El Salvador

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in extrajudicial killings of suspected gang members. As of October 25, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) was investigating seven cases of extrajudicial killings, six attributed to the members of the National Civilian Police (PNC) and one to the armed forces.

On January 31, PNC officers arrested three men on charges of double homicide after they killed two supporters of opposition party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) following a soccer match. The three perpetrators worked for the Ministry of Health. President Bukele tweeted that the attack was a plot hatched by his political rivals to damage his Nuevas Ideas party’s chances in the February 28 legislative and municipal elections, but there was no evidence of a plot.

On July 19, PNC officers in Guacotecti, Cabanas Department, killed two brothers suspected of being members of transnational gang MS-13. According to relatives, PNC officers arrived at the house to arrest the two brothers who had outstanding warrants, and the brothers fled with rifles when they saw the police officers. The victims’ father said his two sons previously received threats from police, claiming the PNC officers planned the shooting and told him, “We are going to kill your children.”

The First Justice of the Peace of Santa Tecla, La Libertad Department, ordered the provisional arrest of four soldiers for the aggravated homicide of a 30-year-old engineer on August 12. The soldiers from the Apolo Task Force claimed the victim attacked them with a firearm from his vehicle and that the soldiers returned fire. The Scientific Technical Police found no firearms or bullet casings in the vehicle, and the victim’s hands did not have traces of gunpowder.

On February 7, the First Trial Court of Santa Tecla convicted three PNC officers of aggravated homicide and sentenced each of them to 25 years in prison for the 2017 extrajudicial killings of three persons in San Jose Villanueva, La Libertad Department. The PNC officers claimed they received information that the three persons in the vehicle were armed gang members, but the prosecutor showed that the PNC officers intercepted the vehicle and shot the victims without confrontation.

Media reports alleged that security and law enforcement officials were involved in unlawful disappearances. According to reports, the PNC recorded 989 disappearances between January 1 and June 29, an increase from the same period in 2020 when the PNC tracked 728 cases. The PNC reported that 545 of those reported missing were later found alive and 51 found dead. Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro explained that many disappeared persons were victims of homicide, as criminals hid the bodies of their victims to avoid charges of homicide.

On April 7, the Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law released a study stating that the illegal practice of disappearing a person was no longer exclusive to gangs and that police, soldiers, and extermination groups viewed unlawful disappearances as a low-cost, effective way of resolving conflicts. According to a Human Rights Observatory of the Central American University (OUDH) report published in September, extermination groups operated with police, military, and civilian members, simulating legal actions such as searches, raids, and police operations in addition to illegal actions such as arbitrary detentions and killings. The report also noted that between 2015 and 2020, the Attorney General’s Office identified approximately 15 extermination groups in the country.

On May 31, Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro criticized families who posted photographs of their missing relatives on social media accounts and asked them instead to file a formal complaint with the PNC or the Attorney General’s Office. Villatoro accused the families of psychologically damaging their missing children who eventually are found and stated most persons leave their families because they want to leave their life partner or because they did not get enough attention at home.

On June 1, the daily newspaper El Diario de Hoy reported that the Attorney General’s Office stopped the regular practice of publishing the photographs and information of missing persons following the arrival of the new attorney general, Rodolfo Delgado, on May 1. The Attorney General’s Office recorded more missing persons (5,381) than homicides (2,940) during the first two years of the Bukele administration, with most of the victims disappeared in areas with a high presence of gangs.

The Attorney General’s Office reported 66 minors as missing in the first 10 months of the year, 15 boys and 51 girls. All cases were under investigation.

On December 1, the daily newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported the findings from a study by the OUDH showing that between June 2019 and June 2021, only four cases of missing persons ended in a conviction. This number represented well less than 1 percent of the total cases of missing persons initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office.

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports of violations. As of August 31, the PDDH had received 13 complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment by the PNC and one by the armed forces, compared with 15 and two complaints, respectively, as of August 2020. The PDDH also received 62 complaints of mistreatment and disproportionate use of force by the PNC and seven by the armed forces, compared with 55 and four complaints, respectively, as of August 2020.

As of September the PNC registered a total of 95 accusations against police officers involved in crimes and offenses. Of the 95 accusations, 38 concerned homicides committed by police officers. The PNC received 296 complaints of general misconduct in the same period, including but not limited to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading acts of punishment. Three of the 296 complaints were referred to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution, while the 293 unresolved cases remained under investigation by the PNC.

On March 12, the Attorney General’s Office issued arrest warrants for four PNC officers for the torture of a minor and a woman in 2017 in Sensuntepeque, Cabanas Department. According to a video widely circulated on social media, PNC officers Cristian Neftali Franco Vasquez, Elvis Alirio Montenegro Beltran, Omar Alexander Pineda Chevez, and Mario Enrique Perez Chavez beat the minor to force him to reveal the hiding location of drugs and weapons. One of the officers fired a warning shot when a woman who witnessed the beating began to complain.

On April 30, El Diario de Hoy reported that an armed forces officer was arrested for shooting Rene Alfredo Lainez Andasol in the face in Victoria, Cabanas Department. The Attorney General’s Office accused the soldier of attempted homicide.

On June 23, the Sentencing Court of Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan Department, sentenced PNC officer Juan Carlos Portillo Velasquez to 12 years in prison for the aggravated rape of an adolescent in 2018. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Portillo Velasquez abused his position by ordering a 17-year-old girl to enter her home and remove her clothes under the guise of checking for gang-related tattoos. His partner caught him in the act of rape and informed his supervisors.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new allegations against El Salvadoran peacekeepers brought in the year. The most recent allegation was submitted in March 2020 concerning sexual exploitation and abuse by Salvadoran peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of October the United Nations had found the allegation of sexual exploitation or abuse to be unsubstantiated but found evidence of fraternization and repatriated the perpetrator.

Impunity was a problem in the PNC and armed forces. Factors contributing to impunity included politicization and general corruption. The Attorney General’s Office investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions, and the PDDH investigates complaints of such killings. The government provided annual training to military units to dissuade any potential for gross abuses of human rights, such as the training provided to the Marine Infantry Battalion by the navy’s Legal Unit on the need to respect human rights. The government repeatedly defied a June 2020 judicial order to allow expert witnesses access to inspect military archives to determine criminal responsibility for the 1981 El Mozote massacre.

Previous government efforts to counter impunity were also eliminated. In June President Bukele ended the cooperative agreement with the Organization of American States to back the International Organization Against Impunity in El Salvador. Civil society organizations condemned this action and characterized it as a step backwards in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country. The government pursued actions against members of other parties governing in past administrations and judges who had served a long time in a so-called effort to “clean house” of influence of officials appointed under previous administrations. Civil society organizations criticized many of these actions as politically motivated.

Impunity in the executive branch also remained a problem. From January through September, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it processed 150 cases of embezzlement, illicit negotiations, illicit enrichment, and bribery perpetrated by government employees. Of these cases, only seven resulted in convictions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court is responsible for addressing these types of cases.

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies ignored or minimally complied with orders.

As of August 31, the PDDH received 65 complaints of lack of a fair public trial, compared with 12 such complaints as of August 2020.

On May 1, during the first plenary session of the newly elected Legislative Assembly, legislators of the majority Nuevas Ideas, a political party founded by President Bukele, and their allies voted to dismiss all five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the attorney general without granting any of them due process. Critics contended the dismissals lacked legal cause and amounted to an unconstitutional power grab. The president defended the votes, claiming the Legislative Assembly had the authority to do this according to the constitution. On June 30, the Legislative Assembly installed new judges loyal to the president to replace the five dismissed magistrates.

On August 31, the Legislative Assembly used an emergency waiver process to pass two judicial career laws, instead of following the constitutionally prescribed process that judicial reforms must originate from the Supreme Court. The laws mandate the retirement of judges and prosecutors aged 60 or older and also those who have completed 30 years of service or more. In addition the attorney general and Supreme Court were given authority, at their discretion, to transfer prosecutors and judges between districts. While the Legislative Assembly justified the actions as an effort to rid the courts of corruption, legal analysts argued the laws were unconstitutional and were enacted to allow the ruling political party to appoint loyal replacement judges. More than 200 judges were forced by the new laws to retire, including Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla, the magistrate overseeing the prosecution of 13 surviving former military officers for the alleged El Mozote massacre of more than 800 civilians in 1981. Although the Supreme Court offered him a one-time exception to remain in his position, Judge Guzman resigned in protest before the law went into effect.

