularly in tourism, catering services, retail businesses, agriculture, the informal economy, or for domestic or migrant workers.

Wage laws were not always enforced. Unions and media alleged that some private businesses were forcing their employees to return part of their wages and mandatory seasonal bonuses, in cash, after depositing them in the bank. On January 19, media reported the arrest of an employer caught asking his employee to return his Christmas bonus. On January 9, two employees in Larissa claimed they were dismissed because they refused to return their Christmas bonuses. Other employees were forced to falsely declare and sign that they had received their bonuses, although they had not. Several employees were officially registered as part-timers but in essence worked additional hours without being paid. Overtime work was not always registered officially and paid accordingly. In other cases employees were paid after months of delay and oftentimes with coupons and not in cash. Cases of employment for up to 30 consecutive days of work without weekends off were also reported. Such violations were mostly noted in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping services sectors.

The law provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety, setting the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations on occupational safety and health experts and not the workers. Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the labor inspectorate regarding hazardous working conditions and to remove themselves from such situations without jeopardizing their employment. Owners who repeatedly violate the law concerning undeclared work or safety could face temporary closure of their businesses. Under the same law, employers were obliged to declare in advance their employees’ overtime work or changes in their work schedules. The legislation also provided for social and welfare benefits to be granted to surrogate mothers, including protection from dismissal during pregnancy and after childbirth. Courts were required to examine complaints filed by employees against their employers for delayed payment within two months after their filing, and to issue decisions within 30 days after the hearing.

On January 19, media reported that a Greek member of the European Parliament (MEP) reported to the European Commission that labor accidents in Greece had increased 10 percent since 2010, according to statistics from the Hellenic Federation of Associations of Labor Inspectorates. The MEP said that the actual number was higher as many such accidents were going unreported.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of labor legislation. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for all concerns regarding occupational safety and health at the national level. The Directorate of Security and Health in Labor, under the General Directorate for Labor and Labor Inclusion, and the Labor Inspectorate are the principal competent government authorities. The inspectorate’s mandate includes the private and public sectors, except for domestic employment, mining, and marine shipping (which fall under the Ministry of Economy, Development, and Tourism and the Ministry of Maritime and Island Policy). Labor experts characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the Labor Inspectorate was inadequate.

The number of inspectors authorized to conduct labor inspections reportedly exceeded 1,000, including labor inspectorate personnel and staff of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security, and Social Solidarity, the Social Insurance Fund, the Economic Crimes Division of the police, and the independent Authority for Public Revenue. Despite government efforts to increase inspections for undeclared, under-declared, and unpaid work, trade unions and media alleged that enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the shipping, tourism, and agricultural sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among enterprises employing 10 or fewer persons. According to a survey carried out for the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), nine in 10 employees in the private sector faced worsening labor conditions in the years of the debt crisis. Private sector workers seem to be suffering more than public servants as the percentage of wage earners with net monthly wages in the private sector dropped at a higher rate than the public sector within the past nine years.

Businesses found hiring undeclared employees were closed by the authorities for a few days and if repeatedly found violating the law the business could be permanently closed. Employers who hire undeclared employees can face fines up to 10,500 euros ($12,075) for each undeclared employee. A new law passed on July 18 imposes double fines on employers for repeat offenses within three years and triple fines for subsequent offenses. Employers can receive discounts on fines by hiring the undeclared staff on a long-term, full-time basis within 10 days of the fine’s imposition. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor conducted inspections of 36,683 businesses in all sectors of the economy. Of these businesses, 5,357 were employing a total of 8,335 undeclared staff. Authorities imposed fines amounting to 88.1 million euros ($101 million).

On July 16, the minister of labor signed a decision to provide freelance and self-employed individuals (lawyers, engineers, doctors) with certain unemployment benefits with conditions. The benefit can be up to 360 euros ($414) per month and payable for a period of three to nine months.

On July 18, the government also passed legislation holding contractors, sub-contractors, and those commissioning work equally responsible during the completion of work, enabling employees to demand payment, social insurance contributions, or other claims.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In January 2016 James Ernesto Morales Cabrera of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

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

Human rights issues included reports of harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats thereof targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, persons with disabilities, and members of other minority groups; and use of forced or compulsory or child labor.

Corruption and inadequate investigations made prosecution difficult, and impunity continued to be widespread. Parts of the government collaborated with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) (an entity created by agreement between the government and the UN) to prosecute the worst forms of corruption. On August 31, however, President Morales announced he would not renew the CICIG mandate, which expires in September 2019. On September 4, authorities barred CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez from re-entry for reasons of “national security.” The government asked CICIG to transfer capacity to the Public Ministry by the end of its mandate.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the Public Ministry as well as the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide by police.

At least nine rural, indigenous activists and human rights defenders were killed or died under disputed circumstances between May and September. Some of the killings appeared to be politically motivated, and all of the cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

In 2017 two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case for retrial. On April 1, Rios Montt died before the trial concluded. On September 26, a high-risk court–created in 2009 to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individuals involved in the case–ruled that genocide and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against the indigenous Ixil community between 1982 and 1983, but a majority of the three-judge panel found Rodriguez not guilty and attributed responsibility for genocide to the military high command, including the then president, minister of defense, and defense chief of staff.

The 1982 Dos Erres massacre case against Rios Montt did not conclude due to Rios Montt’s death in April. The Dos Erres trial against former special forces officer Santos Lopez Alonzo opened on October 1. On November 21, a high-risk court sentenced Lopez to 5,160 years in prison for the massacre of 171 persons.

