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Cuba

Executive Summary

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the leading force of society and of the state. The government conducted the April 2015 municipal elections with relative administrative efficiency, but they were neither free nor fair; a CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates and the government treated non-CP candidates differently.

The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights abuses included the abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose their government; the use of government threats, physical assault, intimidation, and violent government-organized counter protests against peaceful dissent; and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.

The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions; arbitrary, short-term, politically motivated detentions and arrests; selective prosecution; denial of fair trial; and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy by engaging in significant monitoring and censoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedoms of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of unregistered religious groups to gather. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.

Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated long-term disappearances during the year, although there were several reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions. On August 1, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an independent human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported human rights activist Carlos Manuel Figueroa could not be located. The NGO later reported that he was detained for five days and then placed under house arrest until August 13 for filming the detentions of members of the independent civil society group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

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

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. There were reports, however, that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse, sometimes by other inmates, with the acquiescence of guards.

There were reports of police assaulting detainees or being complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators (see section 2.b.).

On January 10, activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez reported state security officers injected them with an unknown substance when they participated in a public march calling for the release of political prisoners. Medical evaluations in Miami produced inconclusive results about the nature of the substance.

On March 27, police officers allegedly beat two members of the Damas de Blanco with cables, and one Dama suffered an arm sprain. Members of the Damas de Blanco reported receiving head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during government-sponsored counter protests and detentions.

On July 20, Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, president of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), complained of a beating by police officers that caused injuries to his ribs, abdomen, and tongue when he tried to visit a police station to check on a fellow FANTU activist.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports of prison officials assaulting prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, which included not only prisons but also work camps and other kinds of detention facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided basic food and some medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Prisoners often slept on concrete bunks without a mattress, with some reports of more than one person sharing a narrow bunk. Where available, mattresses were thin and often infested with vermin and insects. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and NGOs reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prison deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners and the general prison population were held in similar conditions. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison). Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, who they believed were acting on orders of prison authorities, threatened or harassed them.

Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some prisoners were isolated for months at a time.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: There was no publicly available information about prison administration or recordkeeping.

A legal department within the Attorney General’s Office is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse in the prison system. The results of these investigations were not publicly accessible. By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after a prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that government officials refused to allow or accept complaints, or failed to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits. Some prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and family members.

The Cuban Council of Churches, the largest Protestant religious organization, reported that it organized weekly chaplain services for all prisons in the country. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to access religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by religious groups to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year. The government allowed foreign journalists to tour specific prisons, but others have been off-limits since 2013.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out arrests and searches. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “act of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but this law was not always followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.

Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The CCDHRN counted 9,940 detentions through the end of the year, compared with 8,616 in 2015. Members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. The largest opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), also reported an increase in short-term detentions. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In December UNPACU published a list of 46 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for reported peaceful protests or assemblies.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “potential dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. On March 14, authorities charged UNPACU activist Luis Bello Gonzalez with precriminal social dangerousness and sentenced him to three years in prison. UNPACU leaders alleged authorities arrested and charged Gonzalez because of his regular participation in protests alongside other UNPACU members.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior exercises control over police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported state security agents by carrying out house searches, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.

The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed civil rights and human rights abuses with impunity.

Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported that officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

There were no official mechanisms readily available to investigate government abuses.

Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).

According to independent reports, state-orchestrated counter protests directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to shame participants publicly (see section 2.a.). The Damas de Blanco and other members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign experienced weekly government-sponsored counter protests at their usual gathering place in Havana from January until March, when the government shut down the demonstrations altogether. Government-sponsored counter protests continued for several months outside of the Damas de Blanco headquarters to prevent large demonstrations by activists.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.

Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served, if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest or affording them legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are able to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but these challenges were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to have been politically motivated. On December 6, the mother of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus after authorities detained her son on November 26; El Sexto had painted graffiti on an exterior wall of a Havana hotel. The court denied the petition, and his mother submitted a second petition on December 13, which remained pending at year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the CP, which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was virtually no separation of powers between the judicial system, the CP, and the Council of State.

Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Officials denied entry to trials by some observers during the year. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are members of the military, police force, or other law enforcement agency.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.

Defendants generally have the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many cases were concluded quickly and were closed to the press. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials, but the government claimed that limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense, if necessary. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Only state attorneys are licensed to practice in criminal courts.

Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or testimony about the revolutionary credentials of a defendant.

Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant, but not if the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In these cases defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles.

In trials where defendants are charged with “potential dangerousness” (see section 1.d.), the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers; repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile; and political activists who participated in public protests.

The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to deny holding any political prisoners but refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The number of political prisoners was difficult to determine. Lack of governmental transparency and systemic violations of due process rights obfuscated the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions, allowing government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not release those numbers. The government continued to deny access to its prisons and detentions centers by independent monitors who could help determine the size of the political prisoner population. At least two independent organizations estimated there were 75 to 95 political prisoners. The government closely monitored these organizations, which often faced harassment from state police.

On September 23, authorities arrested independent lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo during a police raid on the legal aid center Cubalex (see section 1.f.). Although police released all other detained employees in less than 24 hours, Ferrer remained in detention through the end of the year. According to Cubalex, Ferrer received a suspended three-year sentence in February for allegedly falsifying documents in relation to the attempted establishment of a civil society organization in 2010, and police cited this earlier arrest as a reason for refusing his release.

Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government also frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although it is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, independent legal experts noted that general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative determinations and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked independence and impartiality as well as effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.

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

The constitution protects citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and police must have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Nevertheless, there were reports that government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity. Additionally, in August civil society organizations complained that text messages containing specific words including “democracy” and “dissident” were systematically blocked.

Police searched homes and seized personal goods without legally required documentation.

In May, and again in November, UNPACU reported major search and seizure operations at private homes used as headquarters in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. In both cases police confiscated printed materials, cameras, computers, printers, flash drives, and money.

On September 23, the Center for Legal Information (Cubalex), an independent legal aid center, reported a large search and seizure operation of its headquarters. Police seized five computers, four laptops, multiple hard drives, USB drives, cell phones, and more than 300 records of legal cases. Police also strip-searched Cubalex lawyers, threatened the employees with prison time, and opened an investigation into their alleged illicit activities.

The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials and diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to frequent surveillance, including electronic surveillance.

The CP is the only legally recognized political party, and the government actively suppressed attempts to form other parties (see section 3). The government encouraged mass political mobilization and favored citizens who actively participated (see section 2.b.).

Family members of government employees who leave international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Several government workers reported being fired for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. For example, in August local radio station journalist Jose Ramirez Pandoja was fired for publishing a controversial speech by the deputy director of the CP’s official newspaper, Granma, on his personal blog. The speech cited young journalists leaving traditional media outlets due to censorship policies and low salaries.

Several university professors and researchers reported they were forced from their positions or demoted for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. On January 8, the government closed open-air churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas and detained three pastors associated with the Apostolic movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches. The government claimed that the pastors erected the churches without permission, but the pastors denied that claim. One of the pastors was later charged and convicted of violating neighborhood noise ordinances related to his Sunday sermons.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government restricted the ability of official journalists to work for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. Granma correspondent Jose Antonio Torres remained in prison at the end of the year; he was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage for articles he wrote.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of #TodosMarchamos activists. Several journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and could result in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On August 1, human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo reported being detained and beaten when he arrived at the airport in Havana after he refused to go to a small room to have his belongings searched. On August 12, independent lawyer Laritza Diversent was briefly questioned when she returned from testifying on freedom of expression before the UN special rapporteur. Security officials confiscated all materials related to this event. Independent think tank Convivencia reported nine police citations and interrogations in September and October during which state security questioned members about their participation in international conferences.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and internet chat rooms and browsing that were permitted. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of black market facilities.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 31 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015, access often was limited to a national intranet that offered only e-mail or highly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, with approximately 5 percent of the population having access to open internet.

The government selectively granted internet access to certain areas in the city and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access e-mail and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards and provide personal information in order to access the internet in these centers.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots at computer centers to more than 200 countrywide. The government also expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in areas outside computer centers and proposed a pilot program to install internet in the homes of a limited number of persons in Old Havana. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored e-mail, employed internet search filters, and blocked access to websites considered objectionable. Access cost approximately two convertible pesos (CUC) ($2) per hour, still beyond the means of many citizens, whose average official income was approximately 23 CUC ($23) per month.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, reportedly actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition, a small but growing number of citizens could use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Foreigners could buy internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers, where internet access could be purchased only in hard currency. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens. Citizens usually could purchase internet access at the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

During the 54-day hunger strike of activist Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, the government reportedly disrupted Farinas’ telephone service and intercepted calls to provide false information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. For example, in April academic Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva was expelled from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana for “indiscipline” and for having “unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions,” which included talking to foreign press and criticizing the government’s slow pace of economic reforms.

In June art historian Yanelys Nunez Leyva was fired from a cultural magazine for contributing to a developing online platform called the Cuban Museum of Dissent featuring leaders in Cuban history who had rebelled against political doctrines.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries remained illegal but continued to exist and faced harassment and intimidation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. This trend was particularly pronounced in the eastern part of the country. For example, on March 27, UNPACU reported that state security forces forcibly detained more than 150 activists in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, and Guantanamo during a peaceful protest.

The government also continued to organize repudiation acts in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted the targets of the protest. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities. Officials reportedly took direct part in physical assaults.

The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.

In July police began blocking private UNPACU meetings in eastern provinces. On September 22, police detained 24 activists who were attempting to participate in a routine UNPACU meeting. Separately, in Havana, on September 22, police detained three labor union activists and placed five under house arrest to stop a meeting organized by human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. The government also blocked meetings for independent academic and cultural organizations. For example, on September 23, Dagoberto Valdes, founder and director of the think tank Convivencia, suspended a course in Pinar del Rio on civic learning after two civil society participants from Cienfuegos were barred from entering the province.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the CP, and government-organized groups. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Nonreligious groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports that authorities limited social services to persons who lived in Havana illegally. Police occasionally threatened to prosecute for “dangerousness” anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Some dissidents reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and some former political prisoners or well-known activists. In December 2015 the government reimposed exit permit requirements on medical personnel for nonimmigrant travel, reversing a 2012 law that simplified the process by only requiring a supervisor’s permission. In March the government allowed former political prisoners arrested during the 2003 Black Spring–and released in 2010 and 2011 on parole–one opportunity to travel outside the country for the first time since their arrest. Government authorities barred a second attempt when two of these activists requested permission to travel in July.

Emigration and Repatriation: Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they also faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including involuntary dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart using clandestinely constructed vessels). The largest fine reported during the year was 3,000 CUP ($120) for an unauthorized departure from the country. Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe. Prison terms were also more common for persons attempting to flee to the United States through the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station.

Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss, and others reported more severe punishment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition, the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies, until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While a voting process to choose candidates exists, citizens do not have the ability to choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from outside the CP, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Government-run bodies prescreened all candidates in the April 2015 municipal elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested. There were reports that the government altered the public biographies of non-CP candidates who attempted to run in the elections by labeling them as “counterrevolutionaries.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions preapproved all CP candidates for office and rejected independent candidacies without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government tampered with their candidate biographies and organized protests to besmirch their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were no official restrictions on women or minorities, and the government actively promoted participation of both in government. According to Granma, women constituted 30 percent of the Council of Ministers, 39 percent of the Council of State, 49 percent of the National Assembly, and more than half of the provincial presidents. Women remained underrepresented in the most powerful decision-making bodies; there were no women on the executive committee of the Council of Ministers, or in positions of military leadership.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, and the government was highly sensitive to corruption allegations and often conducted anticorruption crackdowns.

Corruption: The law provides for three to eight years’ imprisonment for “illegal enrichment” by authorities or government employees. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of law enforcement and other official corruption in enforcement of a myriad of economic restrictions and government services. There were widespread reports of police corruption. Multiple sources reported that when searching homes and vehicles, police sometimes took the owner’s belongings or sought bribes in place of fines or arrests.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require appointed and elected officials to disclose their assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but requests for information routinely were rejected. The government engaged in limited public outreach activities.

