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Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The government of Cabo Verde is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, largely modeled on the Portuguese system. Constitutional powers are shared between the head of state, President Jorge Carlos Fonseca, and head of government, Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva. The Supreme Court, the National Electoral Commission, and international observers declared the 2016 nationwide legislative, presidential, and municipal elections generally free and fair.

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

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; police use of excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; abusive prison conditions; government infringement of freedom of the press; corruption ; trafficking in persons; failure to protect children from violence and work in precarious conditions; and failure to fully protect legal migrant workers.

The government at times took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity occurred in other cases.

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

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

There was one report the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. On February 26, Helder Delgado was declared dead on arrival at Praia General Hospital, 10 hours after being detained by an off-duty police officer during what the officer described as a break-in. Delgado’s body showed signs of blunt trauma, and the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma and hypoglycemic shock. The attorney general opened a case to investigate the death as an aggravated homicide. The accused officer was suspended from his duties and spent nearly six months in prison in preventive detention. In late September he was released and was awaiting trial at year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Media, however, cited instances of physical violence. The most common types of abuses were excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained by police. In most cases the National Police Council took action against abusers. In the first quarter, 23 cases of abuse were registered, a significant increase over the first eight months of 2016.

Prisoners complained of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In all prisons authorities isolated newcomers in small, cramped cells for up to 30 days. This isolation was intended to allow new inmates time to adjust and to determine if they had communicable diseases. Inmates in isolation had limited access to visitors and prison activities. The isolation cells were small, dark, not well-ventilated, unfurnished, and crowded. Similar cells were used for punishment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding and inadequate housing and sanitation.

Physical Conditions: There were five prisons in the country; the two largest had populations that substantially exceeded capacity (indicated in parentheses). The Central Prison of Praia (CCP) had 1,091 inmates (880), the Central Prison of Sao Vicente 248 (180), and the regional prisons of Santo Antao 47 (50), Sal 89 (250), and Fogo 67 (50). The Orlando Pantera Center housed juvenile detainees who were under age 16 at the time of sentencing. The regional prisons on Fogo and Sal did not have sufficient external walls. Several of the prisons did not have reliable electricity. The regional prison on Sal had no access to an electric grid or piped water; it ran a generator at night, and water was brought in trucks. There was no kitchen at the prison, and food for inmates was prepared and delivered by the armed forces.

As of August 31, there were three deaths reported in prison.

Prisoners also complained of inadequate sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and heating. Not all prisoners had mattresses and beds; some slept on thin blankets on concrete floors. Shower and toilet facilities were inadequate and unsanitary; however, prison directors ensured distribution of personal hygiene kits and prioritized improvements to the showers and toilets. There was standing water in the toilet and shower areas. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. There were too few corrections officers to deal with the growing number of such prisoners. Conditions were markedly better for female prisoners, who generally had significantly more space and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners.

At the CCP and the central prison on Sao Vicente, inmates were separated by categories of trial status, sex, and age, but in regional prisons a lack of facilities prevented authorities from separating inmates. In the Fogo regional prison, all 11 cells and the isolation cells housed youth and adults together. In the Santo Antao regional prison, inmates were separated according to status and crime.

Most prisoners received adequate food and clean water three times per day.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints. Prisoners’ relatives reported complaints, but corrections officials claimed all had been investigated and disproven.

Prison directors at Fogo and CCP reported religious activities were permitted for all religious groups. The CCP director stated religious visits for Muslims had not yet been scheduled. He noted, however, that religious activities during Ramadan had been organized and supported by the administration. In the regional prison on Sao Vicente, the director stated that Muslim religious services sometimes fall outside of regular prison working hours, complicating the prison’s ability to accommodate them.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the press made frequent visits to prisons to record conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement. The Judiciary Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for major investigations. The armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for protecting the national territory and sovereignty of the country. Logistical constraints, including a shortage of vehicles and communications equipment, and poor forensic capacity limited police effectiveness.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police (including the Coast Guard, National Guard, National Police, and Judiciary Police), and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Authorities investigated abuses by police, and most investigations resulted in legal action against those responsible. During the first quarter of the year, the National Police Council received 23 reports of police violence; most cases concerned physical abuse. The National Police Disciplinary Board reviewed the cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant issued by the Attorney General’s Office, unless police apprehend the person in the act of committing a felony. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. Even if there is incriminating evidence, suspected criminals are not arrested until a decision is made by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. In most cases, however, detainees waited more than 48 hours. The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to family members and to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice if the detainee could afford it. For a detainee or family unable to pay, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints a lawyer.

The judicial system was overburdened and understaffed, and criminal cases frequently ended when charges were dropped before a determination of guilt or innocence was made.

Pretrial Detention: The director of the CCP noted that if detainees remained six months in prison without any judicial progress, they would be released according to the law. As of August 31, there were 359 persons in preventive detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was overwhelmed by the number of cases, lacked sufficient staffing, and was inefficient.

There is a military court, which by law may not try civilians. The military court provides the same protections as civil criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continued for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ). The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts are impartial and independent and handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or an injunction ordering the cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human right bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Any foreigners residing in the country for more than three years may vote in municipal elections. Any residents from a member country of the Community of Countries of Portuguese Language–which includes Angola, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and Timor-Leste–may vote in municipal elections regardless of how long they have resided in Cabo Verde. Only citizens, including those living outside the country, may vote in legislative and presidential elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won 40 seats in the National Assembly with approximately 53 percent of the vote, returning the party to power for the first time in 15 years. The former governing party, African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 29 seats with 37 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining three seats with 6 percent. International observers characterized these elections as generally free and fair.

The most recent presidential election took place in October 2016. Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the MpD candidate, who had gained the support of the PAICV, won the election with approximately 74 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized these elections as free, transparent, and credible. Observers noted some irregularities, however, including voters being pressured near polling stations to vote for certain candidates and allegations of vote buying.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities, and they did participate. Women’s participation fell in positions within the central government but remained somewhat high on the SCJ, and especially in prosecutorial positions. At the local level, in community associations and on city councils, women had less representation.

Women held 17 of the 72 National Assembly seats and occupied three of the 11 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled three of the eight seats on the SCJ, including the presidency.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, especially at the municipal level, although there were no new reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Polling released by Transparency International, with data from Afrobarometer, in 2015 indicated somewhat less than 25 percent of respondents believed most or all officials were corrupt. On the other hand, 61 percent responded the government was doing badly in the fight against corruption. Only 2 percent of public services users said they had paid a bribe in the 12 months preceding the survey, and none of them said they had bribed a member of the National Police.

Financial Disclosure: The law sets parameters for public officials to submit declarations of interest, income, and family wealth, and regulates public discussion of this information. These declarations should include any asset worth more than 500,000 escudos ($5,043). Failure to submit a declaration may lead to a prohibition on public officials holding office for a period of one to five years. The SCJ must approve public disclosure of the declarations. When involved in criminal cases of alleged corruption, public officials must declare or prove the source of their income or wealth. The SCJ is in charge of monitoring the law and enforcing compliance, but enforcement was poor.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is a crime punishable if convicted by eight to 16 years’ imprisonment, and domestic violence is punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is implicitly covered by the gender-based violence law; penalties for conviction range from one to five years’ imprisonment. This 2001 law focuses on increasing protection of victims, strengthening penalties for convicted offenders, and raising awareness regarding gender-based violence. The law calls for establishing several care centers, with financial and management autonomy, but implementation lagged due to inadequate staffing and financial resources. Violence and discrimination against women remained significant problems.

The National Police accompanied victims of sexualand gender based violence to the hospital and escorted them to their homes to collect their belongings. Police officers helped victims go to a location where they believed they would be safe (often a family member; there was no official shelter on Fogo). Very often, however, victims returned to their abusers due to economic and social pressures.

The government enforced the law against rape and domestic violence somewhat effectively. Nongovernmental sources lamented the lack of social and psychological care for perpetrators and survivors alike.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code and the law criminalize sexual harassment. Penalties for conviction include up to one year in prison and a fine equal to up to two years of the perpetrator’s salary. Although authorities generally enforced the law, sexual harassment was common and widely accepted in the culture.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Cultural norms and traditions, however, imposed gender roles that hindered the eradication of gender-based discrimination. The government enforced the law in providing for the same legal status and rights for women as for men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. Birth registration was not denied or provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The government provided tuition-free and universal education for all children between ages six and 14. Education is compulsory until age 15. Secondary education was free only to children whose families had an annual income below 147,000 escudos ($1,482).

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual violence, remained a problem. The government tried to combat it through a national network that included the Cabo Verdean Institute of Childhood and Adolescence (ICCA), various police forces, the Attorney General’s Office, hospitals, local civil society organizations, and health centers. The government attempted to reduce sexual abuse and violence against children through several programs such as Dial a Complaint, the Children’s Emergency Program, Project Our House, Welcome Centers for Street Children, Project Safe Space, Project Substitute Family, and the creation during 2014 of five ICCA offices. ICCA services, however, were not permanently present on every island, and ICCA employees struggled to meet the needs of the local populations.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law punishes those that foment, promote, or facilitate prostitution or sexual exploitation of children age 16 and under with a penalty if convicted of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty is two to six years’ imprisonment, which is inconsistent with international law on trafficking in persons. The law punishes those that induce, transport, or provide housing or create the conditions for sexual exploitation and prostitution of children age 16 and under in a foreign country with a penalty if convicted of five to 12 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty for conviction is two to eight years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the use of children under age 18 in pornography, with penalties for conviction of up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Sexual relations with a child under age 14 are considered a public crime and invoke mandatory reporting from anyone who becomes aware of the crime. Between ages 14 and 16, sexual relations are a semipublic crime and may be reported by any involved party (the minor or the minor’s parents or guardians). Sexual abuse was widely reported around the country, and alleged perpetrators often were released from detention pending trial. There were limited reports of commercial sex, often involving tourists, but no confirmed cases involving minors.

The government also continued efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through the creation of a national coordinating committee in 2016 and the development of a code of ethics for the tourism industry.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and the government generally enforced these provisions, with problems remaining in a number of areas. For example, physical accessibility, communication means, and public transport appropriate for persons with disabilities often were lacking. The government worked with civil society organizations to implement programs to provide access for wheelchair users, including building ramps to enhance access to transportation and buildings.

According to the Ministry of Education, Family, Equality, and Inclusion, the ministry had enrolled an estimated 1,200 children and youths with special educational needs in primary, secondary, and higher education through the years. Persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, as determined by the Ministry of Health, are not allowed to vote, according to the National Commission for Elections, if the person was deemed not to have the mental capacity to exercise that right.

The government has a quota system for granting scholarships and tax benefits to companies that employ individuals with disabilities. NGOs recognized these measures as partially effective in better integrating these citizens into society but also noted nonenforcement and inadequate regulations were obstacles.