As of November the government had paid approximately 95 percent of the 200 million quetzals ($26.7 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. On May 23, a high-risk court sentenced four high-ranking former military officers to 58 years in prison each for rape, forced disappearance, and crimes against humanity in the Molina Theissen case. Prosecutors had charged the group in 2016 for the 1981 forced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen in retaliation for his sister’s escape from their captivity. The conviction of high-ranking former military officers for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict was unprecedented.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment but there were reports alleging government workers employed them at the Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health (see section 6). The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that documentation and reporting mechanisms for torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment remain weak, thereby hindering a full understanding of the prevalence of the issue.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of September 24, according to prison authorities, there were 24,314 inmates, including 2,645 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, inmate possession of firearms and grenades, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. According to prison authorities, from January through August 31, at least 14 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison. On April 27, a riot at Granja Penal Canada Prison left eight inmates dead and 25 injured. On August 20, a separate riot at Granja de Rehabilitacion Cantel Prison left four inmates dead and four injured. Both riots started with a fight between two gangs inside the prison. On September 30, a riot at Pavoncito Prison left seven inmates dead and four wounded.

Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In November 2017 a judge indicted 17 individuals in connection with the 2016 killing of 14 inmates in Pavon Prison; the case remained pending at year’s end.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children younger than age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. LGBTI rights groups stated other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. NGOs claimed admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners were not implemented, noting particular concern regarding procedures for transgender individuals. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

In March 2017 authorities opened the first corrections center based on a new model to address corruption and overcrowding. In January the new minister of government, Enrique Degenhart, implemented significant changes, including a complete overhaul of the previously vetted and trained leadership of the new correctional model, which undermined the model’s effectiveness and hindered adult penitentiary system reforms.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to holding nonviolent juvenile offenders with violent adult offenders. As of September 25, there were 753 inmates in the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility designed for 525 individuals. More than 30 percent of the inmates had not been sentenced and were awaiting trials.

Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of three NOPT rapporteurs by more than 16 months, finally appointing them on August 1, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted deficiencies in the NOPT mechanism and the selection process for the three NOPT rapporteurs.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution. On March 31, the defense ministry withdrew 4,500 personnel from street patrols to concentrate its forces on the borders. The drawdown process began in 2016.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. On August 31, the Ministry of Government, with the support of the Ministry of Defense, deployed a convoy of armed jeeps at various points in the capital, including in front of an embassy, CICIG headquarters, and a prominent local human rights organization. The jeeps were mobilized from Interagency Task Forces and were donated for the purpose of counternarcotics operations. Local NGOs pointed out the jeep deployment coincided with President Morales’ announcement he would not extend the CICIG mandate and was intended as a show of force, intimidation, and an attempt to repress civil society.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. On May 20, Police Reform Commissioner Adela Torrebiarte resigned, alleging that the Ministry of Government purposefully blocked police reform initiatives.

The ORP reported that from January through August, there were six complaints of police extortion and 135 for abuse of authority, compared with 17 and 290, respectively, during the same period in 2017. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 362 complaints of misconduct by police.

All new PNC and soldiers receive training in human rights and professional ethics. The Ministry of Defense Human Rights Directorate collaborated with other government human rights offices to provide internal and interagency human rights trainings to soldiers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pretrial detention, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 31, prison system records indicated 52 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pretrial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Observers noted the slow pace of investigations, lack of judicial resources, and a culture of indifference to detainee rights hampered efforts to reduce pretrial detention and illegal incarceration. Authorities did not release some prisoners after they completed their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays. Former medical school dean Jesus Oliva committed suicide on June 11 after having been in trial detention since May 2015, most of that in pretrial detention before his trial opened in August 2017. A few days before his death, Oliva’s attorney requested house arrest for him because he suffered depression, but a judge rejected the request. Oliva was charged in a corruption case involving the government health system that concluded on September 26. Other defendants in the case were sentenced to six years in prison and immediately released on bail after having already served more than three years in prison.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system generally failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 157 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 129 through August 2017.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining for minor offenses with short-term prison sentences and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies and a legal system that often permits spurious complaints. The judiciary estimated the country had a ratio of 2.46 judges for every 100,000 inhabitants, which international and domestic observers considered insufficient.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In 2016 President Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case remained under investigation by the Public Ministry. In August a local newspaper published an investigative series alleging that former president Otto Perez Molina created an illegal surveillance network in 2012 to listen to calls, mirror mobile phones, and access social media accounts. According to the article, the Ministry of Government dismantled the network in 2015.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

On September 12, the congressional spokesperson reported that more than 2,100 police were present at Congress during a commemoration of the country’s independence, led by President Morales. A protest scheduled to converge at Congress on the same day was not able to approach the perimeters of Congress. The heavy police presence ostensibly serving as presidential security and crowd control received widespread criticism and media as a form of intimidation against the protesters. Civil society groups expressed concern over the presence of Kaibiles, military special forces who were implicated in war crimes during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960-96.

On September 14, when President Morales and his cabinet attended a ceremony at the cathedral on the central plaza, NGOs and journalists accused the government of using excessive security measures to intimidate citizens and restrict their right to assemble. Observers stated security measures included the deployment of antiriot military police; the registration of all pedestrians entering the plaza, including children; and excessive security checks. On September 14, a Public Ministry prosecutor stated publicly he would investigate for possible violations of freedom of movement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

An immigration law in effect since 2017 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end. Government agencies made limited progress in implementing the Protection Council mandated by the new migration code, which would support the protection, reception, and reintegration of returned children.

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, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, including during the mid-October surge of Central American migrants that passed through the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change and natural disasters. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized as IDPs 400 farmers the government evicted from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 2017. Media and civil society groups reported the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 James Ernesto Morales Cabrera of the National Convergence Front party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president in January 2016. An Organization of American States international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections and petitioned for immunity reviews against two parties’ secretaries general, including President Morales. An additional immunity review from 2017 against Morales for illicit campaign financing remained pending.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural practices, in addition to discrimination and institutional bias, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous female member on the Constitutional Court and one on the Supreme Court. In September the first and only female indigenous cabinet member, former labor minister Leticia Teleguario, resigned, citing personal reasons and not being able to continue supporting originally prioritized policies. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling one-third (113 of 333) of the mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry, with support from CICIG, investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.