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the state intelligence service tracked journalists or collected information regarding their private lives.

In many neighborhoods gangs and other armed groups targeted certain persons and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, although the government at times did not respect this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take control of all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Journalists from several digital and print media outlets publicly accused President Bukele, his administration, and his supporters of a pattern of harassment designed to constrain media. In public statements and in testimony to the Legislative Assembly, journalists claimed the president and his cabinet officials bullied them on Twitter, threatened them with physical harm, launched unwarranted financial investigations into their taxes and funding sources, denied them access to press conferences, and surveilled them. Senior officials, such as legal advisor Javier Argueta, called for actions against journalists who criticized the government. The increased villainization of the role of media inspired supporters of the president to threaten journalists as well. The president denied threatening journalists and dismissed accusations he was stifling freedom of the press.

On September 29, the jury of the Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University, the Governing Council of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation, Reporters without Borders, and the Inter American Press Association issued statements in which they demanded that President Bukele cease attacks against critical media in the country.

In November the president of the Association of Salvadoran Journalists (APES) stated at a journalism forum that journalists were seen by the government as enemies of the state. He also confirmed that an increasing number of journalists were under attack by the government.

Violence and Harassment: On June 6, Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro confirmed during a radio interview that the government was investigating and monitoring many journalists for what he alleged was their irresponsible coverage of crime.

On July 7, a PNC officer slapped a journalist in the face, claiming the journalist had entered a crime scene. A video showed PNC officer Raul Martinez Velasquez hit Jorge Beltran, a journalist for El Diario de Hoy, while Beltran was reporting on the recovery of the body of a missing student kidnapped and killed by gang members in Apopa, San Salvador Department. In response the PNC issued memorandums on July 20 and July 22 instructing police officers to act with professionalism and to adhere to the law and respect for human rights when interacting with citizens.

As of August 30, APES had registered 173 violations of the exercise of journalism, an increase of 73 percent, compared with 2020. Among these were physical aggression, digital harassment, blocking access to public information, intimidation, and sexual harassment. APES noted 84 violations against the exercise of journalism during the February 28 municipal and legislative elections, most of which the PNC perpetrated. As of August 31, the PDDH had received four complaints of violence against journalists by government officials, compared with 10 as of August 2020.

On April 14, the digital newspaper El Faro published the preliminary results of the audit the Ministry of Finance had performed on the newspaper over a one-year period. According to the ministry’s audit, El Faro evaded approximately $34,000 in taxes in 2017. The newspaper disputed the finding, saying it was an attempt by the government to again harass and threaten the organization, and it vowed to fight the finding in court if needed.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On May 5, the Legislative Assembly reformed the printing law to eliminate tax exemptions on the importation of raw materials, machinery, and equipment for printing materials. The Inter American Press Association described the reform as a “serious attack against democracy” that would impact the local newspaper industry. Romeo Auerbach, a legislative assembly member from the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party, justified the reform by arguing that the print media had evaded paying taxes for decades.

On June 14, the First Justice of the Peace of Santa Ana, Santa Ana Department, ordered the local investigative magazine Factum to take down its June 12 article about killings in Chalchuapa, Santa Ana Department, because the article included details of the crimes that were declared confidential. The Attorney General’s Office supported the court’s decision by citing the Special Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence for , which prevents the disclosure of the victim’s identifying information. Factum sourced its article from a witness statement that detailed the names, dates, and modus operandi of 13 killings that occurred in Chalchuapa in 2020 and 2021, directly contradicting the government’s claim that the homicides occurred more than a decade ago.

On June 21, Minister Villatoro accused independent media of causing anxiety and deceiving persons and asked citizens to inform themselves through state-owned media instead.

On July 6, the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners (DGME) denied a work permit to Mexican journalist Daniel Lizarraga of El Faro because he allegedly could not prove that he was a journalist. The DGME notified Lizarraga that he had five days to leave the country. On July 9, the DGME also denied the work permit of Roman Gressier, another El Faro journalist. According to the DGME, Gressier failed to comply with the provision to remain in the country while his permit was in process.

On July 15, Minister Villatoro stated the PNC would further limit access to crime scenes to prevent the publication of violent images. Villatoro justified the restriction to protect the mental health of children.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists who reported on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to kidnappings, threats, and intimidation. Observers reported that gangs also charged print media companies to distribute in their communities, costing media outlets as much as 20 percent of their revenues.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but there were times the government limited these freedoms (see section 7.a.).

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not ensure freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled access to their specific territories. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or denied entry to the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

On April 12, gang members in Santa Tecla, La Libertad Department, beat a 77-year-old priest who tried to circumvent heavy traffic and accidentally entered a neighborhood with gang presence. When the priest slowed down to ask for directions, gang members surrounded his vehicle and demanded to know why he was in their neighborhood. The gang members then beat the priest and took photographs of his identity documents.

On August 25, gang members killed a 25-year-old man in Ciudad Delgado, San Salvador Department. The victim was helping change a tire on his friend’s vehicle when MS-13 gang members approached them to demand their identity documents, where they lived, and what they were doing in the neighborhood. When the gang members realized the victim and his friend resided in a different neighborhood, the gang members shot the victim, while the friend managed to escape.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated there were 114,000 new instances of internal forced displacement due to violence during 2020 and reported the causes included threats, extortion, and assassinations perpetrated by criminal gangs. The IDMC also reported 17,000 additional internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020.

More than 30 families that lived in Panchimalco, San Salvador Department, abandoned their homes on May 25 after receiving threats from gang members. The families, some of whom had lived in Panchimalco for more than 40 years, feared their lives would be in danger after the gang threatened to hold the village responsible for the disappearance of a gang member.

Comprehensive, up-to-date data on internal displacement was not available, but the NGO Cristosal counted 200 persons displaced between January and June. As of August 31, the PDDH reported 53 cases of forced internal displacement. Beatriz Campos, a PDDH attorney, said 90 percent of forced internal displacement cases were caused by gangs in their community and the other 10 percent due to PNC harassment of youth in high-risk communities.

Although the government passed new IDP legislation in January 2020, authorities had yet to take substantial action to fund or implement the law. The government failed to allocate sufficient funding to the Unit of Attention to Victims of Internal Forced Displacement, the entity tasked with the implementation of the law. According to the Due Process of Law Foundation, implementation of the law was further hindered by the lack of clear implementing regulations and available records of IDPs in the country.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

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, but it has major regulatory and operational gaps. The Commission for the Refugee Status is responsible for refugee status determinations but does not have its own budget.

The legal framework requires persons with international protection needs to file their claim within five days of entering the country; the criteria for case decisions is unclear; and the appeals process is decided by the same government entity that issues the initial decision.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the law’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for conviction of rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences for conviction ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem.

According to a newly published survey, the first of its kind carried out by the General Directorate of Statistics and Census (DIGESTYC), six of 10 women older than age 15 suffered some type of sexual violence in their life. The data was collected in 2019 but not disclosed until March due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Sixty-three percent of women ages 15 to 19 and 72 percent of women ages 30 to 34 reported having suffered sexual violence.

Between January and April, the Attorney General’s Office received 441 complaints of domestic violence, which encompasses domestic violence toward any member of the family, including children. Observers noted this number likely did not capture most domestic violence cases, particularly those perpetrated against women. On November 3, several women’s organizations discussed in a forum the 2019 National Data System on Violence against Women of the Ministry of Justice and DIGESTYC, which showed that 68 percent of women older than 15 years suffered sexual violence, but only 5.3 percent sought help. The organizations attributed this low reporting number to women’s distrust of state institutions.

On January 15, the Specialized Sentencing Court for a Life Free of Violence for Women sentenced David Eliseo Diaz Ramirez to 35 years in prison for femicide. Diaz Ramirez and several gang members killed a woman in Tutunichapa, San Salvador Department, in 2019 because she refused to have sex with them.

On May 8, the PNC found more than a dozen bodies, most of them girls and women, buried in the house of former police officer Hugo Ernesto Chavez Osorio, who was arrested on May 6 for the murders of two women. According to the PNC investigation, Chavez Osorio raped his victims and then killed them before burying their bodies in his house.

The Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that the Ministry of Health registered 6,938 pregnant girls or adolescents in the first six months of the year, including 156 girls ages 10 and 11 who were raped and became pregnant. During the first half of the year, the number of pregnancies among girls between the ages of 10-14 increased 9 percent as compared to the same period in 2020. ORMUSA attributed this to several causes, including a lack of government policy for preventing pregnancies in girls and adolescents, a lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, and an increase in sexual violence. According to the Feminist Collective, families did not report the rapes to the PNC and the Attorney General’s Office because the rapist was commonly a relative of the victim and the families considered it an embarrassment.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and establishes sentences if convicted of five to eight years’ imprisonment. Courts also may impose additional fines in cases in which the perpetrator held a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On March 11, the Second Sentencing Court sentenced Jose Misael Maldonado Palacios, a corporal of the Third Infantry Brigade of the San Miguel Armed Forces, to six years in prison for improper sexual conduct against two employees. The Specialized Attention Unit for Crimes related to Children, Adolescents, and Women stated that in March 2020, Maldonado Palacios offered to pay two women in exchange for sexual acts inside the barracks.

On March 19, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of Salvador Alcides Villegas, general manager of the Council of Mayors of Usulutan. Villegas was formally accused of sexual harassment of three women, including touching and improper sexual expressions. The victims told the authorities that Villegas touched their legs, breasts, and buttocks.

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

The law bans abortion. Civil society advocates expressed concern that the ban led to the wrongful incarceration of women who suffered severe pregnancy complications, including miscarriages.

In March the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that the government violated the right to personal freedom, life, health, and justice of Manuela, a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2008 for the aggravated homicide of her unborn child. Manuela died from cancer in 2010 after not receiving timely and appropriate treatment in prison.

On June 2, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador reported that at least 17 women were in prison on charges of having an abortion after suffering out-of-hospital obstetric emergencies. One of the women, Sara Rogel, received early parole, and the Second Court of Penitentiary Surveillance in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan Department, released her from prison on June 7. Rogel suffered an obstetric emergency in 2012 when she slipped while washing clothes and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide for allegedly having an abortion. The court commuted Rogel’s sentence to 10 years in January, and Rogel received early parole after the Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal the decision.

The government-run Institute for Women’s Development implements the National Care System which aims to improve the care, protection, and access to justice for victims of sexual and other types of violence. The specialized comprehensive care includes medical care, counseling, family planning, medical examinations, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections in victims of sexual violence and services were generally available throughout the country.

ORMUSA reported that the closure of Ciudad Mujer health centers throughout the country since June 2019, shortly after President Bukele became president, had created a barrier to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons receiving timely health services. Following the closure of the centers, women and LGBTQI+ persons were subjected to long delays to see doctors, and the doctors were not specialized in the field of reproductive health and health issues specific to the LGBTQI+ community, as were the doctors in the Ciudad Mujer health centers.

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal status in family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws. There were no reports of discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, education, and judicial processes. The law also provides equal rights for men and women in the areas of property rights, inheritance, employment, access to credit, business ownership, and housing. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials convicted of denying a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers convicted of discriminating against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

Systemic racial discrimination existed towards those in the Afro-descendent community and indigenous groups. There are several laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination. The law provides for individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples to practice ethnic minority traditions, participate in decision-making on issues that affect their rights, and for protection against discrimination. In 2018 the government implemented the Public Policy for Indigenous Communities in El Salvador, which focused on the inclusion of ethnic groups in all social and economic aspects. The government did not enforce the laws effectively, and the administration took no further action to implement the 2018 policy. The government did not recognize indigenous persons of the Afro-descendent community in the last population census in 2007.

The constitution recognizes indigenous peoples and states that the government will adopt policies to maintain and develop the ethnic and cultural identity, world view, values, and spirituality of indigenous peoples. The law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites. The municipalities of Cacaopera and Yucuaiquin, in the eastern part of the country, have special laws to recognize their indigenous cultural heritage.

The law does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on indigenous land, nor does it provide indigenous peoples the right to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few indigenous persons possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

According to the most recent census, from 2007, there were 60 indigenous groups, making up 0.4 percent of citizens, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira), and Maya Chorti groups. According to the Institute of the Faculty of Sciences and Humanities of the University of El Salvador, political parties did not consider proposals in favor of indigenous peoples as part of their electoral platforms.

On January 10, Nahuat language teacher Hector Martinez reported that the indigenous Nahuat language was only spoken in four municipalities: Santo Domingo de Guzman, Cuisnahuat, Nahuizalco, and Tacbua. The 2007 census showed there were only 197 Nahuat speakers, but Martinez said the number was drastically fewer because the Nahuat speakers were all elderly and living in extreme poverty. According to the culture law, Spanish is the official language of the country, but “the state is obliged to promote and conserve the rescue, teaching, and respect of ancestral languages throughout the territory.”

On October 17, members of indigenous groups marched against the current administration, demanding visibility of their complaints a stop to the destruction of their sacred places and ceremonial sites such as Tacushcalco and Nexapan archeological sites and the Sensunapan River.

Members of indigenous groups said they do not feel represented by the government or any public official. They said that the government has not responded to their various requests, which included the return of indigenous lands taken by the government, respect for ancestral form of governance, and more access to health care, education, social welfare, and employment.

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. On November 11, the EU, International Organization for Migration, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 27 percent of the indigenous population planned to migrate out of the country. According to the report, the main cause of migration intention was a lack of employment options.

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a small fine. Failure to register may result in denial of school enrollment.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. The law gives children the right to petition the government without parental consent. Penalties for conviction of breaking the law include losing custody of the child and three to 26 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. The law bans child marriage to prevent child abusers from avoiding imprisonment by marrying their underage victims, and the law likewise bans exceptions to child marriage in cases where the minor is pregnant.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers stipulate imprisonment from 16 to 20 years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18 and includes penalties for conviction of four to 13 years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits paying anyone younger than age 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for conviction of violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children remained a problem.

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

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

Persons with disabilities do not have access to education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others.

The percentage of children with disabilities enrolled in the public school system is very low. The Ministry of Education’s last reported statistics in 2018 indicated only 1,158 students with disabilities were enrolled in high schools across the country, representing fewer than 0.01 percent of all secondary students. Disability advocates said that this low percentage was due to the lack of ramps and other accommodations for students with disabilities. The government provided very little support for schools to include accommodations, and there were few teachers trained to teach students with disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not enforce these laws. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but it lacked enforcement power. According to a CONAIPD representative, the government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.

CONAIPD stated there was no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. In addition some academic institutions did not accept children with disabilities.

No formal system existed for filing with the government a discrimination complaint involving a disability.

On May 24, Elba Chacon, coordinator of the human rights program at the Network of Survivors and Persons with Disabilities Foundation, asked the government to update the statistics on persons with disabilities. CONAIPD last carried out the National Survey of in Persons with Disabilities 2015. Chacon said the government did not have updated statistics on access to government services and resources for persons with disabilities.

Organizations of persons with disabilities protested outside the Ministry of Finance on August 30 to demand the government comply with the Special Law on the Inclusion Persons with Disabilities of that was implemented in January. The law includes plans to create a new CONAIPD with greater autonomy to hear complaints and impose sanctions for noncompliance with the law; however, the ministry did not allocate a budget to carry out the law.

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an NGO that works on issues concerning LGBTQI+ persons, reported HIV-related discrimination was widespread. As of August 31, the PDDH reported three alleged cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.

Police and gangs continue to commit acts of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. These actions were tolerated by the government, and perpetrators were rarely prosecuted.

On February 20, the Attorney General’s Office announced three MS-13 gang members were convicted of homicide for the 2017 murders of two transgender women in San Luis Talpa, La Paz Department, and each was sentenced to more than 60 years in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office handled the case as a quarrel between gangs and not as a crime related to gender identity of the victims, and as a result the Prosecutor’s Office did not categorize the homicides as hate crimes.

On April 25, Zashy del Cid, a transgender woman, died in San Miguel after she was shot in the back while walking down the street. As of June 5, police had made no arrests. A report by Association Communicating and Training Trans Women in El Salvador (COMCAVIS Trans) found that gangs were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the violence against the LGBTQI+ community.

LGBTQI+ activists reported to the Attorney General’s Office that they received death threats on social media. Police generally failed to act on these reports. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. Persons from the LGBTQI+ community stated the PNC and officials from the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals who reported cases of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, including by conducting unnecessary and invasive strip searches.

In 2020 the Bukele administration eliminated five presidential secretariats created under the previous administration, including the Secretariat of Inclusion. The responsibilities of the secretariat moved to the Gender and Diversity Office in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, which has no authority to influence policy and insufficient support to implement programs. It did not provide any significant public services.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the law covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. Despite the existence of these laws, the government has not taken enforcement actions against violators.