Public television station Cabo Verde Television (TCV), through a partnership with the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship, Handicap International, and the Cabo Verdean Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities, included in its nightly news a sign language interpreter for deaf persons able to sign.

The law stipulates a quota of 5 percent of educational scholarships be allocated to persons with disabilities, but this percentage had not been reached.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist, and state employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Laws do not prohibit consensual sexual conduct between persons of the same sex.

In 2015 the United Nations launched in the country the “Free and Equal” campaign to promote educational programs to shape public attitudes concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons’ equality and increase awareness of homophobic violence and discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers. Although government enforcement generally was effective, cases could continue for years, with further delay for appeals. The Directorate General for Labor (DGT) has a conciliation mechanism to promote dialogue.

The labor code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in those industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The Civil Need Law states the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were respected, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. The government protected the right to carry out union activities without interference. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of violence, threats, or other abuses during the year by the government against union members or leaders. Penalties were adequate to deter violations of freedom of association. There was no reported evidence of antiunion discrimination. Nonetheless, public projects were contracted to private companies who hired workers directly. Workers who do not have a labor contract have no legal protection.

Labor unions complained the government sporadically restricted the right to strike for certain critical job categories. Other observers stated the government cooperated with the unions and did not discriminate against certain job categories. There were no reported violations related to collective bargaining. According to the local press, few companies had adopted collective bargaining, but the International Labor Organization worked with local unions and government bodies to provide guidance on conducting a dialogue between parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. According to the Inspectorate General of Labor (IGT) 2015 report, the IGT carried out 904 inspections and did not identify any forced labor violations. Article 14 of the labor code prohibits forced labor, and Article 271 of the penal code outlaws slavery, both of which prescribe penalties for conviction of six to 12 years’ imprisonment, which was usually sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Nevertheless, there were reports such practices occurred during the year. Migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive low wages and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector. There were incidents of child labor in domestic service and in family agricultural efforts, often working long hours in dangerous conditions, and at times experiencing physical and sexual abuse, indicators of forced labor (see also section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Although the National Assembly ratified the International Labor Organization’s Convention 138 in 2011, the legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day. The constitution provides that underage children may work only on small household tasks, in apprenticeship or training programs, or to help support the family. Children ages 16 to 18 are allowed to work overtime in an emergency but may not work more than two overtime hours a day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The 2013 Statute on Children and Adolescents permits children to perform agricultural work for the family provided that work does not compromise the child’s mental and physical development. Children under age 15 are banned absolutely from performing any street work. The 2016 National List of Dangerous Work for Children expanded and codified types of work in which children may not engage. The law defines the worst forms of child labor as work engaged in by children under age 15, dangerous work performed by children between ages 15 and 17, or both.

Several laws prohibit child labor, and the penalties they impose were adequate, but enforcement was neither consistent nor effective. Barriers, many cultural, remained to the effective implementation of these laws. For example, not all citizens considered children working to help support their families as a negative thing, especially in small remote communities, even when the work is deemed dangerous under national law. The government had minimal ability to monitor and enforce laws in the informal sector, estimated to represent approximately 12 percent of the economy.

The ICCA, DGT, and IGT work on matters pertaining to child labor. The ICCA works on the promotion and defense of the rights of children and adolescents. The DGT creates labor market policy and drafts labor legislation that provides for promotion of social dialogue and reconciliation among social partners. The IGT has the responsibility to monitor and enforce labor laws and enforces rules relating to labor relations. The agencies stated they had insufficient resources. During the year the government (through the three agencies) continued to carry out training activities for local staff and awareness campaigns to combat child labor, particularly in its worst forms, and consulted with local businesses. The IGT did not identify any child labor violations in the formal sector.

The first survey conducted by the National Statistics Institute on child labor in the country, published in 2013, revealed that 7.1 percent of children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor (the study was conducted between October and December 2012). The worst forms of child labor were more common in rural areas (91 percent) than urban areas (84 percent). Child labor prevalence was also higher for boys (8.8 percent) than girls (5.3 percent).

Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging, and were vulnerable to trafficking. The risk to children depended largely on where they were; there was considerably more child labor on some islands than others. The worst forms of child labor included street work, domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and at times passing drugs for adults.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation, however, occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and less access to management positions in public- and private-sector organizations. Women experienced inequality in areas such as politics and the economy. For instance, housework is not officially recognized, and national statistics consider homemakers inactive members of the labor force. Reportedly, in some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work.

According to a study conducted by the National Statistics Institute in 2010, more than eight in 10 immigrants were active in the local economy, with a rate of 91 percent among Africans. African immigrants worked mainly in retail, services, and construction. Immigrants generally had low education and professional qualifications and little work experience; consequently their wages tended to be lower. Most of these immigrants did not have a legal contract with their employer, and thus they did not enjoy many legal protections and often worked in unacceptable conditions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) charter permits full labor mobility for citizens of member states. The country was criticized by its neighbors for failing to fully implement its charter responsibilities by failing to protect legal ECOWAS migrants.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage of 11,000 escudos ($99.75). The government defines the poverty income level as 105 escudos ($1.05) a day, making the minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week. The law requires rest periods, the length depending on the work sector. The minimum rest period is 12 hours between workdays. The law also provides for daily and annual overtime hours granted in exceptional circumstances. The law states a worker is entitled to 22 business days of paid vacation. Overtime must be compensated with at least time and a half pay. The worker, however, may replace up to half of his/her holidays through an agreement with the employer.

The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline to work if working conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, specific current and appropriate occupational safety and health rules. In general it is the employer’s responsibility to provide for a secure, healthy, and hygienic workplace. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Authorities effectively protected employees in these situations.

Certain formal sector benefits, such as social security accounts for informal workers, were enforced in the informal sector, although no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment were imposed during the year. The informal sector remains largely unpoliced by official government actors. The government made efforts to reduce work accidents and illness at work by carrying out more inspections and awareness campaigns to promote a culture of prevention and safety at work. The DGT and IGT are charged with implementing labor laws. Seven technicians worked for the DGT and 14 worked for the IGT, covering three islands (Santiago, Sao Vicente, and Sal). Both agencies agreed with trade unions these numbers were inadequate, and there remained a need for tighter enforcement of labor standards, especially on the more sparsely populated islands where monitoring was more difficult. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. Penalties for labor violations depend on the number of workers employed; the minimum fine is 10,000 escudos ($100) going up to 180,000 escudos ($1,800). According to the IGT, there were no penalties for violations during the year.

According to the IGT’s 2015 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to Social Security, nonsubscription to Mandatory Insurance for Job Injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods. Specific data on wages and hours of work was not available. Nonetheless, the report indicated the IGT made 904 inspections, including unannounced inspections, and inspectors identified 1,622 irregularities across the nine islands in all sectors, of which 358 required intervention. Although there were no official studies available, some sources speculated foreign migrant workers were more likely to be exploited than others.

Between 17,000 and 22,000 immigrants, mostly from ECOWAS countries, were working in the country. Most were men, but the number of immigrant women increased during the year. No official data existed, but most immigrants were between ages 20 and 40 and lacked higher job qualifications; however, they played important roles in the economy. Generally they worked in civil construction, security services, hospitality, and tourism. It was common for companies not to honor migrant workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.

No official data were available on the number of work-related accidents and workplace deaths during the reporting period. The restaurant business/food services, steel industry, and the construction sector had the most work-related accidents reported during the year.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary form of government. In the National Assembly election in 2013, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) captured 68 seats, while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 55 seats. International and local nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers assessed the election process suffered numerous flaws. The most recent elections held were for commune councilors on June 4, and the two major parties accepted the results. International and local observers deemed the elections perhaps the fairest in the country’s history, although most independent analysts noted the electoral process suffered numerous flaws that benefitted the ruling party, which won a plurality in more than two-thirds of the communes.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, although security forces often threatened force against those who opposed Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On September 3, the government arrested and detained CNRP President Kem Sokha on allegations of treason. On November 16, the CPP-dominated Supreme Court formally dissolved the CNRP on the same grounds and banned its leadership from electoral politics for five years. Many other opposition members, including members of civil society and independent media, were in detention, in hiding, or had fled the country fearing arrest.

The most significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings; at least one disappearance by local security forces; continued prisoner abuse in government facilities; arbitrary arrests by the government, including the warrantless arrest of the CNRP leader Kem Sokha; increased restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association including on press freedom and online expression; the use of violence and imprisonment–both actual and threatened–to intimidate the political opposition and civil society as well as to suppress dissenting voices; corruption; violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; child abuse; and forced labor.

Although the government prosecuted some officials who committed abuses, including those involved in corruption, most abuses persisted with impunity.

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

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

As of July the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organization (ADHOC) reported four cases of extrajudicial killings.

In March the court sentenced Oeuth Ang to life imprisonment for the July 2016 murder of Kem Ley, an outspoken and popular social and political analyst. Police arrested Oeuth Ang, who claimed he killed Kem Ley because of a 12-million riel ($3,000) unpaid debt. Members of both Kem Ley’s and the killer’s families said the two men did not know each other. Noting this and other anomalies in the case, including the impoverished assailant’s possession of an expensive handgun, many observers believed a third party hired Oeuth Ang.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was established to hold accountable senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. The ECCC continued its investigations and trials during the year (see section 5).

b. Disappearance

The Venerable Meas Vichet, a well known monk, went missing on June 18 in Krobei Riel Commune, Siem Reap Province. A priest who was with him before his disappearance reported that Krobei Riel security officials detained them, forcibly removed their clothes, and beat them, claiming they had information on the murder of Kem Ley. At year’s end Meas Vichet remained missing.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates continued during the year.

There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. As of July, ADHOC reported 10 cases of torture of detainees and prisoners, compared with 15 instances during all of 2016. NGOs reported it was common for police to abuse detained suspects until they confessed to a crime.

As of July, ADHOC reported 13 alleged physical assaults against civilians by local authorities, government agents, or private bodyguards of government officials.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions did not meet international standards. Conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), as of July authorities held more than 26,000 prisoners and detainees in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners. GDP officials reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners; of male and female prisoners; or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to the GDP, of 21,989 prisoners held in 2016, approximately 34 percent were in pretrial detention and 29 percent had received a final verdict; approximately 8 percent of prisoners were women; and 4 percent were minors. According to a local NGO, there were several pregnant women in prison as well as children living with their incarcerated mothers.

The GDP reported 76 prisoners died and three escaped in 2016. Local NGOs maintained that allowances for prisoner food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Observers continued to report authorities sometimes misappropriated allowances for purchasing prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Prisoners and detainees had access to clean water in only 18 of 29 prisons. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, “prisoner self-management committees,” organized groups of inmates created and directed by prison guards, sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. There was reported drug use in the prisons made possible by bribing prison officials.