Corruption: On February 13, the Public Ministry brought charges against former president Alvaro Colom and nine former members of his cabinet after a long-running investigation into fraud involving a bus system in Guatemala City known as Transurbano. Prosecutors claimed that in local currency equaling approximately $35 million, government funds were paid to a consortium of private bus companies in charge of the Transurbano system in a deal approved by Colom’s cabinet without proper legal oversight. According to prosecutors, almost one-third of the money was spent on equipment that was never used. On March 1, a judge found sufficient evidence to charge the defendants, and Colom and the former members of his cabinet were placed under house arrest.

On January 20, the Public Ministry, accompanied by CICIG personnel, conducted raids as part of an investigation of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, which allegedly paid local currency worth $17.9 million in bribes to local officials. The investigation led to charges against former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon, who was detained in Florida on an international arrest warrant on September 18 on separate money laundering and conspiracy charges. Baldizon was accused of accepting inn local currency at least $1.3 million in bribes from Odebrecht to help it win public works contracts. Authorities also sought the arrest of former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, who allegedly distributed the bribes and embezzled at least nine million dollars. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive and was implicated in another case of bribery and influence peddling linked to former president Otto Perez Molina’s administration.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,070) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

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

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

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists, however, reported threats, violence, and intimidation. The local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported 24 killings of human rights defenders from January through October. The NGO also reported 303 attacks against human rights defenders from January through September, compared with 493 attacks in all of 2017. According to human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate the reports or prevent further incidents.

NGOs also reported the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation. UDEFEGUA reported 158 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders from January through August.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The PDH monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to Congress. The government cooperated generally with the ombudsman. The office operated independently and issued public reports and recommendations, including an annual report to Congress on the fulfillment of its mandate. NGOs generally considered the PDH to be an effective institution with limitations in rural areas due to lack of resources.

The President’s Commission on Human Rights (COPREDEH) formulates and promotes human rights policy. COPREDEH also led coordination of police protection for human rights and labor activists. COPREDEH generally benefited from the administration’s cooperation and operated without political or party interference. Some NGOs claimed the COPREDEH was not an effective interlocutor on human rights issues.

The Congressional Committee on Human Rights drafts and provides guidance on legislation regarding human rights. The law requires all political parties represented in Congress to have a representative on the committee. Some NGOs did not consider the committee to be an effective forum for human rights promotion and protection.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. In March the Public Ministry established a 24-hour victim service center to provide medical, psychosocial, and legal support to victims, including restraining orders for their immediate protection. On August 6, in compliance with a finding from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Public Ministry launched the Isabel-Claudina Alert, a national alert system for finding disappeared women. According to the Public Ministry, 428 women were reported missing via the alert through November 26, with 294 women found and 134 alerts remaining active.

The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem. Unknown assailants murdered indigenous Maya women’s rights leader Juana Ramirez in Nebaj on September 21. The PDH reported Ramirez and her organization, the Ixil Women’s Network, had received multiple death threats for supporting female victims of violence.

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained serious problems. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender. There were numerous examples of the PNC’s failure to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence. As of September 8, the PNC reported 48 open investigations against PNC officials for violence or discrimination against women or children.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread. On June 18, former minister of foreign affairs Edgar Gutierrez alleged that President Morales had abused at least one young women. Civil society expressed concern about the allegations, but no formal abuse charges were filed against President Morales. Gutierrez did not make public the evidence he claimed to have.

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

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions. Two women in high-level government positions claimed critics often used gender to undermine their credibility publicly or privately block their ability to do their jobs.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While primary education is compulsory through age 14, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported 8,930 reports of minor abuse of all types, more than triple the number from the same period last year. The ministry reported 82 convictions for child abuse from January through August.

The NGO Mutual Support Group (GAM) reported 417 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide from January through June. While deaths of minors decreased overall, GAM reported an increase in the number of girls killed compared with the same period in the previous year. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youths reported young persons detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities and in the Lev Tahor religious community. UNICEF reported 30 percent of women ages 20 to 24 years were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and the PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. A new Regional Unit against Trafficking in Persons responsible for eight departments in the Western Highlands was launched in April, expanding the government’s investigative capacity against child pornography actors. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, including in privately run orphanages.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, extortion, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities.

Institutionalized Children: As of September more than 500 children and adolescents lived in shelters run by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). The Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET) continued temporarily to manage three shelters for children and adolescents, each with a capacity for 30 children. A government-mandated transfer of the three SVET shelters to SBS had not taken place by late November.

Overcrowding was common in shelters, and federal funding for orphanages remained limited. Local and international human rights organizations, including Disability Rights International, raised concerns that child abuse was rampant. A July investigative report claimed children with disabilities were consistently mistreated and neglected, including by being locked in cages. The Public Ministry received 22 formal reports of abuse or mistreatment of institutionalized minors during the year. In April adolescents rioted in a shelter, denouncing abuse by SBS employees and improper living conditions.

A March 2017 fire at the Hogar Seguro orphanage resulted in the deaths of 41 girls and severe injuries for 14 others. Authorities charged seven individuals with murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, and abuse against minors in relation to the deaths of the 41 girls. Among those facing charges were former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas, former deputy secretary for protection and shelter Anahi Keller, and former shelter director Santos Torres. Trials continued, but there had been no convictions. On August 22, Congress approved a monthly government pension for the 15 survivors of the fire. The government did not make significant structural changes to the national shelter system, however.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. In July, Congress published the Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons in braille, the first time a law was translated into braille and published.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. Media and human rights organizations reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.

Multiple local NGOs raised concerns over the killings of at least nine indigenous leaders from May through September. According to Public Ministry investigations and NGO assessments, at least three of the leaders killed may have been targeted because of their political involvement and advocacy for indigenous rights. The ministry was in the process of forming a technical working group charged with investigating the killings.

Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. On September 3, the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines to hold International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169-compliant consultations with Xinka populations, upholding the suspension of the operating license of Tahoe Resources’ San Rafael Mine until after conclusion of the consultations. Previously, businesses carried out consultations independently without government oversight. A 2017 ruling allowed a hydroelectric project to continue operations concurrently during consultations led by the energy and mines ministry.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. Government agencies dedicated to supporting indigenous rights lacked political support. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty and malnutrition among most indigenous populations.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that security authorities lacked familiarity with indigenous norms and practices and this engendered misunderstandings. PNC and indigenous leaders in the Western Highlands worked together to establish 37 model police precincts to better serve indigenous-majority communities, reduce violence, expand government services, and establish rule of law. The PNC established substations in three indigenous villages, Salacuim, Teleman, and Tierra Blanca, at the request of communities.

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

The law does not extend specific antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Efforts to pass laws against such discrimination, including a gender identity law, encountered severe opposition among legislators. LGBTI human rights groups stated police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals whom they alleged to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government made minimal efforts to address this discrimination. Sandra Moran, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, was harassed and intimidated based on her sexual orientation. Several attacks targeted journalists for supposed membership in the LGBTI community. LGBTI activists groups reported increased social media attacks against them following President Morales’ August 31 decision to end CICIG’s mandate. PNC officials visited one local LGBTI NGO’s office on September 8, which the group claimed was an intimidation attempt.

According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association reported that from April 20 through November 11, 19 LGBTI persons were killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. In May major media outlets reported that an unknown assailant shot and killed two LGBTI persons inside a home in Guatemala City. The case remained under investigation. The NGO Somos reported 35 violent attacks against LGBTI individuals during the year. LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through “corrective rape,” although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law includes HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, however, despite efforts by the Ministry of Health to address it. Forms of discrimination included being required by some government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving services at some public hospitals and clinics and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was particularly common and affected access to HIV-prevention programs, especially for transgender individuals.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported three persons were killed and 41 injured in public assaults by vigilante groups from January through June.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law, however, places some restrictions on these rights. For example, legal recognition of an industrywide union requires that the membership constitute a majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A strike must have the support of the majority of a company’s workforce. Workers are not restricted to membership in one union or one industry.

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation.

The law prohibits employer retaliation against workers engaged in legal strikes. If authorities do not recognize a strike as legal, employers may suspend or terminate workers for absence without leave. A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in the factory or business are union members and request negotiations. Once a strike occurs, companies are required to close during negotiations. Strikes have been extremely rare, but work stoppages were common.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws or reinstate workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. The Public Ministry was ineffective in responding to labor court referrals for criminal prosecution in cases where employers refused to comply with labor court orders. Inspectors often lacked vehicles or fuel to carry out inspections, and in some cases they failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors access to facilities. Inspectors were encouraged to seek police assistance as required. Inspections were generally not comprehensive, and if complaint driven, focused on investigating the alleged violation, rather than attempting to maximize limited resources to determine compliance beyond the individual complaint. Penalties for labor law violations were inadequate and rarely enforced.

In June 2017 passage of Decree 07-2017 restored sanction authority to the Ministry of Labor. Business groups complained the shortened time frame to investigate and verify compliance with Ministry of Labor remediation orders resulted in more cases being referred to the labor courts, without an opportunity to conciliate. The ministry indicated it had collected 1.06 million quetzals in fines ($141,000), but the lack of information about the law’s implementation made it difficult to assess its impact on improving labor law enforcement.

The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit has increased, but successful prosecutions remained a challenge. The government reported some 2,000 cases involving noncompliance with labor court orders were under investigation.

An ILO special representative continued to monitor the 2013 roadmap, which includes indicators on increased compliance with reinstatement orders, increased prosecution of perpetrators of violence against trade unionists, reforms to national legislation to conform to Convention 87, and unimpeded registration of trade unions. In November 2017 a tripartite agreement was reached at the ILO, which calls for the formation of a National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association, which would monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2013 ILO roadmap and its 2015 indicators. The commission would report, annually to the governing board and publicly, on progress implementing the ILO roadmap until 2020. In addition to establishing the commission, the parties also committed to submitting to Congress a consensus legislative proposal that would address the long-standing ILO recommendations on freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike.

The tripartite commission was established in February, but a lack of consensus remained between employers and workers on legislation seeking to address long-standing ILO recommendations related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, particularly in industry-wide unions. The Ministry of Government convened the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders, including trade unionists, on a regular basis. NGO participants complained the ministry imposed restrictions on civil society participation in the committee and reduced working-level officials’ authorities to respond to attacks.

Despite these efforts, the country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas related to the roadmap, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials; passage of legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; and raising awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in the apparel and textile industries. The ILO also called for greater compliance with reinstatement orders in cases of antiunion dismissals. Based in large part on the 2017 tripartite agreement, the ILO Governing Body closed the case in November.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, with four killings of trade unionists, 20 documented threats, and two violent attacks reported during the year. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and by often discarding trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowed these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation. The Public Ministry reported one conviction during the year related to a trade unionist killed in 2012.

Procedural hurdles, union formation restrictions, and impunity for employers refusing to receive or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government statistics on attempted union registrations indicated most registrations were initially rejected, and when they were issued, it was done outside the legally established period. In addition credentials of union leaders were regularly rejected and delayed. As a result union members were left without additional protections against antiunion retaliation.