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

The government did not recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Several human rights organizations continued to function outside the law, including the CCDHRN, UNPACU, the Christian Liberation Movement, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, and periodic short-term detention.

No officially recognized, independent NGOs monitored human rights. The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored human rights. Furthermore, there were reports of explicit government harassment of individuals who met with unauthorized NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, the United Nations and its affiliate organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: For the first time, the Cuban government hosted a structured bilateral dialogue in which Cuban authorities provided substantive comments about human rights problems in the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Penalties for rape are at least four years’ imprisonment, with longer prison terms or death as possible penalties, depending on the circumstances of the rape.

The law does not recognize domestic violence as a distinct category of violence but prohibits threats and violence, including those associated with domestic violence. Penalties for domestic violence are covered by provisions against assault and range from fines to prison sentences of varying lengths, depending on the severity of the offense.

To raise awareness about domestic violence, the government continued to carry out media campaigns. Official television, radio, and print media occasionally discussed issues pertaining to women, including domestic violence. In addition, a few government-organized groups held conferences and worked with local communities to improve services. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that the government ran counseling centers for women and children in most municipalities, with staff trained in assisting victims of abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides penalties for sexual harassment, with potential prison sentences of three months to five years. The government did not release any statistics on arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for offenses related to sexual harassment during the year. Civil society groups noted sexual harassment was underreported.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on modern contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy, at delivery, and in postpartum care was available, but access to information and contraception to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS was limited.

Discrimination: The law accords women and men equal rights, the same legal status, and the same responsibilities with regard to marriage/divorce, parental duties, home maintenance, and professional careers. The law grants working mothers preferential access to goods and services and provides for equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is normally derived by birth within the country’s territory, and births were generally registered promptly. Those who emigrate abroad and have children must request a Cuban passport for the child before re-entering Cuba. Children born outside of Cuba to parents on official business are granted Cuban citizenship.

Child Abuse: There was no apparent pattern of violence against or abuse of children. The government operated 174 guidance centers for women and families, charged with providing family counseling services and other assistance to individuals harmed by intrafamilial violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of consent for marriage is 18. Marriage for girls as young as 14 and for boys as young as 16 is permitted with parental consent. According to UNICEF, 40 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18, and 9 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before 15. There was no available information on the government’s efforts to prevent or mitigate early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Prostitution is legal for those age 16 and older. While there were numerous reports of underage prostitution, there were no reliable statistics available regarding its extent. In October 2015 the government reported that 2,122 children were victims of sexual abuse in 2014. The minimum age of consent is 16. There is no statutory rape law, although penalties for rape increase as the age of the victim decreases. The law imposes seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for involving minors under 16 in pornographic acts. The punishment may increase to 20 to 30 years or death under aggravating circumstances. The proposal to participate in such acts is punishable with two to five years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize the possession of pornography, but it punishes the production or circulation of any kind of obscene graphic material with three months’ to one year’s imprisonment and a fine. The offer, provision, or sale of obscene or pornographic material to minors under 16 is punishable with two to five years in prison. International trafficking of minors is punishable with seven to 15 years’ imprisonment.

The government maintained centers in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Santa Clara for the treatment of child sexual abuse victims. The centers employed some modern treatment techniques, including the preparation of children to be witnesses in criminal prosecutions.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. See the Department of States Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/elgal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No known law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is in charge of the Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities. A ministry resolution accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work. No information was available on compliance with this resolution. The law recommends that buildings, communication facilities, air travel, and other transportation services accommodate persons with disabilities, but these facilities and services were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities, and information for persons with disabilities was limited.

The Special Education Division of the Ministry of Education is responsible for the education and training of children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended school; no information was available on whether there were patterns of discriminatory abuse in educational facilities or in mental health facilities during the year. Some religious organizations reported they were permitted to help provide educational programs for children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government’s declared policy favors racial integration and inclusiveness, Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, including disproportionate stops for identity checks and searches, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing unlawful beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in sought-after positions within the tourism industry and at high levels within the government. Afro-Cubans were represented disproportionately in neighborhoods with the worst housing conditions and were economically disadvantaged.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Nonetheless, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted.

Mariela Castro, President Castro’s daughter, headed the National Center for Sexual Education and continued to be outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Throughout the year the government promoted the rights of LGBTI persons, including nonviolence and nondiscrimination in regional and international fora. In May the government sponsored a march and an extensive program of events to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBTI issues and faced some government criticism, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions. In June several independent organizations attempted to organize an LGBTI march in Havana to celebrate LGBTI Pride Month. According to independent reports, authorities detained several activists to prevent their participation in the march and reportedly asked others not to leave their homes that day, limiting participation to fewer than five activists.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were reports that some persons with HIV/AIDS suffered job discrimination. The government operated four prisons exclusively for inmates with HIV/AIDS; some inmates were serving sentences for “propagating an epidemic.” Special diets and medications for HIV patients were routinely unavailable.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, severely restricts worker rights by recognizing only the CP-controlled Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. All trade groups must belong to the CTC to operate legally. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding the trade union monopoly of the CTC, the prohibition on the right to strike, and restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials have the final say on all such agreements.

The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. The CP chose the CTC’s leaders. The CTC’s principal responsibility is to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike. The CTC led information dissemination regarding the government’s planned large-scale layoffs of government workers and in defending the government’s decision to do so.

Several small, independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Unitarian Council of Workers of Cuba; together they comprise the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba, which was created in October to replace the Coalition of Independent Unions of Cuba. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC, and by advocating for the rights of small business owners and employees who represent 29 percent of the country’s labor force. The independent unions were reportedly harassed by police and infiltrated by government agents, limiting their capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf.

The government may determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. Persons were deemed unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. The government also penalized professionals who expressed interest in emigrating by limiting job opportunities or firing them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not appear to prohibit forced labor explicitly. It prohibits unlawful imprisonment, coercion, and extortion, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, but there was no evidence that these provisions were used to prosecute forced labor cases. The use of minors in forced labor, drug trafficking, prostitution, pornography, or organ trade is punishable by seven to 15 years’ incarceration.

Compulsory military service of young men was occasionally fulfilled by assignment to an economic entity controlled by the military or by assignment to other government services. Allegations of forced or coerced labor in foreign medical missions persisted, although the government denied these allegations.

The government continued to use some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products (also see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum working age is 17, although the law permits the employment of children ages 15 and 16 to obtain training or fill labor shortages with parental permission and a special authorization from the municipal labor director. The law does not permit children ages 15 and 16 to work more than seven hours per day or 40 hours per week or on holidays. Children ages 15 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.

There were no known government programs to prevent child labor or remove children from such labor. Antitruancy programs, however, aimed to keep children in school. Inspections and penalties appeared adequate to enforce the law, as inspections for child labor were included in all other regular labor inspections. The government reported more than 700 such inspections of state-run and private-sector enterprises during 2015. The government penalizes unlawful child labor with fines and suspension of work permits. There were no credible reports that children under the age of 17 worked in significant numbers.

The government used some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products for government cooperatives during peak harvest time. Student participants were not paid but received school credit and favorable recommendations towards university admission. Failure to participate or obtain an excused absence reportedly could result in unfavorable grades or university recommendations, although students were reportedly able to participate in other activities (instead of the harvest) to support their application for university admission. There were no reports of abusive or dangerous working conditions.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits workplace discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality, “or any other distinction harmful to human dignity,” but it does not explicitly protect political opinion, social origin, disability, age, language, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. No information was available on government enforcement of these provisions during the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV and members of the Afro-Cuban population. Leaders within the Afro-Cuban community noted that some Afro-Cubans could not get jobs in sectors such as tourism and hospitality because they were “too dark.” Afro-Cuban leaders explained that fairer-skinned citizens filled jobs in sectors that deal with tourists, and these jobs were often among the best-paying positions available. Afro-Cubans more frequently obtained lower-paying jobs, including cleaning and garbage disposal, which prevented them from interacting with tourists, a major source of hard currency.

There were no statistics stating whether the government effectively enforced applicable laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was fixed at 225 CUP ($9). The minimum wage requirement does not apply to the non-state sector, including the self-employed. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily wages are reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies, the government acknowledged that the average wage of 600 CUP ($24) per month did not provide a reasonable standard of living.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly minimum 24-hour rest period and 24 days of paid annual holidays. These standards apply to state workers as well as to the non-state sector, but not to the self-employed. The law does not provide for premium pay for overtime or prohibit obligatory overtime, but it generally caps the number of overtime hours at 12 hours per week, or 160 per year. The law provides little grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime. Refusal to work overtime can result in a notation in the employee’s official work history that could imperil subsequent requests for vacation time. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish different overtime caps as needed. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time, particularly for workers directly linked to production or services, and it does not apply to management. Workers complained that overtime compensation was either not paid or not paid in a timely manner.

The government set workplace safety standards and received technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to implement them. The Ministry of Labor enforced the minimum wage and hours-of-work standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to adequately enforce occupational safety and health standards. There was no information available about the number of labor inspectors. Reports from recent years suggested there were very few inspectors and that health and safety standards frequently were ignored or subject to corrupt practices.

According to government statistics, 518,479 workers were self-employed during the year, an increase of 5 percent from 2015; the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent to 29 percent. Self-employed and private-sector workers obtained licenses by applying to the Ministry of Labor and were subject to inspection by the government. The government maintained a list of 201 trades that may be plied privately and allowed the self-employed to hire labor. Despite criminal penalties for doing so, a significant number of workers participated in the informal economy, including individuals who actively traded on the black market and those performing professional activities not officially permitted by the government. There were no reliable reports or statistics about the informal economy.

Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated on the basis of a joint venture in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Most formal employment took place only through government employment agencies. Employers, including international businesses and organizations, were generally prohibited from contracting or paying workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table. The Ministry of Labor enforces labor laws on any business, organization, or foreign governmental agency based in the country, including wholly owned foreign companies operating in the country, joint-stock companies involving foreign investors operating in the country, the United Nations, international NGOs, and embassies. Cuban workers employed by these entities are subject to a number of labor regulations common to most state and non-state workers, together with some regulations specific for these kinds of entities. Government bodies, including the tax collecting agency, the Ministry of Finance and Prices, enforced regulations. There were no reports about protections for migrant workers’ rights.

Past reports from an independent union cited some violations of health and safety standards at worksites throughout the country, including inadequate and poorly maintained equipment and protective gear. Official government reports cited 3,432 workplace accidents in 2015 (a reduction of 357 compared with 2014) and 70 workplace deaths (the same as 2014). The CTC provided limited information to workers about their rights and at times did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions. It was generally understood that workers could not remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers facing this dilemma.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/12/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. On January 14, Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN) party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Principal human rights abuses included widespread institutional corruption, particularly in the police and judicial sectors; security force involvement in serious crimes, such as kidnapping, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, and extortion; and societal violence, including lethal violence against women.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary or unlawful killings, abuse and mistreatment by National Civil Police (PNC) members; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; failure of the judicial system to conduct full and timely investigations and fair trials; government failure to fully protect judicial officials, witnesses, and civil society representatives from intimidation and threats; and internal displacement of persons. In addition, there was sexual harassment and discrimination against women; child abuse, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children; discrimination and abuse of persons with disabilities; and trafficking in persons and human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children. Other problems included marginalization of indigenous communities and ineffective mechanisms to address land conflicts; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and ineffective enforcement of labor and child labor laws.

The government cooperated with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to strengthen the rule of law and prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity continued to be widespread. Gangs, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking organizations committed numerous acts of violence; corruption and inadequate investigation made prosecution difficult.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the PNC and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), however, reported one complaint of murder, and the Attorney General’s Office, commonly known as the Public Ministry, reported one case of homicide, three cases of manslaughter, and one case of premeditated murder by PNC officers through August. Local media reported that a PNC officer killed a grocery store owner on January 4 in Santiago Atitlan, Solola. The trial was pending at year’s end.