There were seven government and three private drug rehabilitation centers in the country. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than 18 years. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense exercise.

Administration: There were no legal provisions establishing prison ombudspersons. Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners or provide food and other necessities. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings and before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment.

Prisoners could submit uncensored complaints regarding alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government investigates complaints and monitors prison and detention center conditions through the GDP, which produced biannual reports on prison management. The GDP did not release the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to visit prisons and/or provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported cooperation by local authorities occasionally was limited, making it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees. This was particularly true in high-profile cases such as the detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the earlier arbitrary detention of five ADHOC staffers. The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners–often from multiple government agencies that differed according to each case–and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their “roles” during prison visits.

Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners, reported the government periodically refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of a political opposition party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. OHCHR representatives reported they were usually able to hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not respect these prohibitions, notably with the arbitrary detention of five ADHOC staffers for 427 days on politically motivated charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The General Commissariat of the National Police, under Ministry of Interior supervision, manages all civilian police units. Police forces are divided into those with authority to make arrests, those without such authority, and judicial police, whose authority only extends to enforcing court warrants. The government permitted military police to arrest civilians if the officers met the training and experience requirements to serve as civilian police, if civilians were on military property, or when authorized by local governments. The military police, however, sometimes engaged in civilian law enforcement activities under the authority and direction of provincial or local governments, often in support of civilian police unable to exercise effective crowd control.

There were reports police officials committed abuses with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were also frequently immune from prosecution.

As of October, one local human rights organization tracked 34 instances of impunity, although it claimed that in reality the number was significantly higher. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for evaluating security force killings, and the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse. Judges and prosecutors, however, rarely conducted independent investigations. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities frequently cited this exception when arresting opposition political figures, even if the alleged offenses occurred years before. Critics accused the government of employing this practice to circumvent laws providing lawmakers with parliamentary immunity. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before police must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail for cases considered politically motivated.

Under the law accused persons may be arrested and detained for a maximum of 24 hours before being allowed access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members. According to government officials, such prolonged detention frequently was a result of the limited capacity of the court system. The government did not provide access to a lawyer for indigent detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of July local human rights NGO Licadho cited at least 38 arbitrary arrests, mostly of women participating in the “Black Monday” campaign, which began as a protest of the government’s detention of five current and former employees of ADHOC, but which the government claimed was intended to incite a “color revolution”–the government’s term for a mass movement in opposition to its rule. Two of the 38 arrests resulted in formal charges and conviction. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and ADHOC recorded 35 arbitrary arrests of 21 different persons from May 2016 to March. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher because some victims in rural areas did not file complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGOs’ offices or concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for the illegal detentions.

During the year Phnom Penh municipal authorities temporarily arrested dozens of homeless persons, persons with mental disabilities, drug users, or persons engaged in prostitution during systematic sweeps of city streets. Authorities placed the detainees in Prey Speu rehabilitation facility operated by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth located 15 miles from Phnom Penh. The center was notorious for abuses that led to the death of two detainees in 2015.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows for pretrial detention for a maximum of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies. In 2016 the Ministry of Interior reported 7,495 pretrial detainees were in custody. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. NGOs reported that authorities held many accused of minor crimes in pretrial detention for longer than six months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings interfered with a person’s right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government generally did not respect judicial independence. The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, which has the authority to promote, dismiss, and discipline judges at will. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the CPP or the executive received appointments to the judiciary. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was very inefficient and could not assure due process.

Observers alleged the bar association heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Impartial analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined. For example, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared shortly before a Supreme Court hearing on the dissolution of the opposition CNRP that he was “99.99 percent certain” how the court would rule. There were reports local CPP leaders received orders to evict their CNRP counterparts even before the ruling was issued. In an earlier example, observers at the 2015 trial of 11 opposition activists on charges of insurrection reported that, shortly after judges retired to deliberate, judicial police surrounded the trial court and prepared to transfer the suspects to prison, indicating a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion (see Political Prisoners and Detainees below).

A shortage of judges and courtrooms delayed many cases, according to NGO reports. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. As in past years, NGOs asserted that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid money to victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or failing to appear as witnesses.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.

Defendants are by law presumed innocent and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are often public and sometimes face delays due to court bureaucracy. Court staffers reportedly undertook efforts to speed case processing. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary lacked the resources to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of required defense attorneys in felony cases, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. The courts offered free interpretation. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital Phnom Penh. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel. According to the bar association, as of October there were 1,019 lawyers (206 female) throughout the country, compared with 869 in 2016. A report by the International Commission of Jurists indicated the high cost of bribes needed to join the bar association was partly responsible for keeping the number of trained lawyers low, which in turn provided that existing lawyers had adequate opportunities for remuneration through legal or illegal channels.

NGOs reported sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused usually constituted the only evidence presented at trials. Authorities sometimes coerced confessions through beatings or threats, or forced illiterate defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted such forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against doing so. The difficulty in transferring prisoners from provincial prisons to the appeals court in Phnom Penh meant that defendants were present at less than one-half of all appeals.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

As of November a local human rights NGO estimated authorities held at least 24 political prisoners or detainees.

On September 3, police arrested opposition CNRP President Kem Sokha on charges of treason. Several high-ranking CNRP officials went into hiding and most fled abroad. The government’s case against Kem Sokha centered on a four-year-old video of the CNRP leader telling an audience in Australia of his party’s work in grassroots organizing with advice from foreign experts. The government claimed this amounted to Kem Sokha “confessing” that a foreign country had instructed him on how to foment a “color revolution” in the country.

Following Kem Sokha’s arrest, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to prosecute anyone involved in “protecting” the alleged traitor. He also threatened to reopen investigations into the killing of five trade unionists at a 2014 opposition-led rally in which thousands of garment workers protested the outcome of the disputed 2013 national elections. The prime minister’s threats targeted seven former CNRP members of parliament, including former CNRP vice president and protest leader Mu Sochua, all of whom were arrested following the protest on charges ranging from holding an illegal demonstration to violent insurrection. Also under threat were at least five prominent independent trade union leaders, all of whom were charged with insurrection and placed under court supervision. Although the security services were widely believed to have ordered and carried out the killings, the prime minister blamed the opposition for the violence, and he threatened action against the protest leaders. The prime minister and his lieutenants also publicly warned other opposition members they were subject to arrest for “collaborating” with Kem Sokha. The Supreme Court’s dissolution of the CNRP on November 16 effectively outlaws any participation in or identification with the party.

Separately on August 23, the Appeals Court agreed to split the appeal case of 11 CNRP activists jailed in 2015 for their alleged role in a 2014 protest that resulted in the injury of six protesters and 39 Daun Penh District security guards. The court ruled that one case would review the verdict and a second case would consider allegations of improper legal procedures. Some observers asserted the court reached verdicts without any evidence linking the activists to the alleged crimes and saw the convictions as punishment for the activists’ criticism of the country’s border demarcation with Vietnam, a politically charged issue.

National Assembly member Um Sam An, arrested in April 2016, remained imprisoned for accusing the government of selling land to Vietnam and of publicizing on Facebook what the government claimed were faked border maps–charges widely seen as politically motivated. Senator Hong Sok Hour, convicted on similar charges, received a pardon after apologizing to and praising the leadership of the prime minister. Both legislators had their immunity from prosecution stripped by the National Assembly on an irregular vote that fell short of the two-thirds majority required by the constitution, the same method the National Assembly used to strip Kem Sokha of his immunity.

Opposition politicians and civil society organizations reported authorities often arbitrarily denied access to prisoners whose incarceration they believed to be politically motivated. In the case of Kem Sokha, prison officials did not allow representatives of the CNRP, civil society, or foreign missions to visit him. He was only allowed visits by his legal team and wife, and prison authorities made audio and video recordings of these visits.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Both administrative and judicial remedies generally were available; however, authorities often did not enforce court orders.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In October the Ministry of Interior suspended a prominent local NGO advocating for land rights, ostensibly for alleged violations of the Law on Associations and Nongovernmental Organizations (LANGO), promulgated in 2015. The executive director was called in for questioning by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.

Forced collectivization and the relocation of much of the population under the Khmer Rouge left land ownership unclear. The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contention for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of the law has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, continued to lack the knowledge and means to obtain adequate formal documentation of land ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation, in the absence of clear title, fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.

Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate, although the number of cases declined in recent years. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into exchanging their land for compensation at below-market values. As of July, ADHOC reported 45 new property-related conflicts between businesspersons and villagers, including accusations of land grabbing, theft of natural resources, economic land concessions, social land concessions, and evictions. The poor often had no legal documents to support their land claims. Some of those evicted successfully contested the actions in court, but the majority of cases remained pending.

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

Although the law provides for the privacy of residence and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the politically neutral National Election Committee and routinely leaked personal correspondence and surreptitiously recorded telephone calls of opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. Police, who arrested Kem Sokha on September 3, reportedly entered his house by force without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Parliament amended the Law on Political Parties twice during the year, each time expanding the grounds on which the government could dissolve parties on vague grounds such as “incitement” or “national security.” One amendment also bans individuals from party leadership positions once convicted on felony charges. In view of the law’s vague language, many experts were unsure whether the prohibition applies only to convicted persons or more broadly to anyone charged with a crime. The amendments also restrict political parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal. The amendments authorized the court to dissolve political parties found guilty of violating the law, allowed for seats belonging to a dissolved party to be distributed to other parties in the event of such dissolution, and allowed party leaders to be banned from politics under specific circumstances.

On November 16, the Supreme Court cited the new amendments in its decision to dissolve the opposition CNRP; distribute its existing seats in parliament and local government to other parties, including the ruling CPP; and bar 118 named leaders of the CNRP from participating in political activity for five years. The prime minister claimed this redistribution upheld the country’s constitutional commitment to multiparty democracy. A number of observers, however, accused the Supreme Court, whose chief justice is a CPP party leader, of political bias and questioned its decision and lack of adherence to even flawed legal norms. For instance, the decision to ban the CNRP came before its leader was convicted of alleged treason charges.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent elections, held on June 4, were for commune councilors, and the two major parties accepted the results. Seven million citizens, representing 90 percent of eligible voters, went to the polls. The ruling CPP won a plurality of the vote in 1,156 communes, giving it the right to name the commune council chief in each of those communes, while the opposition CNRP won in 489 communes. Local electoral watchdog The Situation Room released a statement that the election process was significantly improved and more transparent than previous local elections in terms of voter registration and voter-list management, candidate registration, polling and counting processes, and the announcement of electoral results. Nonetheless, it stated the conduct of the election campaign, results management, and electoral dispute resolution needed improvement.