Employers routinely resisted union formation attempts, delayed or only partially complied with agreements resulting from direct negotiations, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, and threats of factory closures. Local unions reported businesses used fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such practices.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively in some cases. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties were inadequate and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government had specialized police and prosecutors handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. In July 2017 the Public Ministry arrested two sisters who forced six children to beg in the streets for money. The case remained pending at year’s end. There were also other reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law bars employment of minors younger than age 14, although it allows the Ministry of Labor to authorize children younger than age 14 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or beyond the number of hours permitted. The legal workday for persons younger than age 14 is six hours; for persons ages 14 to 17, the legal workday is seven hours.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Worker Protection Unit is responsible for enforcing restrictions on child labor and educating minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law, a situation exacerbated by the weakness of the labor inspection and labor court systems. The government devoted insufficient resources to prevention programs.

Child labor was a widespread problem. The NGO Conrad Project Association of the Cross estimated the workforce included approximately one million children ages five to 17. Most child labor occurred in rural indigenous areas of extreme poverty. The informal and agricultural sectors regularly employed children younger than age 14, usually in small family enterprises, including in the production of broccoli, coffee, corn, fireworks, gravel, and sugar. Indigenous children also worked in street sales and as shoe shiners and bricklayer assistants.

An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. In the Mexican border area, there were reports of forced child labor in municipal dumps and in street begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in export-sector-regime factories did not meet the minimum food budget for a family of five. Minimum wage earners are due a mandatory monthly bonus of 250 quetzals ($33), and salaried workers receive two mandatory yearly bonuses (a Christmas bonus and a “14th month” bonus), each equivalent to one month’s salary.

The legal workweek is 48 hours with at least one paid 24-hour rest period. Workers are not to work more than 12 hours a day. The law provides for 12 paid annual holidays and paid vacation of 15 days after one year’s work. Daily and weekly maximum hour limits do not apply to domestic workers. Workers in the formal sector receive the standard pay for a day’s work for official annual holidays. Time-and-a-half pay is required for overtime work, and the law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards that were inadequate, not current for all industries, and poorly enforced. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions but often lacked the necessary vehicles or fuel to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to deter violations, and many of them performed conciliation or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuse, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. Labor inspectors were not authorized to sanction employers but had to refer alleged violations to the labor courts. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of cases was often delayed, in many instances for several years. Employers failing to provide a safe workplace were rarely sanctioned, and legislation requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

Trade union leaders and human rights groups reported employers required workers to work overtime without legally mandated premium pay. Management often manipulated employer-provided transportation to worksites to force employees to work overtime, especially in export processing zones located in isolated areas with limited transportation alternatives. Noncompliance with minimum wage provisions in the agricultural and informal sectors was widespread. Advocacy groups estimated the vast majority of workers in rural areas who engaged in daylong employment did not receive the wages, benefits, or social security allocations required by law. Many employers in the agricultural sector reportedly conditioned payment of the minimum daily wage on excessive production quotas that workers generally were unable to meet. In order to meet the quota, workers felt compelled to work extra hours, sometimes bringing family members, including children, to help with the work. Because of having to work beyond the maximum allowed hours per day, workers received less than the minimum wage for the day and did not receive the required overtime pay. According to ILO statistics, 74 percent of the workforce worked in the informal sector and outside the basic protections afforded by law.

Local unions highlighted and protested violations by employers who failed to pay employer and employee contributions to the national social security system despite employee contribution deductions from workers’ paychecks. These violations, particularly common in export and agricultural industries, resulted in limiting or denying employees’ access to the public health system and reducing or underpaying workers’ pension benefits during their retirement years.

Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic in the early stages of a transition from decades of authoritarian rule. In 2015 President Alpha Conde won re-election with 58 percent of the vote. The election was generally regarded as free and fair. The last round of legislative elections was held in 2013 and regarded as free and fair. Municipal elections, originally scheduled for 2010, took place in February. The elections were generally considered free and fair, despite allegations of fraud. Protests erupted throughout the country following the release of the results, and opposition parties alleged the ruling party, the Guinean People’s Assembly, conspired to commit voter fraud. At year’s end, most elected officials had not assumed office.

Despite tighter rules of engagement and a prohibition on the use of lethal force during street protests, elements of the security forces on occasion acted independently of civilian control.

Human rights issues included use of excessive force against civilians by security forces; alleged torture by government security forces to extract confessions; arbitrary arrest by government security personnel; endemic corruption at all levels of government; frequent rape and violence against women and girls, which rarely led to prosecution; forced and early marriage; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; human trafficking; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

Impunity by government authorities remained a problem. The government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses during the year or in years past.

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

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

There continued to be unsubstantiated reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The investigation into the 2016 death of Thierno Hamidou Diallo and injury to three individuals during a peaceful opposition march in Conakry continued. The police officer arrested in connection with the death was awaiting trial, with the court scheduled to reconvene in January 2019.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including security force killings by the previous military regime of at least 150 opposition demonstrators and the rape of more than 100 women and girls in the 2009 stadium massacre. Two of the indicted alleged ringleaders of the massacre–Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara–remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.

In December 2017 the minister of justice announced the closing of the years-long investigation into crimes committed during the September 2009 massacre. The minister also announced the establishment of a steering committee to organize the trial of those responsible. The mission of the 12-member committee is to study and outline the logistics of the trial. The committee is also charged with determining how to address other issues surrounding the massacre, such as establishment of a compensation mechanism for victims. Authorities took no action to exhume the bodies reportedly buried by security forces in mass graves. By year’s end it remained unclear what progress, if any, the committee had made.

b. Disappearance

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

The government closed the investigation and announced it had established a steering committee to organize the trial of those from the previous military regime responsible for the disappearance of dozens of prodemocracy demonstrators during the 2009 stadium massacre. The Association for the Victims of September 2009 estimated 84 persons were still missing and presumed dead.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers stated government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity. In 2016 the legislature promulgated a new criminal code that reconciles national law with international conventions on torture.