On October 9, authorities arrested 13 members of the military from the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez in December 2015. According to media reports, the soldiers accused Contreras of consuming marijuana and proceeded to beat him unconscious. Forensics report later found no evidence of the victim being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The case was under Public Ministry investigation at year’s end.

On January 6, the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial executions during the internal armed conflict (1990-96) at former Military Zone 21, a site currently known as the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ) in Coban, Verapaz. The CREOMPAZ case was assigned to a high-risk court, a special court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that pose a serious risk to the judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. On June 7, the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial. On September 14, the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial date had not been confirmed.

Retrial proceedings restarted on March 16 against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his intelligence chief, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. Proceedings had been suspended after the First Court of Appeals ruled that Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez should be tried separately. Rios Montt had been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and was originally sentenced to 80 years in prison. Later the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to a different court for rehearing. In 2015 a high-risk court determined that Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered that the trial continue behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled that any verdict could be used only for the application of corrective measures on behalf of the victims and that Rios Montt cannot be sentenced to prison.

On November 16, in a different case against Rios Montt, a high-risk court dismissed a motion by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The court was scheduled to rule on February 9, 2017, on whether to send Rios Montt to trial. At year’s end the retrial dates had not been set for either case.

As of December the government had paid $14.2 million in reparations to families affected by the Chixoy Hydro-Electric Dam. During the dam’s construction (1975-85), more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay $156 million over 15 years in individual and community reparations to those who were affected.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period (1960-96). On January 6, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. On August 22, the Attorney General’s Office presented new charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. On October 25, a high-risk court found sufficient evidence to charge Lucas Garcia with illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence, and it accepted new charges of aggravated sexual assault for the other four defendants. The court was to determine whether all five defendants would go to trial on January 13, 2017.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

In October preliminary hearings, a court ordered the trial of PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in April 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City. As of November the case was in the evidentiary phase, during which the Public Ministry presents all available evidence in advance of the trial.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding continued to place prisoners at significant risk. On July 18, prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain, was killed, along with 12 others, inside the Pavon prison. Lima Oliva was serving a 20-year sentence for the 1998 murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi and had alleged ties to political corruption and narcotics-trafficking networks. At year’s end CICIG was investigating the case.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a problem. According to the prison system registry, as of September 6, there were 20,743 inmates, including 1,974 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,742 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use continued to be widespread. Prison officials continued to report a loss of safety and control, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners continued to direct criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through September 5, at least 55 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children below age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children, and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups alleged that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals under custody. The Ministry of Government approved treatment standards for LGBTI prisoners in 2015, and NGOs trained authorities on their implementation during the year, although NGOs considered the improvements to be minimal. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male and female detainees together.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. In October a judge ordered the closing of the annex of one of the detention centers for one year and mandated reform of the facilities.

Administration: The government’s independent Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), whose responsibilities include prisoner rights, received complaints and conducted oversight of the prison system. The PDH and the NOPT can submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, had a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Recordkeeping remained inadequate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States (OAS), public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing, as required by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Despite a 5 percent increase in its operating budget, the PNC remained understaffed, inadequately trained, and insufficiently funded, all of which substantially impeded its effectiveness.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 272 police officials through August, similar to the previous year’s rate. A Police Reform Commission, established under a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform the police forces. Under this framework the commission developed software to improve PNC information systems, including through a new automated victim support system that consolidates information from victims as soon as they interact with PNC at the police station; created a professional school for officers and a formal education policy; and provided almost all of the country’s 54 Victim Support Offices with improved facilities and upgraded information systems.

During the year there were 747 complaints of police extortion and 206 for abuse of authority, compared with 31 and 856, respectively, in 2015. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating and punishing them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. Security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

On March 3, a soldier, Guilber Josue Barrios, allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil-military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense. The suspect absconded, which prevented his trial from moving forward. A number of NGOs asserted that the Ministry of Defense demonstrated a lack of effective collaboration with civilian authorities to prevent this type of incident.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. In the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,462 complaints alleging misconduct by police personnel.

All new PNC and military soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense elevated its Office of Human Rights to a directorate, providing it direct access to the minister; more than doubled its personnel; and conducted active outreach to human rights organizations.

The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual abuse from the internal armed conflict period. On February 26, retired army officers Esteelmer Reyes and Heriberto Valdez were sentenced to 120 and 240 years of prison, respectively, for sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery involving 15 indigenous women in Sepur Zarco in 1982-83.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation and file a case in court or seek a formal extension of the detention period. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges can order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions, although most accounts indicated that police continued to ignore writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood anti-gang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of September 6, prison system records indicated 46 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a three-month limit for pretrial detention but authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release is not immediate and usually takes several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug-trafficking organizations. By the end of September, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 192 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 202 for the same period in 2015.

CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to seek the suspension of judges and to conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. The Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,178 complaints of wrongdoing against judges, technicians, and judiciary administrative staff through October, held hearings on 570 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case and may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On July 22, a high-risk court released seven community leaders from Huehuetenango because kidnapping charges against them could not be substantiated. The seven had been arrested in 2015 for detaining 11 hydroelectric company workers in 2013 and had been held in preventive prison for 18 months. The court confirmed that the prisoners were community leaders or indigenous authorities mediating between the community and the hydroelectric company and expressed concern over criminalization of the rights to assemble and protest. Specifically, the presiding judge stated, “attempting to mediate a community conflict is not a crime.”

Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders registered 68 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders through October. Charges included defamation, legal complaint, and arbitrary detention.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On September 5, President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the Public Ministry was investigating their suspected involvement in the illegal monitoring of journalists, human rights defenders, business owners, and politicians. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and current member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry, but he continued to serve in congress and had not been formally charged.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but freedom of expression advocates noted that difficulty obtaining licenses to operate community radio stations and obtaining some judicial information limited press freedom.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report that violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability. Guatemala City mayor (and former Guatemalan president) Alvaro Arzu made the following comment in a high-profile public forum on July 27, “A former president of Mexico once said that the press is either bribed or beaten. I prefer the second option.”

On June 25 in Coatepeque, unidentified assailants shot and killed Alvaro Alfredo Aceytuno Lopez, a radio journalist who often reported on local governance issues. One month later, his daughter, Lindaura Aceytuno, was shot and killed in an attack that also left his 13-year-old granddaughter injured. No arrests were made, but the investigation continued at year’s end.

According to the Public Ministry, 87 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and eight journalists were killed through the middle of November, compared with 133 complaints and four killings in all of 2015. Civil society analysts attributed the increase in killings chiefly to the general state of violence in the country. The decrease in attacks or threats against journalists was also partially attributed to 2015 being a general election year and a time of significant political instability. On November 22, a Mazatenango court convicted two men and sentenced each of them to 25 years in prison for the murder of journalist Guido Armando Geovani Villatoro Ramos in March 2015.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.

Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based upon whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.

In September a videographer for the media outlet Nuevo Mundo was fired after he took pictures of President Morales apparently sleeping at a government event. The outlet claimed it fired him because he shared the pictures without editorial permission, but the videographer claimed to have evidence to the contrary. The PDH was investigating the motives for the videographer’s dismissal.

Libel/Slander Laws: In June reporter Pavel Vega from the daily newspaper El Periodico attempted to interview Viviana Quinonez Paiz, legal representative of TVQ–a public relations firm with close ties to the local Guatemala City government–regarding municipal contracts TVQ received as the lone bidder. She refused the interview and accused Vega of psychological harassment, citing the Law Against Femicide and Other Violence Against Women (Femicide Law). A judge subsequently issued a restraining order against the reporter for three months, prohibiting him from approaching Quinonez. The human rights ombudsman stated the harassment charges should never have been given credence in view of the lack of relationship between the two, as well as the fact that the reporter’s only action was to call Quinonez’ office to ask for an interview. On July 5, Quinonez filed charges against the reporter for slander and defamation for his articles related to municipal contracts awarded to TVQ. The case was pending at year’s end. Journalist associations stated that use of the Femicide Law to infringe upon press freedoms set a dangerous precedent but also noted that there were relatively few cases of the law being used in this manner.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Journalists expressed concern that government officials may have used twitter accounts to harass those critical of the administration and its policies. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. In September the government issued a 15-day emergency decree that gave it the power to dissolve groups, meetings, protests, and media coverage that “contributed to or incited” disruption of public order. The decree was rescinded two days later after harsh reactions from many sectors of society, including the president of congress and the human rights ombudsman. The NGO Center for Legal Action on Environment (CALAS) and the National Unity of Hope party charged the executive branch with violating the constitution and abuse of power. The Supreme Court dismissed the charges on November 2; CALAS planned to appeal the decision.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. A migration law passed in September overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The process for creating new migration regulations to implement the law, which would contain greater detail on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern about the internal displacement of persons in the country due to violence, and strengthened its presence to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. Despite the fact that it did not officially recognize them as IDPs, the government provided food aid and several plots of land for the resettlement of some victims of forced displacement in the Polochic region. Civil society organizations criticized the quality of the food aid.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 42 refugee applications from January through August. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.

UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote. Electoral Law reforms enacted during the year would permit absentee and overseas voting in subsequent elections, but funding for implementation had not been budgeted.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 Jimmy Morales of the FCN party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres by 67.4 to 32.3 percent in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president on January 14. An OAS international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections. The Supreme Electoral Court cancelled former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon’s party, LIDER (Democratic Liberty Renewed), in February for campaign law violations. LIDER was appealing the decision.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The law provides the rights of women and minorities to vote, run for office, serve as electoral monitors, and otherwise participate in political life. Traditional and cultural practices, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

Twenty-four women served in the 158-seat Congress, and there were two women in the 14-member cabinet. Seven women served on the 13-member Supreme Court, and five women served on the 10-member Constitutional Court–the most women in either court’s history.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous member in the cabinet, one on the Constitutional Court, and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling 113 of the 333 mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry and CICIG investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.

Corruption: The Comptroller General’s Office and the Public Ministry are responsible for combating corruption. The comptroller general’s mandate is to monitor public spending, and the attorney general’s mandate is to prosecute related crimes. Although both agencies actively collaborated with civil society and were relatively independent, they lacked adequate resources, which affected their ability to carry out their mandates.

On June 2, the Public Ministry accused former president Otto Perez Molina and former vice president Roxana Baldetti of money laundering and illegal political party financing. The Public Ministry/CICIG investigation eventually linked the case to additional charges against the former ministers of defense, government, energy and mines, and communications for using illicit funds to provide lavish gifts to Perez Molina and Baldetti. The government issued approximately 70 arrest warrants targeting former government officials and the highest levels of the banking, state procurement, telecommunications, media, construction, agricultural, and pharmaceutical sectors. On August 4, a high-risk court sent 28 defendants who were deemed a flight risk to pretrial detention and ordered house arrest for 19 more. Perez Molina and Baldetti were in pretrial detention since 2015.

On September 13, President Morales announced that his son Jose Manuel Morales and brother Sammy Morales would cooperate in a corruption investigation based on the allegation that they procured false invoices in 2013. The case involved former public registrar Anabella de Leon, who allegedly used these invoices in a corruption scheme that defrauded the government through phony contracts.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,064) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for the right of citizens to access public information and establishes fines for government agencies that obstruct such access. The disclosure law contains exceptions for national security, sets reasonably short timelines for disclosure, and allows for a reasonable processing fee. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The government granted access to public information for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media, although at times in a slow and incomplete manner. Human rights groups criticized the delay by the Ministry of Defense in releasing information related to transitional justice cases. While there was no formal mechanism to appeal denials of requests, petitioners often successfully appealed to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman for assistance relating to a government denial of public information.