In the 2013 National Assembly election, the CPP won 68 seats and the opposition CNRP won 55 seats. International and local NGOs assessed the election process suffered numerous flaws, including problems with the voter registry, unequal access to media, and the issuance of an unusually large number of temporary official identification cards to voters. Despite these concerns the two parties ultimately agreed to abide by the official results and took their seats in parliament.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Amendments to the election law barring convicted criminals from leading a political party were widely seen by observers and NGOs as aimed at blocking Sam Rainsy from competing in the upcoming national election. Rainsy was convicted in absentia on a number of different politically motivated charges, including defamation.

Twelve parties were able to register and compete in the commune council elections. National Television of Cambodia allocated time to each of the 12 for advertising. Before the campaign began, the National Election Committee officially asked all privately owned television stations to report how much paid time they would make available to all parties for campaign advertising. No station indicated it would provide any such time. On the very last day of the campaign, however, the CPP reportedly purchased eight hours of advertising time from those stations. The stations blamed the CNRP for failing to contact them before the campaign started.

The Khmer National Unity Party (KNUP) was the only political party besides the CPP or CNRP to win control of a commune council in the June 4 election. The KNUP had been a government coalition partner, but the government removed KNUP leader Bun Chhay from office following leaked audio of him allegedly discussing aligning with the CNRP. Authorities subsequently arrested him on a decade-old charge of producing illegal drugs. To ensure that the KNUP could contest elections following his arrest, Bun Chhay formally left the party.

The government used the four amendments it enacted to the Law on Political Parties during the year to target the CNRP and its leaders, and the Supreme Court cited all these amendments when it dissolved the CNRP on November 16. The CNRP’s 55 seats in the National Assembly were redistributed to six minor parties that participated in the previous parliamentary elections but failed to win a single seat at the time. At the local level, 5,007 CNRP commune councilors were forced to give up their seats to the ruling party. CNRP councilors were offered the opportunity to retain their seats only if they defected to the CPP and publicly called Kem Sokha a traitor.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural traditions limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by both major political parties to increase female representation, the number of female candidates elected in the June commune council elections actually declined from the 2012 result. The June elections also saw participation by the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The penal code defines various corrupt acts and specifies penalties for them. The anticorruption law establishes the National Council against Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The ACU did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead the ACU actively headed corruption investigations against members of the political opposition, leading to a widespread perception the unit served the interests of the ruling CPP. By contrast the ACU has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party. Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative branch inquiries about corruption allegations.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of illegal businesses. Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials.

According to Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, the country was among the most corrupt in the world. The 2016 Global Corruption Barometer report noted the judiciary remained the most corrupt sector three years in a row, followed by law enforcement and government officials. In July, two officials from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, found guilty of corruption, walked free after a judge gave them credit for time already served and suspended the remainder of their sentences. There was some improvement in government efforts to combat corruption in education.

Financial Disclosure: The law subjects public servants, including elected and appointed officials, to financial and asset disclosure. The ACU is responsible for receiving the disclosures, with penalties for noncompliance ranging from one month to one year in prison. Senior officials’ financial disclosure statements were not publicly available and remained sealed unless allegations of corruption were filed. Only one financial disclosure statement has ever been unsealed, that of then CNRP vice president Kem Sokha. In June the ACU demanded that all commune chiefs and councilors declare their assets, which observers saw as a way to intimidate councilors from the CNRP.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and assault. Rape is punishable by five to 30 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the penal code, but the underlying conduct can be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for spousal rape under the penal code and the domestic violence law were rare. The domestic violence law criminalizes domestic violence but does not set out specific penalties. The penal code can be used to punish domestic violence offenses, with penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Local and international NGOs reported violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, was common. Rape and domestic violence were likely underreported due to the victims’ fear of reprisal by perpetrators, discrimination from the community, and their distrust of the judiciary system. NGOs reported authorities did not aggressively enforce domestic law on perpetrators and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

In July the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs began to implement a code of conduct for all media outlets for reporting on violence against women. The code banned publication of information, including pictures of victims; depictions of women’s death, injury, or nudity; and the use of certain offensive or disparaging words against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs first announced a reporting system within the government to increase accountability and transparency in the government’s response to violence against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also coordinated with several NGOs and local media outlets to produce radio and television programming on topics related to women.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000-500,000 riels ($25-$125). A study conducted during the year by CARE International found that nearly one-third of female garment workers experienced sexual harassment at their workplace during the last 12 months.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, and equal status in marriage. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal status to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education and some jobs; however, cultural traditions and child rearing responsibilities limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business or even participate in the workforce.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and were living legally in the country or if either parent acquired citizenship through other legal means. Indigenous Khmer are considered citizens. The Ministry of Interior administered an updated birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to parental delay. It was common not to register children until a need arose.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. Children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons were disproportionately unlikely to be registered. NGOs that service disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied books and access to education and health care for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons often were unable to access employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture, worked in other activities, began school at a late age, or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while postprimary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. Child rape continued to be a serious problem.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18 years; however, children as young as 16 years may legally marry with parental permission. Child marriage was not considered a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 years is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring indirectly in beer gardens, massage parlors, beauty salons, karaoke bars, and noncommercial sites. Police continued to investigate cases of child sex trafficking occurring in brothels or cases where victims filed complaints directly but did not typically pursue more complicated cases. The government did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigation techniques in trafficking investigations, and the lack of explicit authority continued to impede officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for exploiting children through sex trafficking. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 15 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

According to a local human rights organization, perpetrators with ties to the government were not held accountable under the law, and local experts reported concern regarding the government’s failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign residents and tourists who purchase sex with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding child sex traffickers accountable, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a rehabilitation center. A local NGO estimated the number of displaced at about 1,200 to 1,500 street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship with their families and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings. NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans to lure donations from foreigners.

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

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with disabilities. It includes persons with mental and intellectual disabilities in the definition of persons with disabilities. The law does not address accessibility with respect to air travel or other transportation. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the ministries of health, education, public works and transport, and national defense. The government requested all television stations to adopt sign-language interpretation for all programming. As of June, two major television stations–one state run and one private–had done so in their news programming, up from one state station in 2016.

Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination, especially in obtaining skilled employment.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. According to a Ministry of Education report, approximately 19,000 children with disabilities attended primary schools in the academic year 2015-16. The ministry worked on training teachers how to integrate students with disabilities into the class with nondisabled students.

Children with more significant disabilities attended separate schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh; education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh.

There are no legal limitations on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, but the government did not make any concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The rights of minorities under the nationality law are not explicit; constitutional protections extend only to “Khmer people.” Citizens of Chinese and Vietnamese ethnicity constituted the largest ethnic minorities. Ethnic Chinese citizens were generally accepted in society, but societal animosity continued toward ethnic Vietnamese, who were widely deemed a threat to the country’s political system, security, and culture. During the year officials conducted roundups of ethnic Vietnamese they alleged were illegal migrants. The government also initiated a review of a number of ethnic Vietnamese persons, many of whom had been living in the country for decades, with the aim of deporting those who could not prove Cambodian citizenship. An inability to speak Khmer was considered prima facie evidence a person was not a citizen.

Indigenous People

In support of efforts by indigenous communities to protect their ancestral lands and natural resources, the Ministry of Land issued new communal land titles to seven indigenous communities during the year. As of June the CCHR reported only 18 of 458 indigenous communities had received land titles from the government.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although some societal discrimination and stereotyping persisted, particularly in rural areas.

In general LGBTI persons had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTI persons were frequently harassed and bullied because of their appearance and their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors. There were no reports of government discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, citizenship, access to education, or health care. The general population, however, typically treated persons involved in consensual same-sex relationships with fear and suspicion.

A local LGBTI rights organization reported more than 100 incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTI persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Studies showed a significant share of the population held discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively. Onerous, new union registration rules amount to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. The National Assembly adopted a new Law on Trade Unions (TUL) in April 2016. Four sets of implementing regulations were issued as of August, but at least five more remained to be issued.

The TUL imposes new limits on the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, and permits third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, while imposing only minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. New registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The TUL forbids unregistered unions from operating. The TUL also prohibits unions that represent less than one-third of workers from entering collective bargaining agreements or collective dispute resolution mechanisms. Under the TUL civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health care, and informal sectors may only form associations, not trade unions.

The low rate of unionization was demonstrated by a survey conducted in April by the Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), which showed that 91 percent of 1,010 construction workers across Phnom Penh worksites did not belong to any union or association. Unionization rates varied dramatically across industries. In hospitality industries unionization approached 20 percent. Even in the formal apparel and footwear sector, union penetration rates were estimated at only 20-30 percent, and many of these unions represented factory and CPP interests above those of workers.

The law stipulates workers can strike only after several requirements have been met, including: the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration); completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the union membership; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the labor ministry. Strikers are liable to criminal penalties if they block entrances, roads, or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. The TUL states that a strike decision requires approval by an absolute majority of union members attending a strike meeting, which itself must include an absolute majority of the total union members. Once a union has successfully carried out a strike vote, the court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

State enforcement of the right to association, including freedom from antiunion discrimination, and of collective bargaining rights, was highly inconsistent. Close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders, particularly those operating progovernment unions, limited the government’s willingness to address violations of workers’ rights. These relationships hampered the independent operation of unions, since the majority of the country’s union federations were affiliated with the ruling party, and only a minority were affiliated with the opposition party or worked independently.

Workers reported various obstacles while trying to exercise their right to associate freely. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to officially recognize unions (a situation for which the government offered no official redress) or to renew the short-term contract employees who had joined unions (approximately 80 percent of workers in the formal manufacturing sector are on short-term contracts). For a union to register, it must also collect documentation from employers and local government officials, who often simply refuse to provide necessary paperwork. Provincial-level labor authorities have reportedly kept registration applications in abeyance indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle. Workers also reported that, in accordance with TUL provisions, unions are unable to register until they provide banking details; yet, many banks will not open accounts for unregistered unions.

Public-sector worker associations continued to face significant obstacles. For example, twice during the year the government denied requests from the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association for permission to march. Another public-sector association, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, reported fears of harassment, discrimination, and demotion, all of which deterred individuals from joining.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted reports of antiunion discrimination by employers through interference with and dismissals of members of independent unions, as well as through creation of employer-backed unions. The 2017 ILO Committee on Application of Standards called on the government to ensure that freedom of association can be exercised in a climate free of intimidation and violence against workers; acts of antiunion discrimination are swiftly investigated and remedied with dissuasive sanctions applied; and workers can register trade unions through simple, objective, and transparent processes.

The resolution of collective disputes was inconsistent, with a recent proliferation of dispute resolution bodies. International brands have commented publicly on how the neutering of a previously effective dispute resolution mechanism led to difficulties, as workers have begun to bring their collective disputes directly to brands for resolution.