Abuse of inmates in prisons and in judicial police and gendarme detention centers continued at previous levels. Gendarmes and police designated as “judicial police officers” (OPJs) routinely abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrest or in gendarme detention centers. Human rights associations indicated the complainants often presented evidence of abuse and prison wardens did not investigate these complaints. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

In 2012 two civil society NGOs submitted a complaint on behalf of 16 individuals for arbitrary detention and torture committed in 2010 at the Gendarmerie of Hamdallaye. The trial finally started in April. The accused included, among others, a former chief of staff of the army and a former governor of Conakry. They were charged with arresting and torturing approximately 17 persons in 2010.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained harsh and life threatening. Abuse, poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention were pervasive throughout the prison system, and worse in gendarme and police detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in all prisons. An EU-financed survey revealed that prison management and operations remained deficient. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were nonexistent, and NGOs performed the work. A Spanish government program to build a new central prison was sidelined as the contractor was convicted of embezzlement of project funds in Spain.

Authorities held minors in a separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, and the prison system often was unable to track pretrial detainees after arrest.

In the two main prisons outside of Conakry and in gendarmerie detention centers, men and women were intermingled. There was no juvenile detention system, and officials generally held juveniles with adults in prisons outside the capital. Men, women, and children were intermingled at gendarmerie detention centers, sometimes with women sleeping in hallways outside the prison cells. Violence and the need to bribe guards for miscellaneous services continued to be problems.

Lack of health-care personnel and medicine in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and the deaths of prisoners were seldom investigated. Only two of the 31 prisons had a full-time doctor and medical staff, but they lacked adequate medicine and funds. The Conakry Central Prison (CCP) had a sick ward where approximately 30 patients were crowded into a room 15 by 30 feet. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners. There were reports of detainees’ deaths. As of September at least nine prisoners had died at the CCP. The circumstances around their deaths remained unclear. Mismanagement, neglect, and lack of resources were prevalent. Toilets did not function, and prisoners slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation. Temperatures were stifling, and electricity was insufficient.

NGOs reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it began providing two meals a day to all inmates in 2011; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere still received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Relatives often abandoned prisoners due to the difficulty and cost of travel to prisons and because guards often demanded bribes for delivering food, which they then frequently confiscated.

In May the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice agreed to create a national prison health strategy as part of the national public health system.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to several months, and facilities had no established system to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and fetid. The government routinely suspended habeas corpus.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, at times prisoners controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators and gendarmes at the detention centers reported receiving directives from their military or gendarme superiors, even when they directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. An inspector general of prisons in the Ministry of Justice had responsibility for handling complaints, but this rarely occurred. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did so due to possible reprisals from prison guards or gendarmes. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local humanitarian and religious organizations that offered medical care and food to those in severe need. Local NGOs–such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees–as well as volunteers and religious groups received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP. The ICRC had regular access to all civilian prisons and detention facilities and continued partnership programs with prison and other security authorities to improve civilian prison conditions. The government also allowed international organizations and NGOs access to detention centers operated by the gendarmerie.

Conditions in military prisons, which were under the Ministry of Defense, could not be verified since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previous cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, but authorities refused to permit independent monitoring.

According to the United Nations, an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a police peacekeeper from Guinea reported in 2017 was pending. The Ministry of Security reported that the individual had been disciplined. The case alleges sexual exploitation (transactional sex) involving a police officer deployed in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN payment was suspended; investigations by the United Nations and the government of Guinea were pending.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they would face.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army is responsible for external security but also plays a role in domestic security.

There are also special police or gendarme units, such as the Anti-Criminal Bureau and the Secretariat General of the Presidency in Charge of Special Services in the Fight against Drugs and Organized Crime. OPJs–mixed units of police and gendarmes with special training in investigative techniques–investigate specific crimes.

There were instances in which security forces failed to prevent or respond to violence. Police forces were largely ineffective, poorly paid, and inadequately equipped. There were multiple reports of security service units disregarding their orders and resorting to excessive force, often because they lacked appropriate training and equipment.

Corruption remained widespread. Administrative controls over police were ineffective, and security forces rarely followed the penal code. Few victims reported crimes due to the common perception that police were corrupt, ineffective, and dangerous.

The government continued to implement reform policies, focusing on the standardization of uniforms, provision of identity cards, and removal of individuals impersonating security officials. The new National Police Academy provided for professional training of new cadets and in-service training of police officers. The gendarmerie continued to receive improved training and equipment. The government established strict rules of engagement for protest marches, with standing orders to allow destruction of property–including police stations–rather than resorting to lethal force.

There were limited internal and external mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. The mechanisms available were ineffective due to low government capacity and an ineffective judicial system.

Government impunity remained a widespread problem, and the government took only minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge, but many detainees were held for longer periods. Authorities held most prisoners in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial. In cases involving national security, the law allows the length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but night arrests between those times occurred. After being charged, the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities must inform detainees of charges against them within 48 hours. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense.

Although the law prohibits incommunicado detention, it occurred. Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid the guards a bribe (see section 1.c.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. Authorities also arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

For example, following a fatal car accident in a suburb of Conakry in June, the driver fled and tried to hide from police. In response, police officers arrested multiple family members of the driver, including his mother. The family members were detained at the central prison of Conakry. According to police, this was a means to coerce the driver out of hiding.

Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ issues, the 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. Despite progress, pretrial detainees constituted 60 percent of the prison population. The reform transferred many responsibilities previously held by the High Court to lower courts, resulting in more cases being heard. In addition, the Ministry of Justice directed the review of pretrial cases, resulting in additional prisoners being released.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system lacked funding and judicial independence, and corruption plagued the system. Budget shortfalls, a shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, an outdated and restrictive penal code, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Often domestic court orders were not enforced. For example, some prisoners freed by the courts remained in detention, because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, a neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Authorities must charge or release defendants within 48 hours, but they did not consistently observe this requirement. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial. Officials may not hold defendants for more than four months to a year (depending on the charge) before trial. Authorities frequently denied defendants these rights.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense, if there was one, frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government arrested or summoned individuals as “political intimidation” but released them shortly thereafter. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the ICRC.