As of August 31, the PDDH reported seven alleged cases of discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. The PDDH confirmed on February 14 that they opened an investigation into the possible discrimination against an army officer who complained of being discharged due to his sexual orientation. On January 31, the Lieutenant Cristian Adalberto Castro Grijalva was discharged from the army for “public or private conduct that is notoriously immoral or contrary to good customs or public order.” Castro Grijalva said his sexual orientation was not a secret and that it never affected his performance.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal guidelines state individuals may not be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance. Nonetheless, media documented cases of transgender persons who faced harassment while voting in the municipal elections during the year because their name and photograph on their national identification document did not match their expression of gender identity.

COMCAVIS Trans reported that the LGBTQI+ community faced discrimination when obtaining health care. Lesbian women said their gynecologists only focused on HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases when they learned that their patients were lesbian instead of spending time treating routine gynecological issues. According to COMCAVIS Trans, transgender persons also faced discrimination from medical staff when they insisted on calling patients by their legal name instead of their chosen names.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. The labor code does not cover public-sector workers and municipal workers, whose wages and terms of employment are regulated by the 1961 civil service law. Only citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents a majority of workers.

Unions experienced lengthy delays by the Ministry of Labor in processing their credentials, some facing up to eight months when it previously took a maximum of two months. Without credentials, unions cannot participate in collective bargaining. According to media reports, the Ministry of Labor rewarded like-minded unions with expedited credentials and punished unions critical of the government with delays in their certification. Minister of Labor Rolando Castro stated the delays were due to incorrect or incomplete information in their paperwork.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore applied this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. Unions must engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skipped or expedited these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

In lieu of requiring employers to reinstate illegally dismissed workers, the law requires employers to pay those workers the equivalent of 30 days of their basic salary for each year of service. The law specifies 30 reasons for which an employer may terminate a worker’s contract without triggering any additional responsibilities, including consistent negligence, leaking private company information, or committing immoral acts while on duty. An employer may legally suspend workers, including due to an economic downturn or market conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for a wide range of workers, and enforcement was dependent upon the political affiliations of their labor unions. Unions reported that their members frequently faced violence or threats of violence and that viable legal recourse against such violence was unavailable. Gang activity made it difficult for workers, who continued to be harassed and exposed to violence, to exercise their union activities freely.

Most unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with political parties of Nuevas Ideas, GANA, ARENA, and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally did not effectively enforce such laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor did not report on forced labor; however, it increased investigations. and adults were exposed to forced begging, domestic work, agricultural labor, construction, textile industry, and street work. Adults from neighboring countries were forced to work in construction, domestic work, and other informal sector jobs, sometimes under threat of physical violence. Gangs subjected children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs and committing homicides (see section 7.c.).

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

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 but does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children between ages 14 and 18 to engage in light work if it does not damage the child’s health or development or interfere with compulsory education. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working more than six hours per day and 34 hours per week; those younger than 18 are prohibited from working at night or in hazardous occupations. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of types of hazardous work, which included repairing heavy machinery, mining, handling weapons, fishing and harvesting mollusks, and working at heights above five feet while doing construction, erecting antennas, or working on billboards. Children ages 16 and older may engage in light work on coffee and sugar plantations and in the fishing industry if it does not harm their health or interfere with their education.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws but did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Labor inspectors focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. According to the ministry, from January through August 2020, officials conducted 220 child labor inspections in the formal sector and found no minors working. By comparison, in 2017, according to the ministry, there were 140,700 children and adolescents working, of whom 91,257 were employed in “dangerous work” in the informal sector. No information on any investigations or prosecutions by the government was available. The ministry did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, which represented almost 75 percent of the economy.

There were reports of children younger than age 16 engaging in the worst forms of child labor, including in coffee cultivation, fishing, shellfish collection, and fireworks production. Children were subjected to other worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children) and recruitment into illegal gangs to perform illicit activities in the arms and narcotics trades, including committing homicide. Children were engaged in child labor, including domestic work, construction, work in textiles, the production of cereal grains and baked goods, cattle raising, and sales. Orphans and children from poor families frequently worked as street vendors and general laborers in small businesses despite the presence of law enforcement officials.

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

The constitution, labor laws, and state regulations prohibit discrimination based on age, race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin (except in cases determined to protect local workers), social origin, gender, disability, language, or HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, and penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected in the constitution or labor law, although the PDDH and the Ministry of Labor actively sought to protect workers against discrimination on those grounds.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to age, gender, disability, and sexual orientation or gender identity (see sections 6 and 7.e.). According to the Ministry of Labor, migrant workers have the same rights as citizens, but the ministry did not effectively protect their rights.

On January 27, the Legislative Assembly approved the Special Law for the Protection of the Elderly, which prohibits establishing an age limit for job applications, using age as a cause to dismiss an employee, or forcing an employee to retire due to age.

On August 31, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the Law of the Judicial Career, establishing that all judges older than 60 years or with more than 30 years of service must be removed from their position. The law affected 156 judges across the country but excluded the Supreme Court of Justice, which may grant exceptions to the judges of their choosing (see section 1.e.).

Although the law provides for equal pay between men and women, women did not receive equal pay. In July the United Nations reported that women made 18 percent less than men in the same jobs. The report also stated that 53 percent of the population in the country were women and that one-third of households were supported only by the income of women.

On April 19, a Mr. Wings restaurant in Soyapango, San Salvador Department, fired an employee for being pregnant. On April 20, the Ministry of Labor confirmed that the employee had been reinstated after an intervention by a team of inspectors from the ministry. The ministry also warned the restaurant against seeking any retaliation against the employee.

The government sets the minimum wage, which varies by sector. All the wage rates were above poverty income levels.

Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours – limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day – but allows overtime, which is to be paid at double the usual hourly wage. The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime for all workers other than domestic employees, such as maids and gardeners, who are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request. In such cases they are entitled to double pay. The government did not adequately enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting and enforcing occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review these. The law requires employers to take steps to meet OSH requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate labor laws may be penalized, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes; some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in OSH matters. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries and the government trained its inspectors on these standards, it did not effectively enforce them.

The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. Inspectors did not have the authority to initiate unannounced inspections or sanctions. Inspections were scheduled under a calendar set by the Inspections Directorate or to verify a complaint, and labor inspectors did not notify the company prior to their arrival. Allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. The Labor Ministry received complaints regarding failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, unpaid salaries, and cases of employers illegally withholding benefits (including social security and pension funds) from workers.

Reports of overtime and wage violations existed in several sectors. According to the Labor Ministry, employers in the agricultural sector routinely violated the laws requiring annual bonuses, vacation days, or rest days. Women in domestic service faced exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment, and generally poor work conditions. Workers in the textile industry reportedly experienced violations of wage, hour, and safety laws. According to the Women Transforming Association, certain apparel companies violated women’s rights through occupational-health violations and unpaid overtime. The government was ineffective in pursuing such violations.

In some cases the country’s high crime rate undermined acceptable conditions of work as well as workers’ psychological and physical health. Some workers, such as bus drivers, bill collectors, messengers, and teachers in high-risk areas, reported being subject to extortion and death threats by gang members. The PNC received 1,131 complaints of extortion from January to August. In 2020 extortion victims totaled 1,345 for the entire year, in which five months were mandatory national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August the average of extortion complaints was five per day, while in all of 2020 the total was four per day.

On January 11, Diario El Mundo reported that coffee farmers complained that gangs operating near the farms did not allow cutters from outside the neighborhood to enter the farms to work unless they paid an extortion fee.

After the killing of a bus employee on July 2, there was a seven-day work stoppage of public buses on Route 151 in San Jose Villanueva, La Libertad Department, forcing approximately 5,000 persons who used the 24 buses on the route to walk or find more costly detours. Although the PNC did not present a motive for the killing, residents claimed that gang members shot and killed the man for not paying the extortion fee.

Workers may legally remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively enforce this law.

Informal Sector: The informal sector represented almost 75 percent of the economy. Workers in the informal sector were not protected by labor laws and were not inspected by the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries inflicted by prison staff.

No specific office investigates the legality of security force killings.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured members of opposition parties, according to opposition leaders. Security personnel particularly abused persons suspected of plotting against the government, often with little or no evidence against them. Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings and torture.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, citizen activists documented police officers and the military using excessive force, including beating citizens who did not abide by the government’s preventive actions, such as not adhering to mask mandates.