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

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

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists reported threats, violence, and intimidation. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate these reports or to prevent further incidents. NGOs also reported the government used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights failed to investigate the majority of complaints in a timely manner. Other cases languished in the court system.

Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reported 14 killings of human rights defenders through November 30, compared with 12 killings in all of 2015. The NGO also reported 205 attacks against human rights defenders through October, compared with 493 attacks in all of 2015. According to various human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to Congress. The ombudsman operated with government cooperation and issued public reports and recommendations, including an annual report to Congress on the fulfillment of its mandate. The office lacked adequate resources.

The President’s Commission on Human Rights (COPREDEH) has responsibility to formulate and promote the government’s human rights policy. COPREDEH also led coordination of police protection for various human rights and labor activists. COPREDEH generally benefited from the administration’s cooperation and operated without political or party interference. In August, however, the Solicitor General’s Office challenged COPREDEH’s authority to represent the government in human rights matters before international institutions. In September the president issued an executive decree giving COPREDEH this authority. Resources for the commission were not adequate for compliance with CIDH recommendations and reparation rulings.

The Congressional Committee on Human Rights drafts and provides advice on legislation regarding human rights. The law requires all political parties represented in Congress to have a representative on the committee. NGOs considered the committee to be an effective public forum for promoting and protecting human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. The PDH Ombudsman for Women and activists agreed that full investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and rape cases took an average of two to three years if the victims had access to quality legal representation. Impunity for perpetrators remained very high. Rape survivors frequently did not report crimes due to lack of confidence in the justice system, social stigma, and fear of reprisal.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. According to the Public Ministry, there were 11,399 reports of sexual or physical assault through August. During the same period, there were 610 convictions for sexual or physical assault on women, an increase from the 527 convictions in the same period the previous year.

The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The PNC’s Special Unit for Sex Crimes, the Office of Attention to Victims, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women, and a special unit for trafficking in persons and illegal adoptions within the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime deal with various aspects of violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. In September 2015 the government relaunched the Office of the Coordinator for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women (CONAPREVI), which serves as the domestic violence interagency coordinator and includes several civil society organizations. CONAPREVI had been active under previous governments but was dormant in recent years due to a lack of leadership and funding.

The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender, but violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a serious problem. The law prohibits domestic abuse, allows for the issuance of restraining orders against alleged aggressors and police protection for victims, and requires the PNC to intervene in violent situations in the home. The PNC often failed to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence, however, and women’s rights advocates reported that few officers received training to deal with domestic violence or to assist survivors.

On November 22, the Public Ministry established a special prosecutor for femicide. The Institute of Public Criminal Defense, a government institution, provided free legal, medical, and psychological assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Femicide remained a significant problem. Sexual assault, torture, and mutilation were frequently evident in killings. The NGO Mutual Support Group, using government data, reported 565 violent deaths of women through the end of September. As of that month, authorities convicted 56 individuals for femicide. NGOs expressed concern that sentences were sometimes lenient.

Sexual and domestic violence remained serious problems. The PDH Office of Ombudsman for Women supported survivors of domestic and social violence by accompanying them to judicial proceedings and offering some social services such as psychological support. The Office of Ombudsman for Indigenous Women also coordinated and promoted action by government institutions and NGOs to prevent violence and discrimination against indigenous women, but lacked resources to reach all areas. The office maintained no statistics on its caseload. Civil society organizations provided mediation and free legal services to low-income women.

Although the law affords protection, including shelter, to victims of domestic violence, there were insufficient facilities for this purpose. The Ministry of Government operated eight shelters for survivors of abuse in departments with the greatest incidence of domestic violence. Due to continual budget uncertainties, the shelters’ operations were erratic. Several shelters funded by private donors or municipal governments operated in cities and the countryside. Many of the centers provided legal and psychological support and temporary accommodation.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it, such as the Femicide Law. There were no reliable estimates of the frequency of sexual harassment; however, human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread. The government ran a pilot program consisting of social media and bus advertisements to promote greater awareness against sexual harassment and to encourage victims and witnesses to report the crime. Under this pilot program, the PNC, local transit police, and other groups established protocols for handling sexual harassment complaints.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. They did not always have the information and means to do so.

Cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers hampered access to reproductive health care, particularly for indigenous women in rural areas. Discriminatory attitudes among health-care providers and a lack of culturally sensitive reproductive and maternal health-care services deterred many indigenous women from accessing these services.

As a result of efforts to expand health services to underserved communities, the government was able to decrease the maternal mortality ratio and increase the percentage of institutional deliveries. Although the country made progress towards decreasing the maternal mortality ratio, it remained relatively high at 88 deaths per 100,000 live births. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported in 2016 that skilled health personnel attended only 66 percent of births. Unsafe abortion also contributed to the country’s high maternal mortality ratio; legal abortion was tightly restricted except to save the life of the mother.

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination, particularly under family and labor law, and were less likely to hold management positions. The government’s Secretariat for Women’s Affairs advises the president on interagency coordination of policies affecting women and their development.

Women were employed primarily in low-wage jobs in agriculture, retail businesses, the service sector, textile and apparel industries, and government. Women also obtained employment more frequently in the informal sector, where pay was generally lower and benefits nonexistent. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Report estimated women’s earned income was 56 percent that of men, and women on average received 64 percent of men’s salaries for comparable work. Many women engaged in agricultural work and often reported receiving less than 50 percent of a man’s salary for similar work. Women may legally own, manage, and inherit property on an equal basis with men, including in situations involving divorce.

Economic violence is a crime under the femicide law. The law defines it as actions that deprive a woman of the economic benefits to which she is legally entitled and cause damage to her economic situation. The crime occurs most frequently during divorce when a husband refuses to pay alimony, cancels or liquidates bank accounts, or sells jointly owned property without the spouse’s knowledge. A slow court system and late notifications of legal actions or notifications in Spanish to women who could not read Spanish contributed to the situation. According to the Public Ministry, from January through September, 271 reports of economic violence were filed, and authorities obtained five convictions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Factors such as the need to travel to unfamiliar urban areas, to interact with nonindigenous male government officials, and to speak Spanish inhibited some indigenous women from registering their children. Authorities prevented foreign citizens residing in the country without appropriate documentation from registering their locally born children prior to regularizing their own immigration status. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While compulsory through age 14, education through the secondary level is not obligatory, and less than half of eligible children attended secondary school. Also, less than half of secondary schools were public. Girls, especially girls in indigenous communities, were significantly less likely than boys to be educated to the secondary school level. Access to compulsory education in primary school was limited in many rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. In March the country created the unit of Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women had previously handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported that it convicted the abusers of 489 minor victims for sexual abuse or other types of violence through September.

According to the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking in Persons (SVET), from January through July, 1,552 cases of pregnancies of minors 14 years old or younger were recorded nationwide, with the majority of cases coming from the departments of Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, San Marcos, and Peten. The secretary estimated that 80 percent of these cases were due to intrafamily sexual abuse. SVET launched a press campaign with special events and training sessions in rural areas to combat pregnancy of minors.

The Secretariat of Social Welfare, which oversees children’s treatment, training, special education, and welfare programs, provided shelter and assistance to children who were victims of abuse but sometimes placed children in shelters with juveniles who had criminal records. The government operated a shelter for minor victims of violence, abandonment, and exploitation in San Jose Pinula and in two temporary shelters in Quetzaltenango and Zacapa. SVET had shelters for victims of human trafficking and sexual violence in Coatepeque, Coban, and Guatemala City.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. In 2015 Congress eliminated a provision that previously allowed girls to marry at 14 and boys at 16 with parental consent. There were reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF reported that 30 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014. In an effort to identify cases of early and forced marriage, the government instituted nationwide training programs and protocols to encourage public employees to report pregnancies and childbirth among underage mothers.

The NGO Childhood Refuge reported an estimated 15,000 irregular marriages of minors had occurred since 2015, 70 percent of which took place in the western part of the country. Given the change in law raising the minimum age for marriage, the NGO also reported an increase of informal unions involving minors, which essentially functioned as marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The Public Ministry reported several complaints of sexual assault or rape against minors and successfully prosecuted some aggressors. The Ministry’s Office of Trafficking increased the number of investigators and prosecutors to respond to the sexual exploitation of minors, including opening an office dedicated to cybercrime. SVET broadened its coordination role by engaging directly with municipal governments and mayors to educate them on combatting sexual abuse, child abuse, and trafficking.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem, with credible reports of child sex tourism in Antigua, Guatemala City, and the Department of Solola.

According to figures for 2016 released by the Public Ministry’s Office of Special Prosecutor for Children, authorities received 5,257 reports of sexual violence against minors and youth up to 19 years of age by mid-September. It received 47 reports of sexual exploitation involving minors and 141 reports of trafficking in persons.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities. According to law enforcement sources, there were approximately 15,500 Barrio 18 gang members and 13,950 Mara Salvatrucha gang members. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported that 74 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide between January and March, a significant increase from 2015. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youth reported that youth detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

A significant number of unaccompanied children attempted to leave the country. Polling indicated that the primary motivations for migration were a lack of economic and educational opportunity in the country, fear of violence, and family reunification. NGOs reported that the Secretariat of Social Welfare (SBS), which is responsible for the care of both returned migrant children and unaccompanied foreign migrant children, reported two cases of sexual abuse of children under its care during the year. The cases highlighted the persistent problem of overcrowding in shelters, along with security issues. For instance, according to PDH, 44 minors disappeared from secured SBS shelters from September to mid-November. One NGO provided shelter and comprehensive social services for unaccompanied foreign migrant children.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. During a May protest against Energuate, a power distribution company purchased in December 2015 by a company with connections to Israel, protesters used a banner that had an image of Jesus Christ and stated, “Jews killed me on the cross. Now Jews from Energuate are killing my people in Guatemala with energy.” Jewish community leaders filed a complaint with the PDH, which pursued the case in court. During the summer the protesting group and the Jewish community settled the matter out of court with a formal apology from the protesting group.

In June the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, was placed under house arrest during his trial for abuse of authority and discrimination for his involvement in the expulsion of members of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor in 2014.

In September authorities raided the homes of the Lev Tahor community in Guatemala City. Authorities stated they were investigating reports of child abuse; however, they found no evidence. Lev Tahor members claimed they were persecuted because of their faith.

Trafficking in Persons

Late in 2015 Congress passed an antihuman smuggling law that designated migration-related smuggling as a crime. See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications. The government devoted few resources to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported that few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There were minimal educational resources for persons with disabilities. Most universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. The Social Development Ministry had 23 employees with disabilities, but other ministries had very few, or no, such employees. During the year a previously ad hoc congressional committee on disabilities became permanent.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities began a nationwide survey to estimate the number of persons with disabilities. It also signed cooperation agreements with various ministries including the Public Ministry and the Secretariat of Women’s Issues to address the needs of persons with disabilities in their infrastructure, services, and programs.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. It fired several employees in 2015 after disability advocates and media reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Despite the staff changes, disability rights organizations noted little else had changed.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated that indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. Many experts believed the number was considerably higher. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status under national law.

Indigenous representatives claimed that actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not regularly or adequately consulted or able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. During the year courts suspended the operating licenses of several hydroelectric and mining projects for not complying with requirements for consultations with indigenous communities as required under International Labor Organization Convention (ILO) 169, recognizing the convention’s requirement that the government must play a role in the process. Previously, businesses had carried out consultations independently without government oversight. The government was working to design a more thorough consultations process consistent with ILO standards.

Indigenous communities continued to report a lack of public infrastructure investment in their communities, resulting in poor roads and limited access to running water and electricity. Indigenous persons reported the need for schools with bilingual (i.e., Spanish and their indigenous language) education and cultural studies; educational scholarships; leadership training to increase indigenous persons’ participation in politics; and the construction of universities (not only extension campuses), hospitals, and health clinics in their communities.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. These factors contributed to continued disproportionate poverty among most indigenous populations.