Individual labor disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system is neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

There were credible reports of antiunion harassment by employers, including the dismissal of union leaders in garment factories and other enterprises. Better Factories Cambodia’s (BFC) January Transparency Database Report obtained information from 480 factories working in the export sector and recorded a slight increase in noncompliance with freedom of association rights, including the right of unions to join federations and confederations of their choice; rights of workers to join unions of their choice; coercion of employees to join employer-sponsored unions; and in the number of factories whose management had taken steps to control union activities. BFC recorded a 1 percent increase in the number of factories where workers’ freedom to join and form unions had been violated.

BFC, an ILO program that inspects all factories holding export licenses, found in its May 2016 to April report that 6.8 percent of factories deducted union dues without the free consent of workers, or prevented workers from forming or joining a union by threatening employment termination. BFC’s coverage is limited to the export sector; so the actual level of union harassment was likely significantly higher, particularly in unregistered factories. A survey of garment workers conducted by the Micro-Finance Organization found workers in unregistered unions were also more likely to receive less than minimum wages.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While the majority of strikes were illegal, participating in an illegal strike was not by itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers pressured either union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit, arguing that their short-term contracts had ended. The union movement did not generally find government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals effective.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. Officials reported particular difficulties in verifying working conditions and salaries in the informal fishing, agricultural, construction, and domestic sectors. Penalties prescribed under law for forced labor were stringent, including imprisonment and fines. Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor domestically, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear. Moreover, there was some evidence employers worked with local law enforcement authorities to subject workers to bonded labor, including in the brick industry.

In December 2016, when Licadho released its report on conditions of child and bonded labor in brick kilns, the minister of labor and vocational training told local media he would consider defamation charges if the report was proven untrue. In July, after undertaking its own investigation of the brick industry, a ministry spokesperson denied child or bonded labor existed in the factories. Provincial labor officers contradicted these reports, however, when they told visiting foreign government officials in February that debt bondage in the brick kilns was pervasive to the point of ubiquity. In August the prime minister spoke out against CNN when it reported on labor conditions in the country’s brick industry.

Third-party debt remained an important issue driving forced labor. According to the findings of a BWTUC survey conducted during the year, 48 percent of 1,010 construction workers in Phnom Penh had debts; 75 percent of the debtors owed money to microfinance or banks, and 25 percent owed money to family members.

Children from impoverished families were at risk because affluent households used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers, only to abuse and exploit them (see section 7.c.). Children were also subjected to forced begging. In September the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s director of child labor acknowledged the ministry lacked resources to inspect for child labor in domestic service.

BFC reported forced labor in six export-sector textile and apparel factories in 2016-17. Most of these cases related to forced overtime work, in which workers were required to obtain written approval from foreign supervisors before they could leave the factory. Workers complained they feared termination if they refused to work overtime.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 years as the minimum age for employment and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. The law permits children between 12 and 15 years to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance. The law limits work by children between 12 and 15 years to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on nonschool days, and it prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Minimum age protections do not apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for child-labor inspections in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Labor inspectors did not enforce labor standards in the informal sector or in unlicensed workplaces. In the formal sector, sources reported labor inspectors conducted routine inspections only in registered garment and footwear factories, where the incidence of child labor remained extremely low. In industries with the highest risk of child labor, including agriculture, construction, and hospitality, labor inspections were generally complaint driven.

The labor law stipulates a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing monthly wage for defendants convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions. The government suspended all child labor inspections during the first half of the year as the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported it was not ready to take over the work of World Vision’s Eliminating Exploitative Child Labor through Education and Livelihoods project. In May the director of child labor reported the inspectorate would begin fulfilling its child labor function again, although with a more limited mandate. The department worked with migrant workers in Banteay Meanchey Province at the border of Thailand to remove approximately 500 child laborers. Officials also made two visits to sugar plantations in Koh Kong, where they reported no child labor but said they had raised health and education concerns.

Child labor was most widespread in agriculture, including sugarcane and rubber production, logging, shrimp processing, and fishing, as well as in brick manufacture, salt production, domestic service, car repair, textiles, slaughterhouses, and the production of alcoholic beverages. Children also worked as beggars, street vendors, shoe polishers, and scavengers.

BFC confirmed four cases of child labor in export-sector garment and footwear factories from May 2016 to April, compared with 16 in 2015-16; 30 in 2014-15; and 74 in 2013-14. In one of the four cases identified, the factories refused to participate in the mandatory remediation program.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, or union membership. Two separate laws explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV-positive status. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties under law for employment discrimination include fines, civil, and administrative remedies. Fines for workplace discrimination ranged from 2.5 to 3.6 million riels ($625 to $900).

According to a BWTUC survey, daily pay for male construction workers was 20.2 percent higher than for women performing similar work. BFC reported that in the garment and footwear sector, factory management discriminated heavily against men with respect to hiring and benefits, generally without legal consequence. BFC reported 9 percent of export-licensed factories discriminated based on gender, down from 10 percent in 2016. Causes included factory reluctance to hire men due to perceived behavioral problems, as well as discrimination against women due to concerns about pregnancy or maternity leave.

A large-scale research project conducted by Care International found that one-third of women in the garment industry suffered some form of sexual harassment in the previous 12 months. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia disputed the results, claiming the actual numbers were far lower. Independent unions generally supported the report’s claims, noting they were consistent with their own experience.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law gives the Labor Union Authority responsibility to establish a minimum wage based on recommendations from the Labor Advisory Committee, a tripartite group composed of representatives from the government, unions, and employer organizations. The minimum wage has been the subject of political interference since 2013, when some sections of the union movement agitated for higher wages amid the general civic instability surrounding contested elections.

The 1997 Labor Law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees are permitted to work up to a maximum of two hours of overtime each day. The law prohibits excessive overtime, states that all overtime must be voluntary, and provides for paid annual holidays.

The government did not effectively enforce hours and overtime regulations. Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory. Outside the garment industry, the government rarely enforced working-hour regulations. Workers often faced fines, dismissal, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

Workplaces are required to have health and safety standards adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction, as well as the number of workers affected. Labor ministry inspectors are empowered to assess these fines on the spot, without the necessary cooperation of police, but there are no specific provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from the limitations on work hours prescribed by law. An April survey conducted by BWTUC estimated there were 200,000 citizens working in the construction industry; 89 percent of 1,010 respondents did not have contracts, most never received bonuses or severance pay, and only 9 percent were enrolled with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Human Rights Watch reported in 2016 that garment workers employed in unregistered factories–most often subcontractors for larger, export-oriented factories–were far more vulnerable to abusive labor practices that violate local and international law.

The government enforced existing standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Labor ministry officials readily admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections on working hours. The ministry’s Department of Labor Inspection issued 330 warnings about violations in the first six month of the year, up from 183 warnings in the same period in 2016. It also levied fines on 27 entities, up from 19 in 2016, and sued two enterprises in court. The ministry reported it employed 499 labor inspectors plus 87 NSSF inspectors across the country, a number far from sufficient to conduct thorough inspections. Penalties were insufficient to address problems. Although the ministry often decided in favor of employees, it rarely used its legal authority to penalize employers who defied its orders.

There is also a concern that the use of short-term contracts (locally known as fixed duration contracts or FDCs) allows firms, especially in the garment sector where productivity growth is relatively flat, to avoid certain wage and legal requirements. FDCs are limited to 24 months in duration, and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training has interpreted this to mean 24 consecutive months, which allows employers to keep workers on FDCs–most often of three-month duration–indefinitely, provided there is some break in employment every 24 months. The Arbitration Council and the ILO have disputed this interpretation of the law, insisting that after 24 months, an employee must be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract.” The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training interpretation has had the effect of significantly depressing unionization efforts, as workers on temporary contracts report intimidation and threats of dismissal as reprisal for union activity.

Work-related injuries and health problems were common. Most large garment factories producing for markets in developed countries met relatively high health and safety standards as conditions of their contracts with buyers. Working conditions in small-scale factories and cottage industries were poor and often failed to meet international standards. The NSSF reported that during the first six months of 2016, 23,094 workers suffered work-related injuries, up from 16,080 injuries in 2015, and that 108 workers died on the job during the year to October, compared with 84 deaths in the same period in 2016. Of the 108 deaths, the NSSF reported 25 died in traffic accidents. Local media reported at least four industrial boiler explosions at garment factories, which killed three workers and injured 34 others. Experts at the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft blamed the blasts on individual employees’ negligence. The same experts, however, also noted the government’s lack of tools and instruments to conduct effective inspections.

In its annual report covering the period May 2016-April, BFC reported that many occupation safety and health (OSH) problems were a growing challenge for garment factories in the export sector due to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities. BFC reported increased noncompliance in every OSH variable measured, including exposure to chemicals and hazardous substances, emergency preparedness, OSH management systems, welfare facilities, worker environment, worker protection, and worker accommodations.

Mass fainting remained a problem. The NSSF reported 415 workers fainted in eight factories from January to June, down from 538 in the same period in 2016. There were no reports of serious injuries due to fainting. Observers reported excessive overtime work, poor health, insufficient sleep, poor ventilation, lack of proper nutrition for workers, pesticide sprayed in nearby rice paddies, and toxic fumes from the production process all contributed to mass fainting.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands–Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali)–and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), that France administers. In 2015 successful legislative elections were held. In April 2016 voters elected Azali Assoumani as president of the union, as well as governors for each of the three islands. Despite a third round of voting on Anjouan–because of ballot box thefts–Arab League, African Union, and EU observer missions considered the elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: endemic judicial and official corruption; limitations on freedom of expression and criminalization of defamation; interference in freedom of assembly; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, and ineffective enforcement of laws protecting workers’ rights.

Impunity for violations of human rights was widespread. Although the government discouraged officials from committing human rights violations and sometimes arrested or dismissed officials implicated in such violations, they were rarely tried.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor. The national prison in Moroni is the largest of three prisons in the country. The other two are in Anjouan and Moheli. Military detainees were held in military facilities. National or individual island authorities used various detention facilities as deemed appropriate, and detainees could be transferred from either Anjouan or Moheli to the national prison in Moroni, depending upon the nature of their offenses.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of November the Moroni prison held 191 inmates, but according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) standards, the capacity was 60 inmates.

The law on child protection provides for juveniles ages 15 to 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. According to the governmental National Commission for Human Rights and Liberties (CNDHL), however, authorities routinely released juveniles ages 15 to 18 to the custody of their parents if they were not recidivists. Juveniles and adult prisoners were held together. As of November there were 10 juvenile male inmates in the Moroni prison held with adults. That prison also held two adult female prisoners in a separate cellblock. Detainees and prisoners normally received a single meal per day. Those who did not receive additional food from family members suffered. Other common problems included inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation and lighting, and medical facilities.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints without censorship, but investigations or follow-up actions almost never occurred.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the ICRC and the CNDHL to monitor prisons. CNDHL representatives made regular and unannounced prison visits during the year without interference. Authorities required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to request a visit permit from the prosecutor general.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Development Army and the Federal Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The National Development Army includes both the gendarmerie and the Comorian Defense Force, and reports to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees immigration and customs, reports to the minister of interior, information, and decentralization. The Federal Police report to the minister of interior. The Gendarmerie’s rapid reaction Intervention Platoon also may act under the authority of the interior minister. When the gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice.