Authorities later fired, suspended, or arrested some of these officials, and government officials reminded security personnel to treat their fellow citizens with respect.

Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.

Some military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, or beat women, including at checkpoints. Foreigners recounted being harassed at checkpoints, including having guns pointed at them without provocation. Senior government officials took few steps to address such violence and were sometimes implicated in ordering the violence.

Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, due to corruption, politicization of the forces, poor training, and the ability of senior government officials to order extrajudicial acts. An inspector general’s office within the Ministry of National Security investigates abuses within the ministry.

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements.

The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.

Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges and magistrates sometimes decided cases on political grounds, and many were members of the ruling party; others sought bribes. Impunity for politically motivated abuses was a problem, and human rights activists and opposition members had little legal recourse to protest such abuses. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the legislature, the Constitutional Court, or the president in his executive role for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes, circumventing appropriate legal processes altogether. Credible reports alleged judges decided in favor of plaintiffs in cases against international companies in return for a percentage of damages awarded.

The military justice system provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants have no right of appeal to a higher court.

In June a military court tried three individuals for crimes related to accidental explosions at a military barracks complex in a heavily populated neighborhood outside of Bata. The government stated 98 persons were killed and 617 injured, but Human Rights Watch and a local NGO reported the death toll may have been considerably higher. Two of the individuals received prison sentences of 30 and 70 years respectively, and the third was acquitted. Lawyers including the Equatoguinean Commission of Jurists criticized the trying of the case in a military court, in view of the high number of civilian casualties, the lack of opportunity for the victims to testify or observe at the trial, and the legal requirement that the attorney general “defend the interests of the people.” Legal observers considered the trial lacked genuine accountability and transparency, as evidenced by the relatively low rank of the accused and the relative lack of evidence presented for such a complex event.

In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Military and police personnel committed many break-ins.

Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. Members of civil society and opposition parties reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others. In some cases authorities reprimanded individuals, removed them from their jobs, or both. For example, in 2020 the then minister of health publicly insulted a nurse who privately criticized the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: A limited number of independent media outlets were active and expressed a variety of views, but not without restriction. The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically, and an online news portal published articles including criticism of the government. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed; the vice president owned the only private broadcast media. Starting a newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy; creating a digital presence was less onerous. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities, providing some access to global news sources.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including a French-language television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict media content through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions. Journalists routinely practiced self-censorship, fearing government retaliation.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.  At least one newspaper publisher stated it was cheaper and easier to print newspapers abroad than locally, citing censorship as one reason.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used criminal libel and slander laws to restrict public discussion. For example, on July 30, authorities detained social activist Noelia Asama for three days in the local gendarmerie jail for alleged libel and slander against the vice president.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government imposed many additional restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government often restricted these rights. Multiple members of the opposition reported that authorities delayed the renewal of their identity documents, effectively limiting their ability to travel within the country and abroad.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers, and some engaged in petty extortion. The government also conducted frequent roundups of foreign nationals at roadblocks, claiming the need to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts. The government imposed tight restrictions on interdistrict movement, nominally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but used such restrictions to increase extortion attempts and threaten immigrants.

Foreign Travel: The government at times issued temporary travel prohibitions on senior government officials due to alleged national security concerns. After nearly two years, opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI) leader Gabriel Nze Obiang in December had no update on his passport renewal requests, although the regular waiting period to receive a new document was approximately two to four weeks. Authorities did not permit him to travel internationally. The government stopped issuing travel documents for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not applicable.

The government did not generally cooperate 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, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR did not maintain an office in country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and punishable by 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of rape survivors. The government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to reluctance of survivors and their families to report rape. Even when survivors reported rape, police and judicial officials were reluctant to act, particularly if alleged perpetrators were politically connected or members of the military or police. LGBTQI+ women and transgender men were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the military, and these same groups reported abuse by their families including rape as a form of so-called conversion therapy. Transgender women reported harassment, rape, and sexual abuse in police custody.

Domestic violence is illegal. The penalty for assault ranges from one to 20 years’ imprisonment. Survivors were reluctant to report cases, and the government did not enforce the law effectively, with police and the judiciary reluctant to prosecute cases. Authorities generally treated domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved in the home, did not protect the anonymity of survivors, and often disclosed victims’ whereabouts to their alleged abusers. No statistics were available on prosecutions, convictions, or punishments.

National television on several occasions broadcast interviews with underage girls, in some cases concealing their faces, being coerced by authorities into withdrawing rape allegations. Sometimes the girls withdrew their allegations following financial settlements with their alleged rapists, or due to family or community pressure. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality mediated some domestic disputes but had no enforcement powers.

The government-controlled media regularly broadcast public service announcements regarding domestic violence and trafficking in persons.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In rural areas there were instances of levirate marriage, the practice by which a woman is required to marry her deceased husband’s brother, often against her will. Under such practice, women were not allowed to inherit their late husbands’ possessions. In some cases large bride prices paid to a wife’s family made it difficult for women to leave their marriages because, despite the law’s requirement for an equitable division of assets, traditional practices within the majority Fang ethnic group require reimbursement of the bride price and additional goods accrued during the marriage to a husband’s family in the case of divorce.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it continued to be a problem. The government made no effort to address the problem, and no statistics were available.

In June anonymous sources reported sexual extortion and abuse by officials on several women’s national sports teams, particularly regarding selection to the teams.

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

Legal, social, and cultural barriers and government policies impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. LGBTQI+ individuals were generally not afforded the ability to manage their reproductive health.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including interviews and medical examinations at hospitals and clinics, although service providers had no specific training on handling sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of the clinical management of rape cases. There was limited access to postabortion care.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the maternal mortality rate was 301 per 100,000 live births in 2017. Major factors affecting maternal mortality included poverty, poor medical training, and limited access to health care, especially in rural areas. Prenatal and obstetric care was free in government clinics but limited primarily to the cities of Malabo and Bata. The WHO reported that skilled health personnel attended 68 percent of births, but only 21 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied through modern methods. The birth rate was 176 per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19. Factors likely contributing to the high birth rate included cultural tolerance for childbirth out of wedlock, low access to sexual education and contraception in rural populations, and economic constraints forcing girls into relationship with older men who could support families.

Discrimination: While the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law discriminates against women in matters of nationality (for example, it is easier for a man to pass citizenship to a foreign woman through marriage than it is for a woman to pass citizenship to a foreign man), real and personal property, and inheritance. The prevalence of negative stereotypes and adverse cultural norms and customs was believed to contribute to discrimination against women.

Custom confined women in rural areas largely to traditional roles. Women in urban areas experienced less overt discrimination but did not enjoy pay or access to employment and credit on an equal basis with men (see section 7.d, Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation).

The government provided courses, seminars, conferences, and media programs to sensitize the population and government agencies to the needs and rights of women. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality held events for International Women’s Day to raise public awareness of these rights. The ministry also provided technical assistance and financial support to rural women.

The law does not protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination.

Societal discrimination, harassment by security forces, and political marginalization of minorities were problems (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest, and section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups).

The predominant ethnic group, the Fang, dominated politics and the economy. Foreigners were often victimized, including documented and irregular immigrants from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, and other African countries, a significant portion of the labor force. The government required immigrants to have relevant documents, partly to address concerns regarding trafficking in persons, although police and gendarmes used documentation status to extort bribes from foreigners at routine traffic stops. In October police and gendarmes arrested hundreds of foreigners, ostensibly to verify immigration and employment documentation (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

In public speeches President Obiang frequently referred to foreigners as a security and terrorist threat and warned of a renewal of colonialism by foreign interests.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from (at least) one citizen parent, whether born in the country or abroad, but not automatically from birth on the country’s territory. If both parents are foreigners, a person born in the country can claim nationality at age 18, but the process was extremely burdensome and rarely resulted in approved citizenship. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare requires parents to register all births and adjudicates them on a nondiscriminatory basis. Failure to register a child may result in denial of public services.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory until age 16, although all students are required to pay for registration, textbooks, and other materials. Most children attended school through the primary grades (sixth grade) (see section 7.c., Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment). Boys and girls generally completed secondary or vocational schooling. The Ministry of Education required teenage girls to take a pregnancy test, and those who tested positive were not allowed to attend school. LGBTQI+ girls reported discrimination or exclusion by teachers. Chores and work at home also limited girls’ access to secondary education, especially in rural areas. School enrollment was nearly identical in the elementary grades (50.1 percent for boys versus 49.9 percent for girls). By high school the percentage of girls declined slightly (50.7 percent for boys versus 49.3 percent for girls). Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 resulted in smaller class sizes and additional school sessions. While this left many children outside the classroom due to a lack of space and staff in 2020, the hiring of temporary teachers increased staffing in public schools. Attention to school attendance generally focused more on citizen children than on their foreign resident peers.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Corporal punishment was a culturally accepted method of discipline, including in schools.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14. UNICEF reported, using 2011 data, that 9 percent of women were married before age 15 and 30 percent before age 18. Forced marriage occurred, especially in rural areas, although no statistics were available. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality operated programs to deter child marriage but did not address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, but authorities generally did not identify nor prosecute offenders. The law specifically addresses the sale, offering, or use of children for commercial sex, and child pornography generally, and antitrafficking provisions include sexual exploitation and pornography as examples of cases of trafficking-related crimes. The law on trafficking children, however, requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion, and therefore does not criminalize all forms of child trafficking. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18.