In April the governor of Alta Verapaz, Estela Ventura, who is of indigenous descent, filed a criminal complaint against eight members of Congress on the grounds of harassment, racial discrimination, and influence peddling. The governor claimed to have recordings in which the representatives used racial slurs against her in a meeting. On August 31, a judge agreed to remove immunity for the eight representatives in order to open a full investigation.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that pervasive ignorance by security authorities of indigenous norms and practices engendered misunderstandings. The government located three police academies in largely indigenous areas of the country to increase the number of indigenous police officers and assign them to work within their own ethnic or linguistic communities.

The Department of Indigenous People in the Ministry of Labor, tasked with investigating cases of discrimination and representing indigenous rights, counseled indigenous persons on their rights. Limited resources hindered the department’s effectiveness. Indigenous persons were particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking.

The justice system significantly increased the number of legally mandated court interpreters for criminal proceedings and reported that it held 8,000 court proceedings in Mayan languages through August. Despite the increase, availability did not meet demand.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI individuals. LGBTI rights groups alleged that police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals they believed to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government undertook minimal efforts to address this discrimination. After being elected as president of the country’s first congressional women’s caucus in September, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, Sandra Moran, was subject to discrimination in the form of an online petition that demanded her removal due to her LGBTI status. Moran filed a complaint with the PDH.

According to LGBTI rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. A lack of trust in the judicial system and a fear of further harassment or social recrimination discouraged victims from filing complaints. NGOs conducted sensitization training classes with police officials but noted that the number of trained officials remained low. The National Police and Public Ministry changed their complaint registration systems to include a field identifying whether the complainant is a member of the LGBTI community. Due to general fears of discrimination, few LGBTI community members were comfortable self-identifying to officials.

LGBTI groups claimed that women experienced specific forms of discrimination such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through so-called corrective rape, although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities.

The Public Ministry and SVET took up the first case of trafficking in persons involving transgender individuals, rescuing and treating several victims and returning them to their home countries. The National Registry circulated an internal memo on nondiscrimination against the LGBTI community, although officials still barred transgender individuals from obtaining identification documents that reflected a different gender. Transgender individuals continued to face severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law does not expressly include HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forms of discrimination included being required by government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition, HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving treatment in public hospitals and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was particularly pronounced and affected their access to HIV-prevention programs.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported that in the first three months of the year, five persons were killed in public lynchings, and 26 were injured. Many observers attributed the acts to public frustration with the failure of police and judicial authorities to provide justice and security. As a result local citizen security groups were formed and operated autonomously. In many instances PNC agents feared for their own safety and refused to intervene. In August a mob in Patulul set fire to and killed a man arrested as an alleged extortionist who had participated in the shooting of a microbus driver.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions of their choice, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law, however, places some restrictions on these rights. For instance, legal recognition of a new industrywide union requires that the membership constitute a majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A strike must have the support of the majority of a company’s workforce.

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation.

The law prohibits employer retaliation against workers engaged in legal strikes. If authorities do not recognize a strike as legal, employers may suspend or terminate workers for absence without leave. A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in the factory or business are union members and request negotiations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Due in part to inadequate allocation of resources and inefficient legal and administrative processes, government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws or reinstate workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. Inspectors failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors entry to facilities to investigate worker complaints, including failing to regularly seek police assistance as required. Penalties for labor law violations range from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000), but the penalties were inadequate and rarely enforced.

The Labor Ministry cannot impose fines or otherwise sanction employers for labor law violations discovered during inspections. It must instead refer the cases to the labor court. Employers frequently refused to respect court decisions favorable to workers and were rarely sanctioned for doing so. Reinstatement proceedings were frequently prolonged due to appeals and employers’ widespread use of tactics such as reincorporation as a different entity. For example, courts faced difficulties in providing notification of their orders when employers listed incorrect addresses or refused access to the court official delivering notification. The length of time to process cases for the reinstatement of workers and other labor law violations was excessive, often taking two to four years and sometimes lasting more than 10 years.

The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit increased from five in 2014 to 12 (two prosecutors, eight assistant prosecutors, and two administrators). According to Public Ministry statistics, the unit won two convictions in cases involving violence against union members. CICIG highlighted several factors that negatively affected investigations, including a lack of methodological planning and continuity between the prosecutors handling the case; delays in conducting the criminal investigation; and witnesses’ fear of making declarations. The government reported that, of 2,312 cases referred (including a backlog from previous years), only eight resulted in convictions, with the vast majority of cases still under investigation.

The Ministry of Government operated a personal protection program that included some trade unionists. The ministry reported that one union member received personal security protection measures during the year, and 45 received perimeter security measures. The ministry enacted a Protocol for the Implementation of Immediate and Preventive Security Measures for Human Rights Activists in 2014, but trade union confederations and the ILO indicated there was minimal progress toward ensuring the protection of threatened trade union officials and members. Local unions continued to urge authorities to investigate the killings of unionists and called for increased personal security for union leaders and members.

In 2015 the government, together with employer and worker representatives, agreed to a plan to avoid the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, based on a complaint filed in 2012 alleging that the government had not complied with ILO Convention 87. During the year the government took some steps to implement the plan, including setting up a hotline to enable labor activists to report violence, and continuing to convene the Trade Union Committee of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to monitor progress on investigations into violence.

Nevertheless, the ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials and members at no cost to union members; legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; and raising awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in the apparel and textile industries. The ILO also called for greater compliance with reinstatement orders in cases of antiunion dismissals. Separately, in June 2015 an arbitral panel under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement conducted a hearing regarding the government’s failure to enforce its labor laws effectively. During its November session, noting positive steps taken to date, the ILO Governing Body deferred decision on establishing a Commission of Inquiry. The arbitral panel decision was pending at year’s end.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and they went unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation.

Procedural hurdles, union formation restrictions, and impunity for employers refusing to receive or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government statistics on attempted union registrations indicated that most registrations were rejected. Employers routinely resisted union formation attempts, delayed or only partially complied with agreements resulting from direct negotiations, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, and threats of factory closures. If workers joined a union or refused to disaffiliate, employers threatened not to renew their contracts or offer subcontracted workers permanent employment.

There continued to be reports that management or their agents harassed and threatened workers who did not accept employer dismissals or refused to forfeit their right to reinstatement. According to government statistics, employers failed to comply with 79 percent of labor courts’ reinstatement orders. In some cases employers did not reinstate workers to their prior positions and often failed to pay the back wages owed to them, as well as court-ordered fines. Local unions reported businesses continued to use fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such practices.

Although the law stipulates trade unions have an exclusive right to negotiate work conditions on behalf of workers, unions continued to assert that management promoted “solidarity associations” to discourage the formation of trade unions or to compete with existing labor unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively in some cases. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties ranging from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000) were inadequate and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government lacked sufficient resources (e.g., labor inspectors, vehicles, equipment) to conduct effective and regular inspection or to pursue remediation for forced labor cases. The government had specialized police and prosecutors to handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. In July the Public Ministry arrested two sisters who forced six children to beg in the streets for money. The case remained pending at year’s end. There were also other reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law bars employment of minors below age 14, although it allows the Ministry of Labor to authorize children below age 14 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons below age 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or overtime. The legal workday for persons younger than age 14 is six hours; for persons ages 14 to 17, the legal workday is seven hours.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Worker Protection Unit is responsible for enforcing restrictions on child labor and educating minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors. Penalties range from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000). The government did not effectively enforce these laws, a situation exacerbated by the weakness of the labor inspection and labor court systems. The government devoted insufficient resources to prevention programs.

Child labor was a widespread problem. The NGO Conrad Project Association of the Cross estimated that the workforce included approximately one million children between ages five and 17. Most child labor occurred in rural indigenous areas of extreme poverty. The informal and agricultural sectors regularly employed children below 14, usually in small family enterprises, including in the production of broccoli, coffee, corn, fireworks, gravel, and sugar. Indigenous children also worked in street sales and as shoe shiners and bricklayer assistants.

An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. In the Mexican border area, there were reports of forced child labor in municipal dumps and in street begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage was 78.72 quetzals ($10.20) per day for agricultural and nonagricultural work and 72.36 quetzals ($9.40) per day for work in export-sector-regime factories. Minimum wage earners are due a mandatory monthly bonus of 250 quetzals ($32.50), and salaried workers receive two mandatory yearly bonuses (a Christmas bonus and a “14th month” bonus), each equivalent to one month’s salary. The National Statistics Institute estimated the minimum food budget for a family of five was 3,123 quetzals ($406) per month. The basic basket for vital needs, including food and housing, was 6,242 quetzals ($810).

The legal workweek is 48 hours with at least one paid 24-hour rest period. Workers are not supposed to work more than 12 hours a day. The law provides for 12 paid annual holidays and paid vacation of 15 days after one year’s work. Daily and weekly maximum hour limits do not apply to domestic workers. Workers in the formal sector receive the standard pay for a day’s work for official annual holidays. Time-and-a-half pay is required for overtime work, and the law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards, which were inadequate, not current for all industries, and poorly enforced. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions, but resources were inadequate to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry employed approximately 275 labor inspectors, although many of them performed conciliation or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuses, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. Labor inspectors were not authorized to sanction employers but had to submit alleged violations to the labor courts. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of cases was often delayed, in many instances for years. Moreover, fines ranging from 50 to 5,000 quetzals ($6.50 to $650) were not sufficient to deter violations. Authorities often failed to investigate fully or assign responsibility for negligence. They also rarely sanctioned employers for failing to provide a safe workplace. Legislation requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

Trade union leaders and human rights groups reported that employers required workers to work overtime without legally mandated premium pay. Management often manipulated employer-provided transportation to worksites to force employees to work overtime, especially in export processing zones located in isolated areas with limited transportation alternatives. Noncompliance with minimum wage provisions in the agricultural and informal sectors was widespread. Advocacy groups estimated that the vast majority of workers in rural areas who engaged in daylong employment did not receive the wages, benefits, or social security allocations required by law. Some employers in the agricultural sector reportedly conditioned payment of minimum wage on excessive production goals that workers generally were unable to meet. According to ILO statistics, 74 percent of the workforce worked in the informal sector and outside the basic protections afforded by law.

Local unions continued to highlight and protest violations by employers who failed to pay employer and employee contributions to the national social security system despite employee contribution deductions from workers’ paychecks. These violations, particularly common in export industries, resulted in limiting or denying employees’ access to the public health system and reducing or underpaying workers’ pension benefits during their retirement years.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/07/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June gubernatorial elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights-related problems included involvement by police and military in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances. Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems. Organized criminal groups killed, kidnapped, extorted, and intimidated citizens, migrants, journalists, and human rights defenders.

The following additional problems persisted: poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence against migrants; violence against women; domestic violence; abuse of persons with disabilities; threats and violence against some members of the indigenous population; threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including forced labor by children.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem throughout the country with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes.

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

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

There were many reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, often acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 27 complaints for “deprivation of life” between January and November.

On August 2, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Arreygue, the mayor of the municipality of Alvaro Obregon, and four police officers, including a commander, in connection with the killing of 10 persons detained by police on July 29. According to news reports, Alvaro Obregon police under instructions from the mayor, detained the civilians and executed them, later burning their bodies. The criminal investigation into the case continued at year’s end.