Each of the three islands has a local police force under the authority of its own minister of interior.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, police used excessive force, and impunity was a problem. The ability of the army to investigate abuses by its personnel was uncertain.

In February the Ma-mwe electricity company shut off power to a high school in Moroni pending the payment of 800,000 Comorian francs ($1,800) it owed as the result of alleged fraud by the school. This led teachers and students to protest the closure and demand the release of the headmaster, who had been arrested. When gendarmes arrived, scuffles broke out and seven students were injured, including one who was shot and wounded. The government condemned this use of excessive force and stated that it would hold the gendarmes involved accountable.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial arrest warrants as well as prosecutorial approval to detain persons longer than 24 hours without charge. The law provides for the prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and for detainees to be informed promptly of the charges against them. A magistrate informs detainees of their rights, including the right to legal representation. These rights were inconsistently respected. The bail system prohibits those for whom bail is posted from leaving the country. Some detainees did not have prompt access to attorneys or their families.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. By law pretrial detainees may be held for no more than four months, although many were held longer. A magistrate or prosecutor may extend this period. Detainees routinely awaited trial for extended periods for reasons including administrative delay, case backlog, and time-consuming collection of evidence. Some extensions continued for several years. Defense attorneys occasionally protested such judicial inefficiencies.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention, and the law provides for monetary damages if a court finds a detention improper.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Judicial inconsistency, unpredictability, and corruption were problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to a timely trial, but lengthy delays were common. The legal system incorporates French legal codes and sharia (Islamic law). Trials are open to the public, and defendants are presumed innocent. Trials are by jury in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and indigent defendants have the right to counsel provided at public expense, although the latter right was rarely observed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Although the law provides for the assistance at no charge of an interpreter for any defendant unable to understand or speak the language used in court, none was provided. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is an appellate process.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through an independent, but corrupt court system. By law individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Court orders were inconsistently enforced.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

The constitution provides for a rotating union government presidency once every five years, in which each of the country’s three islands takes a turn at holding a primary to select three presidential candidates for national election. The constitution thus restricts those eligible to run for the union presidency to those residing on a particular island in an election year. Aside from the rotation provision, anyone meeting constitutional requirements of age, residency, citizenship, and good moral character may run for office.

Recent Elections: In 2015 free and fair legislative elections were held. In April 2016 presidential and gubernatorial elections were held. Incumbent candidates claimed some irregularities, including the theft of ballots on Anjouan. They filed complaints at the Constitutional Court requesting the vote be repeated for both presidential and gubernatorial candidates. They alleged that the opposition stole and destroyed approximately 3,000 ballots in Anjouan. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and a third round of voting was conducted successfully at 13 polling stations in Anjouan.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. For example, only two of the 33 seats in the national legislature were filled by women in the 2015 election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption (CNPLC) was an independent administrative authority established to combat corruption, including through education and mobilization of the public. In September 2016 the president repealed the provisions of the law that created the commission, citing its failure to produce any results. The Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated this decision, noting that a presidential decree may not overturn a law. Nevertheless, the president neither renewed the commissioners’ mandates nor appointed replacement members during the year.

Corruption: Resident diplomatic, UN, and humanitarian agency workers reported petty corruption was commonplace at all levels of the civil service and security forces. Businesspersons reported corruption and a lack of transparency, while the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a significant problem. Citizens paid bribes to evade customs regulations, to avoid arrest, and to obtain falsified police reports.

On April 14, former administrative and financial director of the state-owned Comorian Hydrocarbons Company Mariama Mhoudine was charged by an investigating judge with involvement in the embezzlement of nearly two billion Comorian francs ($4.5 million). The investigation continued at year’s end. Mhoudine was released pending trial.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires high-level officials at national and island levels to declare their assets prior to entering office. The submission of a disclosure is made public, but the disclosure itself is not. Officials subject to the law did so upon taking office. Conviction of failure to comply is punishable by fines and up to two years’ imprisonment. In 2016 the CNPLC reported that all officials subject to the law filed financial disclosures. The CNPLC does not verify the accuracy of the disclosures.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape regardless of age or gender is illegal and punishable if convicted by five to 10 years’ imprisonment or up to 15 years if the victim is younger than 15. Authorities prosecuted perpetrators if victims filed charges. There were reports that families or village elders settled many allegations of sexual violence informally through traditional means and without recourse to the formal court system.

The law treats domestic violence as an aggravating circumstance that includes crimes committed by one domestic partner against an existing or former partner. Penalties for conviction include prison sentences up to five years and fines up to two million Comorian francs ($4,500). Courts rarely sentenced or fined convicted perpetrators. No reliable data were available on the extent of the problem. Women rarely filed official complaints. Although officials took action (usually the arrest of the spouse) when reported, domestic violence cases rarely entered the court system.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal, and conviction is punishable by fines and imprisonment. It is defined in the labor code as any verbal, nonverbal, or bodily behavior of a sexual nature that has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating work environment for a person. Although rarely reported due to societal pressure, such harassment was nevertheless a common problem, and authorities did not effectively enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for equality of persons without regard to gender, creed, belief, origin, race, or religion. Nevertheless, inheritance and property rights practices favor women. Local cultures are traditionally matrilineal, and all inheritable property is in the legal possession of women. Societal discrimination against women was most apparent in rural areas, where women were mostly limited to farming and child-rearing duties, with fewer opportunities for education and wage employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Any child having at least one Comorian parent is considered a citizen, regardless of where the birth takes place. Any child born in the country is a citizen unless both parents are foreigners, although these children may apply for citizenship if they have at least five years’ residency at the time they apply. Authorities did not withhold public services from unregistered children. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Universal education is compulsory until age 12. No child under age 14 may be prevented from attending school. An approximately equal number of girls and boys attended public schools at the primary and secondary levels, but fewer girls graduated.

Child Abuse: Official statistics revealed cases of abuse when impoverished families sent their children to work for relatives or wealthy families, usually in the hope of obtaining a better education for their children. The NGO Listening and Counseling Service, funded by the government and UNICEF, had offices on all three islands to provide support and counseling for abused children and their families. The NGO routinely referred child abuse cases to police for investigation. Police conducted initial investigations of child abuse and referred cases to the Morals and Minors Brigade for further investigation and referral for prosecution if justified by evidence. If evidence was sufficient, authorities routinely prosecuted cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. In the sole reported case of attempted forced marriage involving a minor, the police Morals and Minors Brigade investigated and intervened to stop the marriage before it took place. For additional information, see Appendix C.

In October as part of the implementation of the 2017 National Child Protection Policy Action Plan, the National Commission for Solidarity, Social Protection, and Gender Promotion, with the financial support of UNICEF, organized awareness-raising and training workshops on child marriage for religious leaders.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law considers unmarried persons under age 18 to be minors and prohibits their sexual exploitation, prostitution, and involvement in pornography. Anyone convicted of facilitating the sex trafficking of children is subject to a prison term of two to five years and a fine of 150,000 to one million Comorian francs ($338 to $2,250). Conviction of child pornography is punishable by fines or imprisonment. There were no official statistics regarding these matters and no reports in local media of cases, prosecutions, or convictions relating to either child sex trafficking or child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and applicable laws, particularly the labor code, prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings, information, communication, education, and transportation for persons with disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Despite the absence of appropriate accommodation for children with disabilities, such children attended mainstream schools, both public and private. In October the Ministry of National Education, Research, and Arts held a workshop to validate and adopt the Basic Education Action Plan for Children with Disabilities for 2017-26. In June 2016 the National Assembly ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a government policy on persons with disabilities for integration into the National Action Plan.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and conviction is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to one million Comorian francs ($113 to $2,250). Authorities reported no arrests or prosecutions for same-sex sexual activity during the year. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally did not publicly reveal their sexual orientation due to societal pressure. There were no local LGBTI organizations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. It provides for the right to strike but requires an eight-day notification period and a declaration of the reason for the strike and its duration. The law includes a system for resolving labor disputes. Unions have the right to bargain collectively. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers in hiring practices or other employment functions. There are no laws protecting strikers from retribution. There are no groups of workers excluded from legal protections.

The law was not applied in the settlement of private-sector disputes, but it was invoked unpredictably and inconsistently in labor disputes in the public sector. Worker organizations are independent of the government and political parties. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including ordering employers to pay indemnities and damages to the employee, were sufficient to deter violations. Labor disputes may be brought to the attention of the Labor Tribunal.

Workers exercised their labor rights. There were no reports of retribution against strikers. Common problems included failure to pay salaries regularly or on time, mostly in the government sector, and unfair and abusive dismissal practices, such as dismissing employees without giving proper notice or paying the required severance pay. There were no reported incidents of antiunion discrimination during the year. All labor NGOs were designated as labor organizations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions for military service, community service, and during accidents, fires, and disasters. During times of national emergency, the government’s civil protection unit may compel persons to assist in disaster recovery efforts if it is unable to obtain sufficient voluntary assistance. The labor code prohibits forced child labor, with specific antitrafficking provisions.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Financial penalties, however, for those who violated the law served as an effective deterrent. Penalties for conviction include from one to six months in prison, a fine of from 50,000 to 200,000 Comorian francs ($113 to $450) for those who abuse their authority to compel someone to work for them or for someone else, or both imprisonment and a fine. Penalties for conviction of trafficking a minor are 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30 million Comorian francs ($67,600). The government did not make tangible efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

Trafficking in persons, specifically forced child labor, occurred, particularly in family-based agriculture (planting, weeding, harvesting), fishing, and domestic service (see section 7.c.). There were no reported cases of adult forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for employment, with a minimum age for hazardous work of 18.