Underage girls and boys were exploited in commercial sex, particularly in the two largest cities, Malabo and Bata. During the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a local NGO, transgender children were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and 10 to 15 children were sexually exploited and transported between Bata and Malabo.

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

The Jewish community was small, likely fewer than 100 persons. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

Persons with disabilities cannot access education, health services, public buildings and transportation on an equal basis with others. New buildings must reportedly be accessible to persons with disabilities, but inaccessible public buildings and schools remained an obstacle, including some newly constructed government buildings. Access to other state services such as health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system are not explicitly provided by law.

Authorities did not investigate incidents of violence or other abuses against persons with disabilities. The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the law requires companies employing more than 50 employees hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities, few if any did so. Domestic and international NGOs reported allegations that employment as a person with disabilities without high-level political sponsorship was nearly impossible. Women with disabilities reported that it was nearly impossible to obtain employment without a personal recommendation from the president’s wife.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the law requires companies employing more than 50 employees hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities, few if any did so. Domestic and international NGOs reported allegations that employment as a person with disabilities without high-level political sponsorship was nearly impossible. Women with disabilities reported that it was nearly impossible to obtain employment without a personal recommendation from the president’s wife.

Persons with disabilities may vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but lack of physical access to buildings posed a barrier to full participation. Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, although generally no accommodations were made for their disabilities. A small number of private schools for children with disabilities operated with a combination of public and private funding.

Despite frequent public statements and radio campaigns advocating nondiscrimination, including one by President Obiang, there remained stigma regarding persons with HIV or AIDS, and many individuals kept their illness hidden. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare estimated that less than half of persons with HIV or AIDS sought treatment, and that some persons likely avoided the no-cost treatment because of associated social stigma.

Security forces reportedly subjected LGBTQI+ individuals to discrimination and violence, including rape and other sexual violence, within the military and in jails and prisons. Authorities did not investigate these abuses.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, but societal stigmatization of and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community was a problem. The government made no effort to combat this stigma and discrimination. The government and laws do not formally recognize or protect the existence of LGBTQI+ persons or groups; no laws prohibit discrimination. The government’s position was that such sexual orientations and gender identities were inconsistent with cultural beliefs.

LGBTQI+ individuals often faced stigma from their families as well as from the government and employers. Families sometimes rejected children and forced them to leave home, often resulting in them quitting school. Authorities removed some LGBTQI+ individuals from government jobs and academia because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. School officials reportedly denied transgender children access to some educational facilities. There were persistent reports that family members raped LGBTQI+ women to impregnate them and supposedly convert them to heterosexuality. Family members also reportedly raped transgender men. There were also reports of families of LGBTQI+ parents taking children away.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to establish unions, affiliate with unions of their choice, and collectively bargain. The law also allows unions to conduct activities without interference. The law requires a union to have at least 50 members from a workplace to register, however, effectively blocking most union formation. The government did not generally allow unions to organize.

The government did not effectively enforce laws providing freedom of association or the right to collective bargaining. All unions must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. The Union Organization of Small Farmers was the only legal, operational labor union. Authorities refused to recognize other unions, including the Workers Union of Equatorial Guinea, Independent Service Union, Teachers’ Trade Union Association, and the Rural Workers Organization. Most often those seeking to organize were co-opted into existing political party structures by means of pressure and incentives.

The law broadly acknowledges the right to engage in strikes, but no implementing legislation defines legitimate grounds for striking. No law requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, although such dismissal may fall under wrongful termination. The government has never authorized a strike.

The government did not protect the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference. Penalties were not applied but were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Labor NGOs faced restrictions and were unable to operate.

Dismissed workers could appeal to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security through their regional delegate, but there was little trust in the fairness of the system.  Citizens and foreigners with valid work permits have the right to appeal Ministry of Labor and Social Security decisions to a special standing committee of the House of Deputies established to hear citizen complaints regarding decisions by any government agency.  The committee was not active.

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to laws on forced labor, however, many inspections ended in bribery of the labor inspectors and no significant findings of forced or coerced labor. Despite creating an online tool and telephone numbers to report cases of forced labor and promoting its efforts online, the government did not effectively enforce the law or take sufficient action to end trafficking, and forced labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and are included in the law against trafficking in persons.

Employees in the public and private sector were often paid months late, although the minister of public administration and administrative reform denied any delays in salary payment for central government workers. Some workers, especially those from overseas, quit their jobs because of nonpayment, having effectively worked for months without compensation.

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

The law prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. There is no law that specifically prohibits using a child for illicit purposes; under the antitrafficking law, perpetrators must use coercion to be prosecuted. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 18. With the authorization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and their parents or guardians, however, minors between ages 16 and 18 may perform light work that does not interfere with their schooling. The minimum age for apprenticeships is 16.

Minors are permitted to work only during the day, and their workday is limited to six hours, for which they are paid the equivalent of an eight-hour daytime work rate. The government has yet to publish any list of hazardous types of work prohibited for children.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but labor inspectors focused mainly on the construction industry and not on child labor. The laws were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government does not have data on the worst forms of child labor.

Children were reportedly transported from nearby countries, primarily Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, and Togo, and forced to work as domestic servants, market laborers, street vendors, launderers, and beggars. Increasingly there were reports of local children brought from rural areas to work as domestic servants in Malabo and Bata. The government occasionally provided social services on an ad hoc basis to children found working in markets. Government officials called attention to children working in markets and as street vendors and increased oversight of this sector of the economy. The law prohibits children from working as street vendors to reduce child labor.

Some children worked in family businesses, mostly in the informal economy, and were seen selling used clothes, fruit, and vegetables, especially on weekends. Other children worked as servers or cooks in family restaurants and bars.

The United Nations also documented children working as scrap metal salvagers in the aftermath of the March explosions at a military barracks outside of Bata (see also section 1.e, Trial Procedures).

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, political opinion, national origin, social status, or union affiliation. Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination based on age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, language, HIV and AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political affiliation, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and HIV and AIDS status. Wage discrimination against foreign migrant workers occurred. High-ranking members of independent opposition parties were unable to find work and were barred from government employment.

The government does not have an agency responsible for the protection of persons unable to work due to permanent or temporary illness or other health conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not effectively enforce the legal mandate to employ a specific percentage of persons with disabilities in companies with 50 employees or more, nor did the government take steps to accommodate them in the workplace.

The country continued to have large gender gaps in education, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Deep-rooted stereotypes and ethnic traditions impeded women’s employment opportunities, and pregnant women, women with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ women faced further barriers. Women mostly worked in the informal sector, where they did not have access to benefits or social security. The lack of enforcement left women vulnerable to discrimination, but they rarely complained due to fear of reprisals. Additionally, the informal sector provided some women with sufficient economic resources to finance major purchases, education abroad for family members, and self-sustainability that was not provided in similar positions in the formal economy. The government did not maintain accurate or updated statistics on unemployment generally, nor by segment of society.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality continued a program to promote self-employment among rural women.  The president’s wife, on an ad hoc basis, donated funds to promote female-owned businesses.

Wage and Hour Laws: The law requires employers to pay citizens at the same rate as foreigners and to pay domestic workers not less than 60 percent of the national minimum wage. The government enforced neither requirement. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes and were seldom enforced.