In April a federal court charged the commander of the 97th Infantry Battalion and three other military officers for the July 2015 illegal detention and extrajudicial killing of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

On August 18, the CNDH released a report that accused federal police of executing 22 persons after a gunfight in May 2015 near Tanhuato, Michoacan, and of tampering with evidence. The CNDH report concluded that two of the men killed were tortured and 13 were killed after they had been detained. One police officer was killed in the incident. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia claimed the officers acted in self-defense. In response to the CNDH report, President Enrique Pena Nieto removed Federal Police Chief Enrique Galindo from his position to allow for “an agile and transparent investigation.” No federal police agents were charged, and the federal investigation continued at year’s end.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the January 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

In May a civilian federal judge acquitted and dismissed all charges against the remaining members of the military with pending charges in relation to the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict. In April the press reported that in October 2015 the Sixth Military Court dropped the charges against six soldiers and convicted one soldier, sentencing him to time served. In a report released in October 2015 before the verdicts, the CNDH determined that authorities arbitrarily deprived at least 12 to 15 of the civilians of life and tortured some of the witnesses. In July authorities of the State of Mexico declared they intended to fire nine state-level investigators from the General Prosecutor’s Office and suspend 21 others for misconduct related to the case. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

Former military corporal, Juan Ortiz Bermudez, appealed his 2015 conviction to 18 years’ imprisonment for intentional homicide in the 2010 killing of two unarmed civilians in Nuevo Leon. Authorities had not scheduled a hearing at year’s end.

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country. For example, from July 9 to 15, criminal gangs executed several families in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in what media reported as a war among drug-trafficking organizations. Criminals also targeted mayors (at least six killed this year) and other public officials. From 2006 to the middle of the year, 82 mayors were killed in the country.

News reports and NGO sources noted that from January 2015 to August, authorities discovered more than 724 bodies in several hundred clandestine graves throughout the country, the majority of killings were suspected to have been carried out by criminal organizations.

b. Disappearance

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from murder or kidnapping. Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of disappearance remained rare. The CNDH reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that as of October 2015, authorities opened 95 investigations at the state level for forced disappearances in nine states, resulting in four indictments but no convictions.

There were many reports of forced disappearances by security forces. There were numerous cases of disappearances related to organized criminal groups. In its data collection, the government often merged disappeared persons with missing persons, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

The CNDH registered 16 cases of alleged forced disappearances through the end of October.

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) revamped its Special Unit for Disappeared Persons in 2015, establishing expanded authorities and transferring 846 open cases from the predecessor PGR unit. The unit employed approximately 30 prosecutors and, as of May, was investigating the cases of 1,050 missing or disappeared persons. In June the attorney general appointed a prosecutor to lead the unit.

Authorities arrested 13 persons, including eight state police officers; they faced charges for the January 11 disappearance of five youths from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. On February 8, federal authorities located the remains of two of the youths on a property reportedly used by drug traffickers after one officer admitted to the abduction and transfer of the youths to a local criminal gang. Several containers found there contained human remains estimated to belong to hundreds of victims killed over a period of several years.

On April 28, a 17-year-old boy disappeared in the state of Veracruz, with the alleged participation of the Veracruz state police called “Fuerza Civil.” International NGOs reported that the boy’s mother had difficulty filing the disappearance report with the state attorney general’s office.

On November 10, the IACHR launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism that follows up the work of the group of independent experts who supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims from March 2015 to April 30. At the end of their mandate in April, the experts released a final report strongly critical of the government’s handling of the case.

According to information provided by the PGR in November, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from Cocula and Iguala and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization, Guerreros Unidos. Representatives of civil society organizations and the IACHR-affiliated experts noted that authorities held many of those arrested on charges such as participation in a criminal organization but not on involvement in the students’ disappearances. A CNDH report implicated federal police and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco. In October authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. Both federal and state authorities continued at year’s end to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

Kidnappings remained a serious problem for persons at all socioeconomic levels, and there were credible reports of instances of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, often at the state and local level. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting for kidnapping may be even higher.

Coahuila state authorities issued arrest warrants in June for 15 individuals–10 of whom were former police–for forced disappearances in the border state of Coahuila. According to state authorities, from 2009 to 2012, the Zetas transnational criminal organization, allegedly in collusion with local police, carried out mass disappearances in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. Elements of the organization allegedly killed some of the victims and disposed of their remains in Piedras Negras’ state prison.

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

The law prohibits such practices and stipulates confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

There is no national registry of torture cases, and a lack of data on torture cases at the state level.

As of October 31, the CNDH registered 206 complaints of alleged torture and 451 cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

News reports indicated that the PGR was examining 4,000 cases of torture in the first nine months of the year. The reports indicated that judges issued 14 arrest warrants for torture, including five arrest warrants for army and federal police members.

In June a report by Amnesty International accused security officials of using sexual and other types of torture to secure confessions from women.

On April 14, a video was posted on social media showing a woman being tortured by two soldiers and members of the Federal Police in an incident that took place in February 2015 in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, state of Guerrero. The secretary of defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, made an unprecedented public apology. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales also offered a public apology. In January authorities detained two of the soldiers allegedly implicated, and they faced civilian charges of torture as well as military charges of disobeying orders. Authorities suspended members of the Federal Police for their involvement.

On January 20, a federal court in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua sentenced army Colonel Elfego Jose Lujan Ruiz (the former commander of the 35th Infantry Battalion in Nuevo Casas Grandes) to 33 years in prison for the 2009 torture, homicide, and clandestine burial of two men. Authorities also sentenced five other convicted former soldiers of the 35th Infantry Battalion; three to 33 years in prison for the same crimes and two to 39 months in prison for torture.

In April authorities sentenced army General Manuel Moreno Avina to 52 years’ imprisonment for the torture, homicide, and destruction of human remains of a man in Chihuahua in 2008. The federal judge also ordered the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) to offer a public apology and accept responsibility for killing the man. Media reported that, as of October 31, authorities sentenced 21 soldiers who were under Moreno’s command on charges related to torture, homicide, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening due to corruption, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, and lack of security and control.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some detention centers.

Physical Conditions: In a report published during the year, the IACHR noted that federal and state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of real opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and lack of effective grievance mechanisms.”

There were numerous cases of corruption in the penitentiary system, including allegations of high-level corruption related to the July 2015 escape of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The IACHR reported that 200 of the 388 penitentiary centers in the country were overcrowded. News reports indicated that Hidalgo State had the most overcrowded prisons and identified the district jail in Tepeaca, Puebla, as the most overcrowded (329 inmates in a jail designed for 49); 239 of the prisoners were awaiting their sentences. In April the CNDH reported that overcrowding in prisons was the main factor in lack of social rehabilitation. Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons often were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners often had to bribe guards to acquire food, medicine, and other necessities. In some cases prisoners reportedly had to pay a fee to be permitted to visit with family members. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted a lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners, particularly for women who lived with their children in prison, were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. There were reports women who lived with their children in prison did not receive extra food or assistance.

The CNDH reported 52 homicides and 23 suicides in state and district prisons in 2015. The CNDH noted in its 2015 report on prisons that 86 prisons did not have a suicide prevention system. On February 11, 49 inmates were killed in the deadliest prison riot in history at the Nuevo Leon state prison of Topo Chico. In June, three prisoners were killed and 14 injured in another riot at the same prison. A senior Nuevo Leon state official cited poor prison conditions and a lack of funding as primary contributing factors for continued violence at the prison.

Administration: At some state prisons, recordkeeping remained inadequate. While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not publicly release the results of investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve prison conditions.

Improvements: In June a new law allowed women to have full custody of their children while in prison until the children reached three years of age.

On June 16, the National Criminal Enforcement Act went into effect, which defines the guiding principles of the prison system to be dignity, equality, legality, due process, transparency, confidentiality, and social reinsertion. The law points out that women require different accommodations than men and identifies the important role community contact plays in successful social reintegration.

Both federal and state facilities sought international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of September 1, 12 additional correctional facilities achieved association accreditation, bringing the total number of accredited facilities to 42.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government often failed to observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Committee, state police are under the authority of each of the 32 governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA, which oversees the army and air force, and the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR), which oversees the navy and marines, also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry (SEGOB), is the administrative body responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. The INM’s 5,400 agents worked at ports of entry, checkpoints, and detention centers, conducting migrant apprehension operations in coordination with the federal police.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to the civilian justice system under the jurisdiction of the PGR. If the victim is a member of the military, alleged perpetrators remain subject to the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

According to the Office of the Attorney General of Military Justice, as of April 18, the military had transferred to the civilian Attorney General’s Office prosecutorial jurisdiction for more than 1,273 military personnel accused of human rights violations in 558 criminal cases, 257 homicide cases, 229 torture cases, and 72 forced disappearance cases. As of June SEDENA reported there were no cases before military courts that involved a civilian victim.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The country had extremely low rates of prosecution, and prosecutions could take years to complete.

There were new developments in the 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State during which two individuals were killed and more than 47 women were taken into custody with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court acquitted the only individual previously convicted in the case, and in September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case, but no date has been set.

By law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution, including for corruption, while they hold a public office, although state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an elected official’s immunity.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations or to take independent judicial action.

In May the code of military justice was reformed to establish procedures for the conduct of military oral trials, in accordance with the transition to an adversarial justice system. On June 15, the CNDH published and submitted to the Supreme Court a “Report of Unconstitutionality” in which it claimed aspects of the recently revised code of military justice and military code of criminal procedures (military code or CMPP) violated constitutional guarantees, including against unreasonable searches and seizures. The CNDH based its claims on provisions of the military code that allow military prosecutors to request permission from civilian prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to intercept communications and search premises during the investigation of military personnel for ties to organized crime, murder, and weapons violations. The CNDH criticized the ability of a military judge to call a civilian to testify in military court, the requirement that authorities must conduct all procedural acts in Spanish, and the expanded roles given to the Military Ministerial Police (the top-level investigative entity of the military).

In February, SEMAR expanded its human rights program to include a weeklong course (from the previous one-day course), an intensive program for commanding officers, and a human rights diploma program, among others.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. Bail exists, except for persons held in connection with drug trafficking or other forms of organized crime. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge, and for authorities to provide sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, within 48 hours of arrest, but there were violations of the 48-hour provision. In cases involving three or more parties to a conspiracy to commit certain crimes, authorities may hold suspects for up to 96 hours before being presented to a judge.

Only the federal judicial system may prosecute cases involving organized crime. Under a procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established), certain suspects may, with a judge’s approval, be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Human rights NGOs claimed arraigo allowed some corrupt officials to extort detainees, detain someone, and then seek reasons to justify the detention, or obtain confessions using torture. In the absence of formal charges, persons detained under arraigo are often denied legal representation and are not eligible to receive credit for time served if convicted.

Some detainees complained about lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally provided impoverished detainees counsel only during trials and not during arrests or investigations as provided for by law. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention leading to other human rights abuses.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to an IACHR report, SEGOB figures as of August 2015 noted that 107,441 of 254,469 individuals detained were in pretrial detention. According to an international NGO, more than 40 percent of prisoners were awaiting their trial at the end of 2015. The law provides time limits within which authorities must try an accused person. Authorities generally disregarded time limits on pretrial detention since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through the Juicio de Amparo. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process; suffered a human rights abuse; or that authorities infringed upon basic constitutional rights. By law individuals should obtain prompt release and compensation if found to be unlawfully detained, but the authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and at the state and local levels, arrest warrants were sometimes ignored.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

As of June the civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. While observers expected the new system would take several years to implement fully, the federal government and all of the states began to adopt it. In some states implementing the accusatory system, alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the new system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, although the law allows the government to keep elements of an investigation confidential until the presentation of evidence in court. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes.

The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. Attorneys are required to meet legal qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders had preparation and training to serve adequately on the defendants’ behalf, and often the state public defender system was not adequate to meet demand. Public defender services functioned either in the judicial or executive branch. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE), most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after they came under judicial authority, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Although required by law, interpretation and translation services from Spanish to indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were allegedly required to sign.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. On August 13, authorities released antilogging activist Ildefonso Zamora from prison after a court dropped burglary charges against him. Human rights NGOs had criticized his 2015 arrest as politically motivated due to his antilogging activism.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue. Media monopolies, especially on a local level, constrained freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting. Perpetrators of violence against journalists continued to act with impunity with few reports of successful investigation, arrest, or prosecution of suspects. Observers believed organized crime to be behind some of these cases, but NGOs asserted there were significant instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned these acts. The international NGO Article 19 analyzed complaints of violence or harassment registered with their organization and reported that 47 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in the prior seven years originated from public officials.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, 14 journalists were killed between January and mid-December. During the first half of the year, Article 19 registered 218 cases of aggression against journalists, including assaults, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and threats; in 2015 there were 397 such cases.