Labor inspectors were responsible for monitoring all potential violations of labor law and did not focus only on child labor cases. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Regulations permit light apprentice work by children under age 15 if it does not hinder the child’s schooling or physical or moral development. The labor code, however, does not specify the conditions under which light work may be conducted or limit the number of hours for light work, as defined by international child labor standards. In accordance with the labor code, labor inspectors may require the medical examination of a child by an accredited physician to determine if the work assigned to a child is beyond his or her physical capacity. Children may not be kept in employment deemed beyond their capacity. If suitable work cannot be assigned, the contract must be nullified and all indemnities paid to the employee. The labor code also identifies hazardous work where child labor is prohibited. Child labor infractions are punishable by fines and imprisonment, but available evidence did not indicate whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government did not enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but it did not do so actively or effectively. In addition child labor laws and regulations do not provide children working in unpaid or noncontractual work the same protections as children working in contractual employment. Children worked in subsistence farming, fishing, and extracting and selling marine sand. Children worked in growing subsistence food crops such as manioc and beans and in the cultivation of cash crops such as vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang (a flower used to make perfume). Some children worked under forced labor conditions, primarily in domestic service and family-based agriculture and fishing. Additionally, some Koranic schools arranged for indigent students to receive lessons in exchange for labor that sometimes was forced. Some families placed their children in the homes of wealthier families where they worked in exchange for food, shelter, or educational opportunities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The preamble to the constitution provides for equality regardless of sex, origin, religion, or race. Article 2 of the labor law forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national ancestry or social origin, or actual or presumed state of health (such as HIV/AIDS). The law does not address sexual orientation. In rural areas women tended to be relegated to certain types of work, and the UN Development Program reported women were underrepresented in leadership roles. There were no reports of discrimination, however.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A committee called the Labor Collective–consisting of representatives of unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labor–met periodically regarding an enforceable national minimum wage, as the existing minimum wage of 55,000 Comorian francs ($124) per month is only a guideline. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, except in the agriculture sector, where the maximum hours of work is set at 2,400 per year (equivalent to 46 hours per week). The minimum weekly rest period is set at 24 consecutive hours. The law provides for paid annual leave accumulated at the rate of 2.5 days per month of service. There are no provisions to prohibit compulsory overtime; overtime is determined through collective bargaining. Negotiations with the banking and pharmacy sectors, however, did not yield a collective bargaining agreement. There are no sectors or groups of workers excluded from these laws. The official estimate for the poverty income level is 250,000 Comorian francs ($563) per year.

The government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, sets wages in the large public sector and imposes a minimum wage in the small, formal private sector. Although the unions, national government, and local governments did not enforce the minimum wage law and workweek standards, unions had adequate influence to negotiate minimum wage rates for different skill levels for unionized jobs. These provisions applied to all workers, regardless of sector or country of origin. Unions promoted this de facto minimum wage via their ability to strike against employers.

There were three labor inspectors (one for each island), but they did not have enough resources to perform their duties. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The labor code includes a chapter on occupational safety and health requirements, but these were seldom enforced. Fishing was considered the most hazardous work. Mostly self-employed, fishermen worked from often-unsafe canoes. There was no credible datum on the number of occupational accidents. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this regard.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is a constitutional republic governed by a president and a unicameral legislative assembly directly elected in multiparty elections every four years. In 2014 voters elected Luis Guillermo Solis of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) during a second round of elections. In simultaneous legislative elections in 2014, the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party gained seats and formed a coalition that gave them control of the legislature. The National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the largest number of seats but did not achieve a majority. In 2015 the PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. All elections were generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The Ombudsman’s Office received 132 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatment during the first six months of the year. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 30 percent, according to official statistics dated June. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons and drug abuse was common. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 61 complaints of deficient conditions in prisons, including the migrant detention centers, during the first six months of the year. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

The San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Limon, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most of these prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 705 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 556.

The detention center for undocumented migrants in Hatillo, a suburb of San Jose, was poorly ventilated, at times overcrowded, and it had no recreation area. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 21 deaths in closed regime centers from January to August. Three of these deaths were homicides and four were suicides; the remainder were from natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. If complaints were not processed, prisoners could submit them to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level. The Ombudsman’s Office, through the national prevention mechanism against torture, periodically inspected all detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers, including representatives from the Ombudsman’s Office. Human rights observers could speak to prisoners and prison employees in confidence and without the presence of prison staff or other third parties.

Improvements: In February prison authorities began providing some convicted prisoners with electronic ankle-monitoring devices. In June the Ministry of Justice inaugurated two new prison modules in San Rafael and Perez Zeledon, adding capacity for 640 and 256 inmates, respectively, which allow inmates to take part in activities including studying, working, and social rehabilitation. During the year the Ministry of Justice implemented some remodeling and other measures to reduce overcrowding at the San Sebastian prison, after a judge issued a resolution in 2016 ordering authorities to close the prison over a period of 18 months unless improvements were made.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office of the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. The number of licensed private security services was significantly greater than the number of police (28,321 agents compared to 14,035 uniformed police officers). There were no reports of impunity involving the private security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for up to one year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to two years in especially complex cases. The law requires a court review every three months of cases of suspects in pretrial detention to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. If a judge declares a case is related to organized crime, special procedural rules require that the period of pretrial detention not exceed 24 months (although the court of appeals may grant one extension not to exceed an additional 12 months). Authorities frequently used pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of June 30, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 16 percent of the prison population. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The legal system faced many challenges, including significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner, or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal. Fast-track courts, which prosecute cases when suspects are arrested on the spot for alleged transgressions, provide the same protections and rights as other courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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 communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2016, 66 percent of individuals used the internet.

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 peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 10 months.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly in recent years. The refugee unit received 3,156 asylum applications from January to June, mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia, compared with 4,470 in all of 2016.

The Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, as of July had a backlog of 1,056 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim. Few asylum seekers took advantage of this right, largely because they were unaware of their eligibility. The refugee unit failed to educate employers effectively about this right.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was approximately two months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other Costa Rican identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many Costa Rican citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 37,400 colones ($66), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 13 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperated with UNHCR efforts on statelessness with indigenous populations and reported no cases of the recognition of a person’s status as stateless during the first six months of the year. There were no reports of stateless persons who were also refugees. There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry started a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 voters elected PAC’s Luis Guillermo Solis president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections the National Liberation Party gained the most seats, but three parties–the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)–gained enough seats in the 57-member legislative assembly to form a coalition that gave them control of the legislature in 2014. In 2015 the PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. In municipal elections in 2016, the PLN and PUSC gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections generally free and fair. The Organization of American States team that observed the elections noted that for the first time the election process included citizens voting from abroad.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and persons of African descent were represented in government, but indigenous people were not. In May 2016 the Supreme Elections Tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity must extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In July officials began looking into possible corruption and influence peddling related to loans and policies benefiting a cement importer, Juan Carlos Bolanos. The National Assembly, the central bank’s financial system regulator, and the judicial sector began investigating why a state-owned bank provided large loans without the usual collateral and whether prominent politicians were engaged in influence peddling. No specific charges had been brought as of October.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws that require senior officials to submit sworn declarations of income, assets, and liabilities. The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. The content of the declarations is not made available to the public. The law stipulates administrative sanctions for noncompliance and identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Officials are required to file a declaration annually and upon entering and leaving office.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office reviews government action or inaction that affects citizens’ rights and interests. The ombudsman is accountable to the legislative assembly, which appoints the person to a four-year term and funds office operations. The ombudsman participates in the drafting and approval of legislation, promotes good administration and transparency, and reports annually to the legislative assembly with nonbinding recommendations. A special committee of the legislative assembly studies and reports on problems relating to the violation of human rights, and it also reviews bills relating to human rights and international humanitarian law.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.

The National Institute for Women reported that 16 women were killed (including seven femicides) during the first six months of the year. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work. In 2014 the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) estimated earnings for women were 92 percent of earned income for men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children (PANI) reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern. For additional information, see www.unicef.org/protection/ .

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The legislative assembly approved the Prohibition of Inappropriate Relations law, which entered into force on January 13, increasing penalties for sex with minors and more clearly outlawing child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were 3,000 Jews in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law establishes a clear right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Both the government policy on education and the national plan for higher education establish the right to education for students with disabilities.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts.

Indigenous People

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands. On August 10, an indigenous person was injured during a dispute with nonindigenous persons over a farm located in the Cabagra reservation.

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

The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. Transgender persons were able to change their gender on their identity documents through an administrative law judge’s decision and later registration in the Civil Registry Office.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms.

On June 15, the board of directors of the Social Security Agency approved the provision of hormone replacement and psychological therapy for transgender patients.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request.

A new procedural labor code entered into effect on July 25 and lowered legal requirements to exercise the right to strike, moving the required minimum percentage of votes in favor of a strike in an enterprise from 60 percent to 50 percent. The law restricts the right to strike of workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards. On July 25, a new labor procedural code (Law No. 9343) entered into force that is intended to streamline labor procedures in the courts, including those related to antiunion discrimination, and to reform provisions regarding freedom of association and trade union freedom in the courts.

The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law also permits two other types of worker organizations unique to the country: “solidarity associations,” legal entities recognized by the constitution that have both management and employee membership and serve primarily to administer funds for severance payments, and “permanent committees,” enterprise-level bodies made up of three workers elected to negotiate “direct agreements” with employers. Both entities may coexist and share membership with labor unions. The law prohibits solidarity associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions. The law also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.

Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. While the law does establish sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. Cases reach the judiciary both through labor inspections and through legal complaints filed by workers. The law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process, which involves an initial inspection, a notification to the employer of the infraction, a period to correct the infraction, a reinspection, and (if the infraction persists) a final report finding the infraction. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, in light of the lengthy process to resolve cases. To reduce delays, the new procedural labor code replaces written procedures with oral hearings, requires labor claims to be processed within two years, and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The new labor code also strengthens protections for labor union members, including protections against discrimination for labor affiliation and special protections via special expedited proceedings.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted that solidarity associations set up and controlled permanent committees at many workplaces, which in turn conducted negotiations and established direct agreements. Labor unions also asserted that employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. To the extent that solidarity associations and permanent committees displaced trade unions, they affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported an expansion of direct agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers. The Labor Ministry conducted seven working/mediation sessions to discuss complaints related to persecution against labor union activists during the first six months of the year.