The standard work week is eight hours a day and 48 hours a week for daytime work, six hours a day and 36 hours a week for night work, and seven hours a day and 42 hours a week for mixed day and night work. Offshore workdays in the oil and gas sector are a minimum of 12 hours, of which eight hours are considered regular work and four hours are counted as overtime. The workday includes one hour for meals and breaks. The law also requires paid leave for government holidays, annual leave, and bonuses of 15 days’ pay twice yearly. Overtime is not mandatory, except as provided by law or special agreement, and is prohibited for pregnant workers. The law allows overtime for night work. Premium pay is required for overtime and holidays. Women have six weeks prematernity and postmaternity leave that can be extended for medical reasons. The law provides for two paid daily breaks of one hour each to breast feed.

Occupational Safety and Health: Appropriate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide for protection of workers from occupational hazards. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for setting and enforcing minimum wage, workweek rules, and OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws, and penalties for violating these laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The ministry did not publish the results of its OSH inspections.

The ministry conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. The small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees. The law permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections exist for employees who are injured or killed on the job and for those who are exposed to dangerous chemicals, but these protections were generally extended only to those in the formal sector. Protections in the hydrocarbons sector exceeded minimum international safety standards.

Foreigners, including migrants from other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, were sometimes subjected to poor working conditions. Some workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, supplied with insufficient safety gear, and subjected to excessively long hours. An existing ministry website and a telephone hotline established during the year enabled workers to report workplace irregularities and violations, including safety concerns and forced labor. No cases had been reported to the hotline as of October.

Informal Sector: The government did not monitor the informal sector, which employed most workers. The country’s informal sector was estimated to have reached 32 percent of GDP by 2017 in response to growing demand for goods and services. The informal sector is mainly made up of small businesses that provide consumables and services, such as frozen food, produce stands, fish and fish products, hair salons, convenience stores, auto repair shops, restaurants, and bars. Most of the businesses are owned by women or by African immigrants. Employees and businesses in the informal sector are vulnerable to extorsion and abuse from officials, including demands for bribes, occasional demolition of structures, and harassment from police and gendarmes.

Eritrea

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

While there were no credible reports of unlawful or politically motivated killings within the country, there were credible reports that government forces deployed in northern Ethiopia committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not make efforts to prevent disappearances or to investigate or punish those responsible. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies and foreign or dual nationals. The disappeared included persons presumably detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, and individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties; others were disappeared for unknown offenses.

There were no known developments in the case of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and of journalists detained in 2001.

The law prohibits torture. Reports of torture, however, continued, especially against political prisoners. According to UN experts, torture is allegedly common at the Eiraeiro prison. Former prisoners who have escaped the country have reported being tied up and held upside down on frames, legs and arms bound, while their feet, legs and buttocks were beaten with sticks or wire.

In August 2019, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting security forces’ torture, including by beating, prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, of persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or to relieve themselves. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or other abuse.

Impunity remained a serious problem among security forces. The government did not release any information to indicate it had conducted investigations of alleged abuses, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem among the different branches of the security services.

The Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) were responsible for serious human rights abuses, including execution, rape, and torture of civilians, within Ethiopia as part of its military involvement there (see section 1.g.).

The unimplemented constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not observe these provisions.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.

Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones. Authorities required permits to use SIM cards.

The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.

Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes and threatened individuals without explanation. Security forces reportedly detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.

Ruling party administration offices and their associated local militia units, composed of persons who had finished their national service but were still required to assist with security matters, reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm residents’ attendance at national service projects.

Killings: The EDF were reportedly responsible for deliberately killing civilians, including Eritrean refugees, in northern Ethiopia as part of the conflict there. On May 21, the Attorney General of Ethiopia accused the EDF of killing 110 civilians in November 2020, including 40 who were pulled from their homes in house-to-house raids. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Tigray described a systematic effort by the EDF to inflict as much harm on the ethnic Tigrayan population as possible in areas where the EDF operated. IDPs reported that in some cases, the EDF used knives or bayonets to slash the torsos of pregnant women and then left them for dead. The EDF reportedly forced survivors to leave the bodies of the dead where they lay or face execution themselves. Many IDPs recounted instances of witnessing the rape, murder, and torture of friends and family members by the EDF.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to media and NGO reports, the EDF was responsible for massacres, looting, and sexual assaults in Tigray; EDF troops raped, tortured, and executed civilians; the EDF also destroyed property and ransacked businesses; and the EDF purposely shot civilians in the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, executing men and boys, and forcibly evicted Tigrayan families from their residences.

The EDF also reportedly engaged in sexual violence to terrorize and traumatize Tigrayan civilians. IDPs also spoke of a “scorched earth” policy intended to prevent IDPs from returning home.

According to Amnesty International, several women reported being raped by EDF personnel inside Ethiopia, including some who reported being held captive for weeks. According to Human Rights Watch, Eritrean soldiers forcibly repatriated Eritrean refugees and largely destroyed the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps. Human Rights Watch said Eritrean troops killed at least 31 individuals in Hitsats town. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN refugee agency), more than 7,600 of the 20,000 refugees sheltering at the Hitsats and Shimelba camps in October 2020 remained unaccounted for as of August.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are punishable under the law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 16 journalists in detention.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency, but access to free Egyptian satellite television was common. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. Most independent journalists were in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine. It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

The law does not provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration and repatriation, and the government restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at checkpoints.

Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and other foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel outside of Asmara. During the year, however, the government on many occasions approved requests with fewer than 10 days’ advance notice.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. The government often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military, national service, or militia duties; had unpaid income taxes; or for arbitrary or unstated reasons. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children older than age five. Categories of persons commonly denied exit visas included men younger than 40, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30. Authorities were more likely to approve exit visas for married women and those with children. The land border with Sudan was open, but other land borders remained closed, preventing legal overland travel for most citizens. Members of some cross-border ethnic groups (such as the Afar in the east and the Beja in the west) were allowed to cross the borders.

Exile: In general, citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the two percent tax on foreign earned income to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be eligible for some government services and documents, including birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate and vehicle transactions. Those who have left the country illegally have to sign a document called the “regret form,” in addition to agreeing to pay the two percent tax, to obtain a passport or any other services while abroad.

Not applicable.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government did not cooperate with the UN refugee agency regarding treatment of refugees. The government defined refugee status differently than the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The government closed the Umkulu Refugee Camp on January 12.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not recognize Ethiopians, Sudanese, or South Sudanese as refugees, instead considering them economic migrants. The government, however, allowed these refugees to remain in the country.

Refoulement: According to observers, the approximately 53 remaining Somali refugees were returned to Mogadishu. The UN refugee agency stated that it was not involved in, nor informed of, this return of refugees.

Employment: Refugees were not granted formal work permits, but some worked informally.

Access to Basic Services: The UN refugee agency was no longer able to provide basic support for persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin.

Durable Solutions: Although the government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or up to 16 years in aggravated cases (such as those that inflict serious bodily injury, involve a minor or someone under the perpetrator’s care, or involve a group of perpetrators). The law makes no distinction based on the gender of the assailant or the victim. Rape between spouses is punishable only when the spouses have permanently separated.

While the law does not specifically criminalize domestic violence, assault carries a punishment that varies based on the seriousness of the crime, ranging from nine months to 19 years in prison. Authorities rarely intervened in domestic violence cases.

It is difficult to determine the extent of such abuses, as stigma prevents individuals from coming forward, and the government does not publicize statistics.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for both women and girls. Government efforts to reduce FGM/C included public awareness campaigns at the local level targeting religious and community leaders. Government reports stated certain regions and subzones were considered entirely free of FGM/C. Local UN representatives confirmed that the government took FGM/C seriously as a problem and acted credibly to combat the practice. The UN Population Fund worked with the government and other organizations, including the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, on a variety of education programs to discourage the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically criminalize sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by government authorities. Vulnerable populations can provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including sterilization.

The Ministry of Health promoted modern contraceptive means and took steps to inform women throughout the country of these means. Contraception was provided free of charge in many cases; however, in more rural areas, women still lacked access or information. The World Health Organization reported that from 2010 to 2019 only 21 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.

Women in major population centers have access to prenatal and childbirth health-care services. Rural areas lack the same level of health care for pregnancy, and there is a lack of skilled health-care attendance at birth. According to the World Health Organization, only 34 percent of births from 2010 to 2019 were attended. Barriers included education and transportation.

Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion; however, in doing so they risked arrest and prosecution for the illegal abortion.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception and postexposure prophylaxis for HIV.

According to the World Health Organization, the maternal death rate was an estimated 480 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high maternal death rate was likely due to such factors as limited health-care services, particularly in rural areas. No information was available on the adolescent birth rate. While this has traditionally been a problem in the country and likely contributed to high maternal death rates, the government has made a concerted effort to convince individuals to delay marriage and childbirth.