In March 2017 the Supreme Court overturned the 2013 High Court verdict that sentenced Fatou Badiar to 15 years and Commander Alpha Oumar Boffa Diallo to life in prison for complicity in the 2011 attack on the president’s residence. After a long delay, authorities reopened the case in April.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Judicial process lacked independence and impartiality. Bribes and political and social status often influenced decisions. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. Domestic court orders often were not enforced. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently began opting to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes at all hours, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for their release.

The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

The government did not respect the right of freedom peaceful assembly. In August the government announced a blanket ban on political protests.

In February security forces arrested 15 peacefully demonstrating civil society activists who were demanding dialogue between the government and the union of teachers. The demonstrators were subsequently released. Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.a.).

Part of the 2013 and 2015 political accords promised an investigation into the political violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 persons in 2012 and 2013, punishment of perpetrators, and indemnification of victims. The government had taken no action on these promises by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and authorities generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the country held legislative elections. The elections were considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

In 2015 President Alpha Conde won re-election with 58 percent of the vote. The election was considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

Repeatedly delayed local elections took place in February. The elections were considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements, but parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers noted, however, there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation. Four women were serving in cabinet-level positions, in a total of 34 such positions. There were 25 women serving as deputies in the 114-member National Assembly. The electoral code requires at least 30 percent of candidates for any party competing for seats in the National Assembly to be women; however, the Constitutional Court ruled this law discriminatory during the year.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Officials diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency. A presidential decree established the Anti-Corruption Agency (ANLC) in 2004. The ANLC reports directly to the president and is the only state agency focused solely on fighting corruption. A new presidential decree implemented the ANLC in 2017. A new anticorruption code provided a clearer legal mandate to the ANLC. The agency, however, remained underfunded and understaffed.

The annual report published by the ANLC did not cite any prosecutions stemming from its investigations, despite longstanding government corruption.

Corruption: Security force corruption was endemic. Police and gendarmes ignored legal procedures and extorted money from citizens at roadblocks, in prisons, and in detention centers. The government reduced the number of road checkpoints, but traders, small business operators, drivers, and passengers were still obliged to pay bribes to pass. Observers noted prisoners paying money to guards in exchange for favors.

A criminal court in Belgium charged and convicted Minister of Agriculture Mariama Camara in absentia of corruption charges. The court sentenced the minister to a 20-month suspended prison sentence, a fine of 12,000 euros ($13,790), and confiscation of property worth 300,000 euros ($344,830) in June. The government took no action following this conviction.

The reform of the justice sector entailed in part an increase in salary for the magistrates and the establishment of the High Council for the Judiciary to handle cases of corrupt judges.

Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to public disclosure laws. Although they are required to file a nonpublic statement, this requirement was not universally respected. The electoral code bars persons from certain types of financial activity if they are members of or candidates for the National Assembly. They may not be paid by a foreign state; by the chief executive officer (CEO), a deputy of a CEO, or the president of a company under state control; or by a shareholder in an enterprise under state control or reliant on state subsidies or other state benefits. Despite these rules, some National Assembly members took state revenues to support their businesses, such as operating schools funded by public tuition. Authorities threatened to cut the state subsidies of some National Assembly members if they did not support the ruling party.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups monitored and attempted to disseminate information on human rights abuses. They generally operated without government restriction. NGOs are required to renew their permits with the government every three years.

Despite the government’s willingness to meet with and listen to NGOs on human rights problems, it did not often act on their requests or suggestions. Civil society is included in the oversight committee for the September 2009 stadium massacre trial; however, the government continued to ignore a request from human rights groups and the international community to dismiss or place on administrative leave government officials indicted in connection with the massacre.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Human Rights and Public Freedoms was disbanded with the reorganization of the government following the 2015 presidential election. In 2012 the government established the ministry in order to promote human rights awareness and fight impunity, but it did not fulfill the constitutional requirement for an independent human rights commission.

The Provisional Commission for National Reconciliation, established in 2011 to promote reconciliation concerning human rights abuses committed since independence, presented its final report in 2016 with a recommendation to establish a permanent truth and reconciliation commission. As of September no tangible progress had been made toward the creation of the commission.

In 2014 the government implemented Title XVI of the 2010 constitution and established the Independent National Institution for Human Rights. The institution was controversial from its inception because as established, it was different from the institution described in the law, but it continued efforts to establish its credibility.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, but both occurred frequently, and authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators. The law does not address spousal rape. Rape is punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Victims reported less than 1 percent of these crimes to police due to custom, fear of stigmatization and reprisal, and lack of cooperation from investigating police or gendarmes. Studies indicated citizens also were reluctant to report crimes because they feared police would ask the victim to pay for the investigation.

Authorities may file charges under general assault, which carries sentences of two to five years in prison and fines of 50,000 to 300,000 Guinean francs (GNF) ($5.50 to $33). Violence against a woman that causes an injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 GNF ($3.30). If the injury causes mutilation, amputation, or other loss of body parts, it is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment; if the victim dies, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault constitutes grounds for divorce under civil law, but police rarely intervened in domestic disputes, and courts rarely punished perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law prohibits FGM/C, the country had an extremely high prevalence rate. During the year UNICEF reported 96 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 in the country had undergone the procedure, which was practiced throughout the country and among all religious and ethnic groups. UNICEF also reported the rate had reduced substantially to approximately 50 percent. The law provides for a penalty of up to life in prison or death if the victim dies within 40 days of the procedure. The child code provides for minimum imprisonment of three months to two years and fines from 300,000 to one million GNF ($33 to $110) for perpetrators who do not inflict severe injury or death. If the victim is severely injured or dies, the child code specifies imprisonment of five to 20 years and a fine of up to three million GNF ($330).