On February 8, armed assailants kidnapped journalist Anabel Flores in her home in Veracruz. Authorities found her body the following day in neighboring Puebla State. NGOs asserted that moving her across state lines was meant to obstruct investigation of her death.

On June 20, unknown assailants shot and killed Elidio Ramos Zarate, a reporter for local Oaxaca newspaper El Sur, as he covered a demonstration allegedly led by teachers that included blockades. The victim and other reporters had received threats from masked individuals at the blockades. Article 19 had previously noted the vulnerability of reporters covering demonstrations, who were subject to attacks from both police and protesters. Two other journalists were killed in the state of Oaxaca.

On July 20, journalist Pedro Tamayo was killed outside his home in Veracruz–the third journalist killed in Veracruz between January and July. Tamayo had received threats previously; he had fled the state and was placed under police protection upon his return.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and media facilities, false charges for publishing undesirable news, and threats or retributions against family, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: Federal laws against defamation and slander were removed but remain on the books at the local level in some states. In April a Mexico City judge ruled against Sanjuana Martinez, a reporter who wrote an expose of politicians who allegedly patronized prostitutes. A politician named in the article sued Martinez for libel. Martinez was not notified of the lawsuit as required by law until a court ruled against her in April and ordered her to pay restitution.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical and digital violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence as that faced by traditional journalists.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: Since its creation in late 2012 through September, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (“the mechanism”) had accepted 367 cases–208 of them from journalists–out of 443 requests. NGOs noted that in the same period there were more than 1,800 attacks against journalists. SEGOB stated that since the establishment of the mechanism, there had not been a murder or forced disappearance of anyone protected under the mechanism. Separately, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, part of the PGR, reported it continued training public servants and journalists on the importance of freedom of expression. During the year it did not prosecute any crimes committed against journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. According to Freedom House, however, the government increased requests to social media companies to remove content. Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom of the Net Report categorized the country’s internet as partly free.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing security agents to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions.

An estimated 45 percent of citizens–approximately 58 million persons–used the internet as of July.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications over the previous year. A reported 2,100 migrants requested refugee status in the first four months of the year, compared with a total of 3,424 in 2015.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City and other detention centers, including in Chiapas, men were kept separate from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals for any urgent cases free of charge. Those from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. The National Refugee Commission (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. The INM and Children and Family Services’ officials took trafficking and other victims to designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, by police and immigration officers and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. On March 3, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General’s Office to allow the families access to the files of the 2010 killings of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Since August 2014 the INM had turned over to state and federal prosecution authorities approximately 1,110 individuals suspected of having committed a crime against migrants.

In March the government began operating the Crimes Investigation Unit for Migrants and the Mexican Foreign Support Mechanism of Search and Investigation. The International Organization for Migration collaborated with municipal governments to establish offices along the border with Guatemala to track and assist migrants.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that as of December 2015, there were at least 287,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), which resulted primarily from several displacement events that forced persons to flee their homes and communities in response to criminal, political, and religious violence as well as natural disasters. In May the CNDH released a report stating that 35,433 IDPs were displaced due to drug trafficking violence, religious conflicts, and land disputes. Tamaulipas reportedly had the highest number of IDPs at approximately 20,000, followed by Guerrero with 2,165, and Chihuahua with 2,008. NGO estimates of IDP numbers were higher: hundreds of thousands of citizens, many fleeing areas of armed conflict among organized criminal groups, or between the government and organized criminal groups, became internally displaced.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. During the year COMAR increased refugee status recognition by 60 percent. In the summer the INM entered into an agreement with UNHCR to relinquish custody to UNHCR those migrants who, while in INM custody, claimed a need for asylum. As of August 31 the INM had turned over approximately 200 persons to UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to assure the free expression of the will of the people.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the June gubernatorial races in 12 states and local races in 13 states and the 2011 and 2015 legislative and 2012 presidential elections to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: A 2014 constitutional reform requires parties to select equal numbers of women and men to run for seats in the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and state congresses. The law also requires that each candidate’s substitute be of the same gender as the candidate to prevent instances of women gaining office and then stepping down so a male substitute can take the position, previously a common practice. Women held approximately 36 percent of Senate seats and 32 percent of federal deputy seats.

No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the process and women and minorities did so. There were no established quotas for increased participation of indigenous groups in the legislative body, and no reliable statistics were available regarding minority participation in government. The law provides for the right of indigenous people to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law rather than federal and state electoral law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials and security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included overpaying for goods and services to provide payment to elected officials and political parties.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass a vetting process upon entry into service and every two years thereafter throughout their careers. According to SEGOB and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal level underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that police who failed vetting remained on duty. The CNDH reported that police, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

During the year the government adopted a new National Anticorruption System that gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for corrupt government officials, provides the Superior Audit Office (ASF) with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. Observers hailed the legislation as a major achievement in the fight against corruption, although some NGOs criticized the provision that allows public servants to opt out of declaring assets.

Corruption: In October the PGR indicted and issued an arrest warrant for the governor of Veracruz who went into hiding. In midyear the ASF filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against 14 state governments for misappropriation of billions of dollars in federal funds. The ASF also investigated several state governors, including the former governors of Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Nuevo Leon. The investigations continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: In July the Congress passed a law requiring all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns, though it is possible to opt-out of making the information available to the public. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, and also require yearly updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless the official petitions for a waiver to keep them private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. Opposition political parties petitioned the Supreme Court in midyear to overturn the section of the law that would allow officials a waiver to keep the disclosures private.

Public Access to Information: A 2015 law grants free public access to government information at the state and federal levels. Authorities implemented the law effectively at the federal level and continued to work on harmonizing state-level laws for implementation in the states. The law includes exceptions to disclosure of government information, including for information that may compromise national security, affect the conduct of foreign relations, harm the country’s financial stability, endanger another person’s life, or for information relating to pending law enforcement investigations. The law also limits disclosure of personal information to third parties.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. Whenever the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify that it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly and may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All of the country’s 32 states have their own human rights commission. The legislatures fund state-level commissions and instruct them to be autonomous. The state commissions did not have the same reporting requirements, making nationwide statistics difficult to compile and compare. The CNDH can take cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint the commission has not adequately investigated.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Twenty-four states have laws criminalizing spousal rape. Human rights organizations asserted authorities at times did not take seriously reports of rape, and victims were socially stigmatized and ostracized.

The federal penal code prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Twenty-nine states stipulate similar penalties, although sentences in practice were often more lenient. Federal law does not criminalize spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced, although states and municipalities, especially in the north, were beginning to prioritize training on domestic violence.

Victims of domestic violence in rural and indigenous communities often did not report abuses due to fear of spousal reprisal, stigma, and societal beliefs that abuse did not merit a complaint.

According to the law, femicide–the killing of a woman based on her gender–is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also an offense listed in the criminal codes of all states. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons of the PGR is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 40 federal prosecutors dedicated to federal cases of violence against women, approximately 15 of whom specialized in trafficking countrywide.

In 2015 and 2016, the federal government began using a “gender alert” mechanism that has existed at the federal level since 2007. The declaration of a gender alert directs relevant local, state, and federal authorities to take immediate action to combat violence against women by granting victims legal, health, and psychological services, and speeding investigations of unsolved cases. Since July 2015 the federal government has activated gender alerts in three states: Mexico, Morelos, and Michoacan. The state government of Jalisco activated its own gender alert. Civil society groups complained that so far the alerts had not led to noticeable changes.

In collaboration with civil society, the state of Mexico established the country’s first “gender alert” system to collect information to support investigations of gender-based violence in 11 of the 125 municipalities. At the national level, there were 72 shelters, of which civil society organizations operated 34, private welfare institutions operated four, and 34 were public institutions.

Sexual Harassment: Federal labor law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage. Sixteen states criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute (INMUJERES), the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem, but victims were reluctant to come forward, and cases were difficult to prove.

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

There were some reports of women pressured to undergo involuntary sterilization, including among indigenous populations, patients afflicted with HIV, and inmates. Antiretroviral therapy to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission was available.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” According to INMUJERES women earned between 5 and 30 percent less than men for comparable work, whereas the World Economic Forum reported women earned 43 percent less than men for comparable work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derived citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. In some instances government officials visited private health institutions to facilitate the process. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. In December 2015 the government created a National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, which is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government. The program includes the creation of a National System of Information on Children and Adolescents, designed to improve data on treatment of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states, where some civil codes permit a minimum marital age of 14 for girls and 16 for boys with parental consent, and 18 without parental consent. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child-sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.

Statutory rape constitutes a crime in the federal criminal code. If an adult has sexual relations with a minor between ages 15 and 18, the penalty is between three months and four years in prison. Conviction of sexual relations with a minor under age 15 is liable to a penalty ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment. Laws against corruption of a minor and child pornography apply to victims under age 18. For conviction of the crimes of selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor, the law stipulates a prison term of six months to five years and a fine of 300 to 500 times the daily minimum wage. For conviction of crimes involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800 to 2,500 times the daily minimum wage.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800 to 2,000 times the daily minimum wage. For those convicted of involvement in sexual tourism who commit sexual acts with minors, the law requires a 12- to 16-year prison sentence and a fine of 2,000 to 3,000 times the daily minimum wage. The crime of sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine of 1,000 to 2,500 times the daily minimum wage. The crimes of child sex tourism and exploiting of children in prostitution do not require a complaint to prosecute and can be based on anonymous information.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concerns regarding abuses of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.

International Child Abductions: The country is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2010 census, the Jewish community numbered approximately 67,000 persons, 90 percent of whom lived in Mexico City. Jewish community leaders estimated there were closer to 45,000 Jews in the country. The Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, which primarily involved anti-Semitic rhetoric in the media. In May the Jewish community reported that a congressman used anti-Semitic language during a live radio interview to denounce the candidacy of a Jewish leader as an advisor to the Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other services. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Ministry of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL) must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house persons with disabilities in poverty, neglect, or marginalization. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions.

Public buildings and facilities continued to be in noncompliance with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided special education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. NGOs reported employment discrimination.

Human rights abuses in mental health institutions and care facilities, including those for children, continued to be a problem. Abuses of persons with disabilities included lack of access to justice, the use of physical and chemical restraints, physical and sexual abuse, disappearances, and illegal adoption of institutionalized children. Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate privacy and clothing and often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking, and there were instances of disappearances.

As of October 31, the NGO Disability Rights International (DRI) reported that most residents had been moved to other institutions from the privately run institution Casa Esperanza, where they were allegedly victims of pervasive sexual abuse by staff and, in some cases, human trafficking. DRI reported that they were still suffering abuse and not receiving adequate treatment at these new institutions. Two of the victims died within the first six months after transfer to other facilities, one of whom was a victim of sexual abuse. DRI stated the victim was raped during a period of seven months in the new institution called Fundacion PARLAS I.A.P., and another woman was physically abused at the same institution. DRI claimed the government has not acted to improve conditions at these homes.

Persons with disabilities have the right to vote and participate in civic affairs. Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections. In Mexico City voting centers were also reportedly accessible for local elections, including braille overlays, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides all indigenous people the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Although the law recognizes indigenous rights, indigenous groups reported the country’s legal framework did not respect the property rights of indigenous communities or prevent violations of human rights. Most conflicts arose from interpretation of the “uses and customs” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding the development of projects intended to exploit the energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They experienced racism, discrimination, and violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health and education services. The CNDH stressed past government actions to improve the living conditions of indigenous people, namely social programs geared specifically to women, were insufficient to overcome the historical marginalization of indigenous populations.

The law provides for educational instruction in the national language, Spanish, without prejudice to the protection and promotion of indigenous languages, but many indigenous children spoke only their native languages. The lack of textbooks and teaching materials, as well as the lack of qualified teachers fluent in these languages, limited education in indigenous languages.