Discrimination: Family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws provide men and women the same status and rights. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women, particularly in rural areas, continued to face economic and social discrimination. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

The law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity. There were reports that governmental discrimination continued against ethnic minorities, particularly against the Afar, one of nine ethnic groups in the country.

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from having at least one citizen parent, whether the person is born in the country or abroad. Registration of a birth within the first three months requires only a hospital certificate. If not registered, a child may not be allowed to attend school but may receive medical treatment at hospitals.

Education: Education through grade seven is compulsory and tuition free, although students’ families were responsible for providing uniforms, supplies, and transportation. Access to education was not universal, but the government took steps to encourage attendance, including public awareness campaigns and home visits by school officials. In rural areas parents enrolled fewer daughters than sons in school, but the percentage of girls in school continued to increase.

Child Abuse: The law provides that assault of a person incapable of self-defense or against a person for whom the assailant has an obligation to give special care is an aggravated offense. The law also criminalizes child neglect, with a punishment between one- and six-months’ imprisonment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18, unless the woman is pregnant or has already had a child, in which case the minimum for both is 16. The minister of justice or someone appointed by the minister may also waive the age requirement. There were no recent statistics on early marriage. Officials spoke publicly on the dangers of early marriage and collaborated with UN agencies to educate the public regarding these dangers, and many neighborhood committees actively discouraged the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes most commercial sexual exploitation and practices related to child pornography. The use of a child for commercial sex, however, is not specifically prohibited by law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

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

One Jewish person remains in the country, and he maintained the only synagogue without reported government interference. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government implemented programs to assist persons with disabilities, especially combat veterans, and dedicated substantial resources to support and train thousands of persons with physical disabilities. No laws mandate access for persons with disabilities to public or private buildings, information, and communications. There were separate schools for children with hearing, vision, mental, and intellectual disabilities. Most of these schools were private; the government provided some support to them. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities.

No information is available on the rate of school attendance for children with disabilities compared to those without disabilities.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity “or any other indecent act,” which is punishable if convicted by five to seven years’ incarceration. The government actively enforced this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to LGBTQI+ persons do not exist.

There were no known LGBTQI+ organizations in the country. The government tightly restricts freedom of expression (see section 2.a.), including on subjects related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. Labor laws did not fully cover all workers, including civil servants, domestic workers, police, national service conscripts, and those in the informal sector. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers dismissed for legally sanctioned union activity. The law allows for the establishment of unions in workplaces with at least 20 employees and requires a minimum of 15 members to form a union. Workers from multiple smaller worksites, however, can band together to create a “general association,” if there are at least 20 members. The law requires prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare to establish a union, but it deems registration granted if the ministry does not respond within one month.

The government did not respect or effectively enforce the law. The Labor Relations Board decided penalties and legal protections against antiunion interference on a case-by-case basis. Penalties were not necessarily commensurate with those for denials of civil rights.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Most workers fall under the exceptions noted above. For the few formal workers who are not in national service, the only option for collective representation is the one umbrella trade union, the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers. No independent unions exist. The confederation was directly linked to the ruling party and did not take steps against party-owned enterprises. While strikes are technically legal, only the union may call for one, and it does not. The confederation’s members represent hotel workers, service personnel, agricultural professionals, and teachers, among other occupations. In general, no nongovernmental organizations were permitted to play a role in promoting the rights of workers in the country.

The law prohibits forced labor and slavery, but gaps in the law allowed widespread forced labor to occur. The government enforced these laws within private industry; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The definition of forced labor in local law excludes activities performed under national service or other civic obligations, compulsory labor for convicted prisoners, and “communal services rendered during an emergency.” This definition excludes nearly all public sector employees, who are mostly national service workers. Labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions do not apply to persons conscripted into national service.

The country’s national service obligation amounted to a form of forced labor. By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50, with limited exceptions, must perform national service. The national service obligation legally consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military or civilian national service, for a total of 18 months, or, for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ. During times of emergency, however, the government can suspend the 18-month limit, which it did in 1998 with the outbreak of the war with Ethiopia and has not rescinded. The result is an indefinite extension of the duration of national service, in some cases for more than 20 years; discharge from National Service is arbitrary and procedures for doing so remain opaque. Conscripts were employed by all governmental and party-run agencies, including for-profit enterprises, in conditions of forced labor.

Wages for conscripts are low, although pay scales have been revised for several job functions in recent years, particularly for those with higher education or skilled training credentials. National Service workers without educational or vocational qualifications continue to be paid extremely low wages, and the government often substitutes food or nonfood rations for wages. The law provides for assignment to a job category according to the person’s capacity and profession, but this was not always followed in practice. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.

The government required those not already in the military to attend civilian militia training and carry firearms, including many who were demobilized, the elderly, and persons otherwise exempted from military service. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involved security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling and agricultural work. Militia training involved marches, weapons training, and shooting practice as well as listening to patriotic lectures. Recruits as young as 16 underwent military training and were subject to forced labor (see section 7 c.).

Penalties involving compulsory labor may be imposed for the peaceful expression of opposition to the established political, social, or economic system or the practice of a religion. There were no reliable data on the number of prisoners subjected to compulsory labor for political offenses. The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on forced and compulsory labor in the informal sector, which included 80 percent of workers.

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

The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although this restriction does not apply to children working outside of formal employment relationships, including self-employed workers. The government prohibits persons younger than 18 from employment between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and for more than seven hours per day. The government has not determined by law or regulation the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was inconsistent and did not extend to the informal sector. Inspections were infrequent, and penalties, if imposed, were arbitrary and not necessarily commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes.

Children in rural areas commonly worked on family farms, fetched firewood or water, worked in illegal mines, and herded livestock. In urban areas children worked as street vendors. Children also worked in small-scale garages, bicycle repair shops, metal workshops, and tea and coffee shops. They also transported grain or other goods via donkey cart or bicycle. Child domestic service occurred, as did begging by children, often under conditions of forced labor.

Secondary school students participated in the Summer Work Program, which mostly included planting trees. In past years, the program included school and hospital maintenance. Students worked for four to six hours a day, five days a week, and at least some students were given a small stipend for participating. Reports indicated students who did not participate in the work program in past years were fined, although waivers were sometimes available.

To graduate from high school and meet national service requirements, students complete their final year of schooling (12th grade) at the Sawa military complex. Nearly half the year is devoted to mandatory military training. Some students at Sawa were reportedly as young as 16. In addition, some students are forced to work on government-owned farms.

To enforce this system, the government conducted forcible roundups of students and young persons across the country who did not report to military training. Furthermore, the military occasionally performed identity checks that led to the imprisonment of children alleged to be attempting to evade compulsory national service.

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

Labor laws prohibit employment and occupation discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, social origin, nationality, political orientation, or religion. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, language, or age. The Labor Relations Board has responsibility for enforcing antidiscrimination law but provided no public information on cases or their resolution.

Discrimination against women in pay was common in the workplace and occurred in an environment of impunity. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment (see section 6, Women). Persons with disabilities in the private sector reportedly experienced discrimination in hiring and in access to the workplace.

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage for employees of party-owned enterprises and government employees was below the international poverty line. There was no national minimum wage for private sector workers. The law provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and no more than two hours per day of overtime, but it includes exceptions for when an employee is absent or when there is “urgent work.” The law entitles workers, except for those employed in national service, to overtime pay, but this was not always enforced. The legal rest period is one day per week, although most employees received one and one-half days.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The government did not report on violations of wage and hour laws.

Occupational Safety and Health: No published occupational health and safety standards exist. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Each government enterprise has a separate agreement with the local union defining the work standards, including occupational health and safety regulations, for that enterprise. There were 168 government enterprises in the country, accounting for most large-scale employers.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for worker safety and welfare. The government did not effectively enforce the negotiated standards. The ministry employed 28 inspectors, which was insufficient to enforce compliance. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers reported that every enterprise has an inspection at least once per year, which is then reviewed by the enterprise, the union, and the ministry. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and demand changes, but they may not initiate sanctions.

The government did not report on abuses of safety or health standards. There was no information on major industrial accidents during the year.

Informal Sector: Approximately 80 percent of the population was employed in the informal sector in subsistence farming or livestock and small-scale retail trading. No labor laws apply to the informal sector. There were no reliable data on the informal economy and no effective mechanisms for monitoring conditions or protecting workers in the informal economy.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future