The government also cooperated with NGOs in their efforts to eradicate FGM/C and educate health workers, state employees, and citizens on the dangers of the practice. More than 60 health facilities had integrated FGM/C prevention into prenatal, neonatal, and immunization services. A trend for medically trained staff to perform FGM/C under conditions that were more hygienic continued. While the “medicalization” of the practice may have decreased some of the negative health consequences of the procedure, it did not eliminate all health risks; it also delayed the development of effective and long-term solutions for the abandonment of the practice.

Anti-FGM/C efforts reportedly prevented 39 cases of excision and led to the arrest of nine persons and conviction of five. Separately, according to UNICEF, 11,190 uncircumcised girls younger than 14 benefited from the protection NGOs. This happened in the form of entire communities deciding against continuing to circumcise girls and young women. UNICEF also implemented community dialogues on FGM/C in 40 communes to sensitize local populations to the issue.

Sexual Harassment: The 2014 labor code prohibits all forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment; the constitution prohibits harassment based on sex, race, ethnicity, political opinions, or other grounds. As of September the Ministry of Labor had not documented any case of sexual harassment, despite its frequency. The 2016 criminal code penalizes sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in inheritance, property, employment, credit, and divorce. The labor code prohibits gender discrimination in hiring. Traditional practices historically discriminate against women and sometimes took precedence over the law, particularly in rural areas.

Government officials acknowledged that polygyny was common. Divorce laws generally favor men in awarding custody and dividing communal assets. Legal testimony given by women carries less weight than testimony by men, in accordance with Islamic precepts and customary law.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. Authorities did not permit children without birth certificates to attend school or access health care.

Education: Government policy provides for tuition-free, compulsory primary education for all children up to 16 years of age. While girls and boys had equal access to all levels of primary and secondary education, approximately 56 percent of girls attended primary school, compared with 66 percent of boys. Government figures indicated 11 percent of girls obtained a secondary education, compared with 21 percent of boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and law enforcement and NGOs continued to document cases. Child abuse occurred openly on the street, although families ignored most cases or addressed them at the community level.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 for men and 17 for girls, but tradition permits marriage at age 14. Early marriage was a problem. There were no reported prosecutions related to child marriage during the year.

The Ministry of Social Action and the Promotion of Women and Children prevented two cases of forced marriage in the prefecture of Dubreka, just outside of Conakry. The Young Girls Leaders Club of Guinea Against Early and Forced Marriages, a local NGO, successfully prevented the marriages of 11 girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for all forms of child trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, but it was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. Punishment of sex with a child younger than 15 is three to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to two million GNF ($220). The law also prohibits child pornography. These laws were not regularly enforced, and sexual assault of children, including rape, was a serious problem. Girls between ages 11 and 15 were most vulnerable and represented more than half of all rape victims.

Displaced Children: Although official statistics were unavailable, there was a large population of children living on the streets, particularly in urban areas. Children frequently begged in mosques, on the street, and in markets.

Institutionalized Children: The country had numerous registered and unregistered orphanages. According to the Ministry of Social Action and the Promotion of Women and Children, 49 registered orphanages cared for 4,822 children in 2017. While reports of abuse at orphanages sometimes appeared in the press, reliable statistics were not available. Authorities institutionalized some children after family members died from the Ebola virus.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. In 2015, however, the country adopted a new labor code that prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities. The law does not mandate accessibility for persons with disabilities, and buildings and transportation remained inaccessible. The Ministry of Social Action and the Promotion of Women and Children is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but it was ineffective. The government provided no support to place children with disabilities in regular schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population was diverse, with three main linguistic groups and several smaller ones identifying with specific regions. While the law prohibits racial or ethnic discrimination, discrimination by members of all major ethnic groups occurred in private-sector hiring patterns, ethnic segregation of urban neighborhoods, and ethnically divisive rhetoric during political campaigns. Ethnically targeted violence occurred during the year.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions. In 2012 the government restructured the Office for the Protection of Women, Children, and Morals (OPROGEM) to include a unit for investigating morals violations, including same-sex sexual conduct. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Deep religious and cultural taboos against consensual same-sex sexual conduct existed. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented victims from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no active LGBTI organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Laws to protect HIV-infected persons from stigmatization exist, but the government relied on donor efforts to combat discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Government efforts were limited to paying salaries for health-service providers. Most victims of stigmatization were women whose families abandoned them after their husbands died of AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism occurred, particularly in the Forest Region. Speculation continued about their sacrifice. Albino rights NGOs continued to raise awareness of discrimination and violence against persons with albinism.

Mob violence remained an issue nationwide due to impunity and lack of civilian trust in the judicial system. In August authorities were unable to protect a prisoner as a crowd destroyed the main entrance of Boffa Prison and smashed cell doors, killing an imprisoned taxi driver accused of kidnapping another taxi driver.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law provides for the right of workers to organize and join independent unions, engage in strikes, and bargain collectively, the law also places restrictions on the free exercise of these rights. In 2016 the government adopted a new labor code that requires unions to obtain the support of 20 percent of the workers in a company, region, or trade the union claims to represent in order to strike. The new code mandates that unions provide a 10-day notice to the Ministry of Labor before striking, although it allows work slowdowns without notice. Strikes are permitted only for work-related issues; such permission does not extend to government workers, members of the armed forces, or temporary government workers, since these categories do not have the legal right to strike. Despite lacking the right to strike, public school teachers, port workers, and other government employees have gone on strike without government retaliation.

The labor code protects union officials from antiunion discrimination. The code prohibits employers from taking into consideration union membership and activities with regard to decisions about employee hiring, firing, and conduct. It also allows workers 30 days to appeal any labor decisions and provides for reinstatement of any employee fired for union activity.

The Office of the Inspector-General of Work within the Ministry of Labor manages consensus arbitration, as required by law. Employers often imposed binding arbitration,