In April indigenous communities in Chiapas along the border with Guatemala protested a hydroelectric project they claimed threatened to displace them.

In June the CNDH criticized immigration authorities for the 2015 detention of four citizens of indigenous descent for nine days by immigration officers in Queretaro who claimed they thought the four were Guatemalan.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals, but there were reports that the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City. Transgender persons may change their gender marker on identity documents only in Mexico City. The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but only in Mexico City does it prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public tolerance of LGBTI individuals according to public opinion surveys. In March, Rubi Suarez Araujo became the first transgender municipal councilor, in Guanajuato.

In Mexico City the law criminalizes hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody. Civil society groups reported that the full extent of hate crimes, including killings of LGBTI persons, was difficult to ascertain because authorities often mischaracterized these crimes as “crimes of passion,” which resulted in the authorities’ failure to adequately investigate, prosecute, or punish these incidents. The Executive Committee for Victims Assistance, an independent federal agency, completed a survey 425 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. Seven of 10 respondents reported discrimination in schools; half reported employment discrimination or harassment; and six of 10 reported having known an LGBT person murdered in the past three years.

In October the press reported three killings of transgender individuals in the space of 13 days. NGOs stated transgender individuals faced discrimination and were marginalized even within the lesbian and gay community.

The National Council to Prevent Discrimination has both national and local level branches. The local council in Mexico City is the city government agency with the authority to resolve complaints of discrimination that occur within Mexico City. The national level council received complaints of discriminatory acts in areas of employment, access to commercial establishments, and access to education and health care. Civil society groups reported difficulty in determining whether individual complaints were ever resolved.

In January the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that denying same-sex partners the right to marry in the state of Jalisco was unconstitutional. A federal tribunal in Nuevo Leon ruled in favor of two women who fought for more than two years in court for the right to marry each other legally in the state. On February 14, the same-sex couple was the first to marry in Nuevo Leon through a civil ceremony in Monterrey. The court ruled in favor of the couple after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state’s civil code restricting marriage to a man and a woman.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. There were multiple reports of priests kidnapped and killed. In early October the center stated there was an increase in the number of priests killed, from two in 2015 to seven during the year.

Self-defense groups–organized groups of armed civilians that claimed to fight crime in the face of inaction by governmental authorities–were concentrated in the southwestern states of Michoacan and Guerrero.

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, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive official recognition from the government, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS). For the union to be able to perform its legally determined functions, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or STPS. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to intrinsic conflicts of interest within the structure of the boards exacerbated by the prevalence of representatives from “protection” (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent,” or in other words, cannot proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker unfairly and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

Although the law authorizes the coexistence of several unions in one worksite, it limits collective bargaining to the union that has “ownership” of a collective bargaining agreement. When there is only one union present, it automatically has the exclusive right to bargain with the employer. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place at a company, another union seeking to bargain with the employer must compete for bargaining rights through a “recuento” (bargaining-rights election) administered by the CAB. The union with the largest number of votes goes on to “win” the collective bargaining rights. It is not mandatory for a union to consult with workers or have worker support to sign a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The law establishes that internal union leadership votes may be held via secret ballot, either directly or indirectly.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse regarding violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. A report released in April 2015–commissioned by the President’s Office and produced by the CIDE economic research center–found no guarantees of impartial and efficient labor justice from the boards and recommended the eventual incorporation of the CABs into the judicial branch.

In November the Congress passed constitutional reforms introduced in by President Pena Nieto that would dissolve the CABs and transfer their various functions to different entities. Judicial functions would transfer to the federal and state judiciaries, administrative functions would transfer to a new federal administrative entity, and conciliation functions would transfer to new conciliation entities. In addition to structural changes, the proposed labor reforms would require verification of worker support for a collective bargaining agreement prior to its registration, and they would establish concrete timeframes for all steps in the process for challenging a union’s exclusive bargaining rights. Thirteen state legislatures approved the legislation prior to the end of the year.

By law penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws range from 16,160 pesos ($960) to 161,600 pesos ($9,640). Such penalties were rarely enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

To reduce backlogs and average time to issue labor rulings from 200 to 150 days, some states began implementing oral trials at their local CABs. There are 19 CABs located in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, and Baja California. In the state of Mexico, from 2011 to 2015, the new process reduced the number of pending actions from 35,000 to 27,000.

Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions has been politicized, and according to union organizers, the government, including the CABs, frequently used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. For example, it rejects registration applications for new locals of independent unions and for new unions on technicalities.

Companies and protection unions used complex divisions and a lack of coordination between federal and state jurisdictions to manipulate the labor conciliation and arbitration processes. For example, a company might register a collective bargaining agreement at both the federal and the local level, and later alternate the jurisdictions when individuals filed and appealed complaints to gain favorable outcomes. Additionally, union organizers from several sectors raised concerns regarding the overt and usually hostile involvement of the CABs when organizers attempted to create independent unions.

Protection (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions and “protection contracts,” collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to prevent meaningful negotiations and ensure labor peace, continued to be a problem in all sectors. These contracts were facilitated by exclusivity in bargaining and lack of a requirement for workers to demonstrate support for a collective bargaining agreement or the union that negotiated it before the agreement could take effect. Protection contracts often were developed before the company hired any workers and without direct input from or knowledge of the covered workers. For example, in August 2015 a leader of the Workers Confederation of Mexico (CTM)–a known protection union–claimed that he was negotiating a collective bargaining agreement to cover workers at a tire factory in San Luis Potosi that was not set to begin production until 2017. As of July, of 31 automotive industry plants, 27 had protection contracts with the CTM.

Independent unions, a few multinational corporations, and some labor lawyers and academics called on the government to institute legal reforms that would prohibit registration of collective bargaining agreements where the union cannot demonstrate support by a majority of workers or where workers had not ratified the content of the agreements. Many observers noted working conditions of a majority of workers were under the control of these contracts and the unrepresentative unions that negotiated them, and that the protection unions and contracts often prevented workers from fully exercising their labor rights as defined by law. These same groups advocated for workers to receive hard copies of existing collective bargaining agreements when they are hired.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced procedural obstacles and various forms of intimidation (including physical violence) from protection union leaders, or employers supporting a protection union, in the lead-up to, during, and after bargaining-rights elections from other workers, union leaders, violent individuals hired by a company, or employers favoring a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union.

Other intimidating and manipulative practices continued to be common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. In November 2015 hundreds of employees at a transnational factory in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, began protesting low wages, the arbitrary firings of 120 workers, and unacceptable working conditions. Civil society groups reported that management failed to provide either the promised day wage increase or the legally required Christmas bonus at the end of 2015. When workers attempted to organize to rectify these conditions, employers met them with mass firings, threats, and intimidation. Other complaints included sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions that exposed factory workers to hazardous chemicals without appropriate protective gear.

On August 22, one of the largest teacher unions (CNTE) began the school year by launching teacher strikes and setting up roadblocks to protest proposed education reforms. The government and CNTE engaged in numerous rounds of negotiations regarding the dispute following deadly clashes in June between teacher union-led protesters and federal police forces in Oaxaca that left eight civilians dead. CNTE members staged strikes in Oaxaca and Chiapas states, where 53 percent and 58 percent, respectively, of campuses did not open for the first day of school. CNTE was less successful in Guerrero and Michoacan states, where nearly all schools held classes. The CNTE blocked major roads and railways in Oaxaca and Chiapas to protest federal education reforms. On August 25, the Ministry of Education announced it would fire 1,255 teachers and school employees in Oaxaca and Guerrero who participated in the strikes and missed days of classes. As of September 6, authorities were processing 1,905 teachers for dismissal, including 1,600 from Oaxaca and the remainder from Chiapas and Michoacan.

Independent labor activists reported the requirement that the CABs approve strikes in advance gave the boards the power to show favoritism by determining which companies to protect from strikes. Few formal strikes occurred, but protests and informal work freezes were common. For instance, workers in “maquilas” (factories run by foreign-owned companies that manufacture goods for export) in Ciudad Juarez protested in January to gain support for the creation of an independent union.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment and observers generally considered them sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor persisted in the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In November, 81 workers were freed by authorities from a situation of forced labor on a commercial farm in Coahuila.

In October 2015 municipal police rescued 49 persons held captive and forced to work 16 hours a day at a drug rehabilitation facility in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. The victims, mostly from indigenous groups, lived in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions and faced mistreatment and sexual exploitation. Some of the rescued laborers sent to hospitals suffered from malnutrition, dehydration, skin cuts, infections, and fractures.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution prohibits children under age 15 from working and allows those between ages 15 and 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission. The law requires that children under age 18 must have a medical certificate in order to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially the maquila sector, and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in the agriculture and construction sectors and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked.

With regard to inspections at the federal level, the SEDESOL, the PGR, and the National System for Integral Family Development have responsibility for enforcement of some aspects of child labor laws or intervention in cases where employers violated such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child-labor inspections. Penalties for violations range from 16,780 pesos ($1,000) to 335,850 pesos ($20,000) but were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

In August authorities rescued six child laborers in Coahuila in the rural community of San Eugenio. Many of the victims in these cases came from the states of Veracruz and San Luis Potosi and reportedly worked at least nine hours daily, received insufficient food, and were forced to live in unhygienic conditions. In December 2015 authorities granted Oscar Lozano Chavez, the owner of the company involved in the case, house arrest due to health problems; he was monitored by an electronic bracelet. The court denied similar requests by three other defendants.

According to the 2013 INEGI survey, the most recent data available on child labor, the number of employed children between ages five and 17 remained at 2.5 million, or approximately 8.6 percent of the 29.3 million children in the country. Of these children, 746,000 were between ages five and 13, and 1.8 million were between ages 14 and 17. Of employed children 30 percent worked in the agricultural sector in the harvest of melons, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, chili peppers, green beans, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, and tomatoes. Other sectors with significant child labor included services (25 percent), retail sales (26 percent), manufacturing (13 percent), and construction (4 percent). On August 25, the government announced the percentage of children engaged in labor decreased from 11.5 percent of total children in 2007 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation regarding “race, nationality age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.” The law provides for labor protection for pregnant women.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The single general minimum wage was 73 pesos ($4.35) a day. Most formal sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy estimated the poverty line at 90 pesos ($5.40) per day. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries and continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work more than eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker receives double the hourly wage. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The STPS is responsible for enforcing labor laws and conducting inspections at workplaces. As of November 2015, there were 946 inspectors nationwide. This was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the STPS carried out inspections of workplaces throughout the year, using a questionnaire and other actions to identify victims of labor exploitation. Penalties for violations of wage, hours of work, or occupational safety and health laws range from 17,330 pesos ($1,030) to 335,940 pesos ($20,020) but were generally not sufficient to deter violations. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, STPS had provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This continued to be a common practice in the maquila sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and oblige them to work, for example, during the Christmas holiday period, with no corresponding triple pay as mandated by law when workers opted for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally, or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. In 2013, the latest year for which such data are available, INEGI estimated 59 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. The STPS registry was out of date and limited in scope. Although a few large recruitments firms were registered, the registry included many defunct and nonexistent mid-sized firms, and few if any of the many small, independent recruiters. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Migrant Worker Rights Center, 58 percent of 220 applicants interviewed had paid recruitment fees; half did not receive a copy of their job contract and took out loans to cover recruitment costs; and 10 percent paid recruitment fees for nonexistent jobs. The recruitment agents placed those who demanded their rights on blacklists and barred them from future employment opportunities. In 2015 the NGO Proyecto de Derechos Economicos, Sociales, y Culturales, or ProDESC, filed a collective criminal complaint with the government for recruitment fraud to demand an inspection of a recruitment agency. The government inspection resulted in a fine of 57,750 pesos ($3,500) levied against the recruiter.

News reports indicated that there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, the lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and the lack of freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquilas hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

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