There were some instances of employers firing employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported seven complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The ILO noted there were no trade unions operating in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor in cases that involve movement of the victim. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes, including forced labor–when they involve movement–with sentences of between six and 10 years in prison. The penalty is increased to between eight and 16 years if the crime involves aggravating circumstances. The Trafficking in Persons Prosecutor’s Unit reported four investigations of trafficking in persons during the first six months of the year, including two persons forced into domestic service. Two cases from previous years were still open; the third case, which involved two minor victims, was ready for indictment; and the fourth case, which involved five victims, one a minor, was still under investigation. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child and adolescence code prohibits labor of all children under the age of 15 without exceptions; it supersedes the minimum working age of 12 established in the labor code, which by year’s end had not been amended to reflect this change. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours daily and 36 hours weekly. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors. The law prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in hazardous or unhealthy activities and specifies a list of hazardous occupations. The government generally enforced laws against child labor effectively in the formal sector but not in the informal sector.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, especially in the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors. The worst forms of child labor occurred in agriculture on small third-party farms in the formal sector and on family farms in the informal sector. The government’s 2016 National Household Survey identified 30,369 working minors, representing 3.1 percent of the child population between the ages 5-17. Forced child labor reportedly occurred in some service sectors, such as construction, fishing, street vending, and domestic service, and some children were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

While the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing and taking administrative actions against possible violations of, or lack of compliance with, child labor laws, the Prosecutor’s Office intervenes in cases regarding the worst forms of child labor. As with other labor laws, the authority to sanction employers for infractions lies solely with the judiciary, and the law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on an equation derived from the minimum wage. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government continued to implement programming to eliminate illegal child labor and the worst forms of child labor by providing individual assistance through visits, interviews, and inspections to schools and workplaces. In 2016 the Labor Ministry detected and removed from employment 420 minors, 100 under age 15, in hazardous jobs, referring them to government agencies for inclusion in social programs. The ministry reported that in the overwhelming majority of cases employers received warnings, and in the 57 cases that involved minors under age 15 and adolescent workers, 10 employers failed to comply, of which seven were referred to a labor court from July 2016 to June 2017.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The new labor code prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, civil status, political opinion, nationality, social status, affiliation, disability, labor union membership, or economic situation. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 20 cases of discrimination from July 2016 to June 2017. The ministry began incorporating a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The Labor Ministry reported conducting 171 inspections on gender equality as part of its Decent Work program during the first six months of the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 178,703 colones ($316) for domestic workers to 629,395 colones ($1,114) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2016 the poverty line was 105,937 colones ($188) in urban areas and 81,685 colones ($145) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work, except in the agricultural sector, and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours, except in the agricultural sector when there is “imminent risk of harm…to the harvest” when work cannot be suspended and workers cannot be substituted.

The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections are always unannounced.

The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. As with other labor laws, inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with laws on acceptable conditions of work; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime has traditionally been subject to lengthy delays, a problem the new procedural labor code seeks to address.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but was not as effective in enforcing the minimum wage laws in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprises 43 percent of employment. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage. During the first six months of the year, the ministry conducted 4,973 visits to priority cantons with low levels of development in an attempt to assess and address their situation through DNI intervention.

According to INEC, 44 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.

Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones and agriculture. There were reports agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. The national insurance company reported 63,608 cases of workplace-related illnesses and injuries and 68 workplace fatalities from January to June.

Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government. Domestic and international observers stated that the latest parliamentary elections held in September 2016 were free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included restrictions on expression and the press, including violence against journalists; and corruption.

The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The government reported that as of June 30, 1,532 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 420 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,952 unsolved missing persons cases. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that in the period from January 1 to October 15, the remains of 54 individuals were exhumed, and in the same period final identifications were made for 22 individuals. The government continued to prioritize the resolution of outstanding missing persons cases, but progress had slowed since 2016. Technical challenges and inadequate cooperation with neighboring countries hampered resolution of cases.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were no reports the government employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The treatment of prisoners was considered generally humane, although overcrowding remained a problem in some prisons.

Physical Conditions: The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights reported an easing of prison overcrowding, although it persisted in some high-security prisons. As of December 31, 2016, prisons were at 80 percent capacity. Several prisons remained overcrowded, including those in Karlovac (at 132 percent capacity), Dubrovnik (118 percent), and Osijek (128 percent). A majority of prisoner complaints concerned the quality and accessibility of medical care and inadequate facilities, specifically a lack of living space.

Administration: The ombudsman’s office visited prison facilities and issued recommendations for the Ministries of Justice and Health to investigate alleged mistreatment of some prisoners, improve facilities, and improve health services.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers. On March 14-22, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited the country to review measures taken by authorities to implement the CPT’s recommendations from a visit in 2012. The CPT visit focused particularly on the treatment of and detention conditions for prisoners, as well as legal safeguards for patients in psychiatric institutions. At year’s end the CPT’s report of the visit was not yet publicly released.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The intelligence service is under the authority of the prime minister and the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police, the armed forces, and the intelligence services. The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Although the government nominated members for the parliamentary council for civilian oversight of security and intelligence agencies, after the previous council’s mandate expired in October 2015, as of year’s end parliament had not yet confirmed them.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Other than those arrested during the commission of a crime, persons were apprehended with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours based on their decision on detention. Upon request of the state prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system, and courts may release detainees on their own recognizance. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge their detention in court and are entitled to release and compensation if their detention is determined to have been unlawful.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated. As of June 30, the judiciary suffered from a backlog of 474,345 cases, down from 520,000 in 2016.

County courts in Osijek, Rijeka, Split, and Zagreb exercised exclusive jurisdiction over war crimes cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. Defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a timely trial and to be present at their trial. They have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak the language used in court has free access to an interpreter, from the moment charged, through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final, and defendants may file appeal through the domestic courts up to the European Court of Human Rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. Individuals may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. The backlog in domestic courts raised concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, legal certainty, and the rule of law. Administrative remedies were also available.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country is a signatory to the Terezin Declaration. The government had insufficient laws or mechanisms in place to address property restitution issues, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

According to the 1996 law on Compensation for the Property Taken during the Former Yugoslav Communist Regime, restitution of property seized during the Communist era was limited to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996, when parliament passed the restitution law, and claims could only be filed within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law did not apply to persons whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allowed for foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship concluded a bilateral agreement with Croatia. In 2008 a court ruled that a bilateral treaty is not a requirement for restitution claims; however, a 2011 attempt to amend the legislation was not successful.

In September the Ministry of Culture reported that its Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in coordination with the Jewish Community of Zagreb, began a study of available archives to identify Jewish cemeteries and burial sites not listed on the Official Registry of Cultural Goods, although the study was not completed by year’s end. The government also reported designating representatives to work with organizations dedicated to Holocaust-era property issues, notably mapping and preservation of Jewish cemeteries and research on Jewish cultural goods in museums, in accordance with the Terezin Declaration.

Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, the umbrella organization representing Jewish communities throughout the country, particularly the Jewish Community of Zagreb, an umbrella organization. There had been no restitutions of Jewish communal property since 2014, although several requests were pending. Jewish organizations reported significant problems with the process of restitution of private property seized during and after World War II.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in 2016. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government and Malcolm Turnbull remained prime minister. The coalition won 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Labor Party 69, and others five.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political processes, and they did participate. Representation of women in major political parties remained low, however. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. This law applied to local elections for the first time in May. The Electoral Commission noted that all major political parties fell short of this threshold. The law stipulates fines of between 20,000 to 50,000 kuna ($3,100 to $7,700) per electoral list against parties not meeting the threshold at the third regular election following the entry of force of the law, which was considered to be the May local elections. There were no reports of fines being imposed on political parties during the year.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the judiciary generally implemented statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile corruption convictions, however, were frequently overturned on appeal. Corruption remained a problem, and significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway. State prosecutors continued to prosecute corruption cases, which involved local mayors, politicians, and public figures.

Corruption: The retrial of former prime minister Ivo Sanader continued, after the Supreme Court in 2015 annulled his 2014 conviction on corruption charges, citing procedural errors.

In October the Zagreb County Court began trial proceedings against former HDZ transportation minister Bozidar Kalmeta and several other codefendants for corruption charges related to the embezzlement of 2.85 million euros ($3.42 million).

On November 15, the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) arrested Zagreb Commercial Court Judge Vesna Malenica and four other individuals, alleging corrupt practices in bankruptcy proceedings. According to press reports, the State Judicial Council stripped Malenica’s immunity. The investigation was underway at year’s end.

On December 11, USKOK indicted member of parliament Tomislav Saucha for abuse of power and fraud during his service as chief of staff to former prime minister Zoran Milanovic. Saucha and his then assistant, Sandra Zeljko, were accused of stealing $100,000 in state funds by falsifying travel vouchers. Saucha denied any involvement in the alleged crimes.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to declare their assets and income, and government officials generally complied with this requirement. This information was available to the public. Administrative sanctions for noncompliance were generally a fine.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction of rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment. Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to crimes and accusations associated with domestic violence and rape, but there were isolated reports that local police departments did not consistently adhere to national guidelines regarding the treatment of victims of sexual assault.

Conviction of domestic violence is punishable by up to three years imprisonment. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem.

On October 6, Prime Minister Plenkovic removed Pozesko-Slavonska County prefect Alojz Tomasevic from his party leadership position after police detained Tomasevic on October 3 on domestic violence allegations. Plenkovic called on Tomasevic to resign from his elected position if criminal charges were filed against him.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides a maximum prison sentence of one year for conviction of sexual harassment. The ombudsman for gender equality repeatedly expressed concerns that victims of sexual harassment dropped official complaints due to fear of reprisal.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law requires equal pay for equal work. In practice, women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country’s territory or from at least one parent who is a citizen. Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad.

Child Abuse: Child abuse including violence and sexual abuse was a problem. The government had an active ombudsman for children. Police and prosecutors generally were responsive in investigating such cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent. NGOs cited early and forced marriage as a problem in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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

According to the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, the country’s Jewish community numbered between 2,000 and 2,500 persons. Jewish community leaders reported evidence of Holocaust denial and publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s response to a veterans group’s placement of a plaque bearing the World War II-era Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (For the Homeland, Ready) near the World War II-era Jasenovac death camp in 2016. President Grabar-Kitarovic and Prime Minister Plenkovic both condemned the placement of the plaque in Jasenovac. In September the government relocated the plaque from Jasenovac to a veterans’ cemetery in the nearby town of Novska but did not make a legal determination on the use of the controversial Ustasha-era salute.

In February approximately 30 members of the A-HSP staged a march during which party members waved flags bearing an unofficial coat of arms associated with the World War II fascist Ustasha movement and their A-HSP party flag with the slogan “Za Dom Spremni.” According to the police, the actions were intended to “incite fear and intolerance in society.” Police arrested A-HSP leader Drazen Keleminec during the rally for disturbing the peace.

On April 23, Prime Minister Plenkovic, the speaker of parliament, the special envoy from the Office of the President, and government ministers attended the annual official commemoration at Jasenovac. For the second consecutive year, the country’s two Jewish communities boycotted the government’s commemoration and organized their own, citing concerns about the controversial plaque near Jasenovac as well as efforts by nationalists to glorify the country’s Nazi-collaborationist Ustasha regime. Serb and other organizations also held separate commemorations.

In March, Prime Minister Plenkovic announced the creation of a special council of legal experts, academics, and historians to provide the government with legal, institutional, and legislative recommendations regarding the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes. The government directed the council to issue its recommendations by March 2018.

On October 17, the Constitutional Court ruled that the naming of a street in the town of Slatinski Drenovac after the date of establishment (April 10) of the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was unconstitutional. The court stated its decision could be applied to cases regarding the use of other Ustasha-related slogans and symbols and represented the court’s legal opinion that the character of the NDH contradicted the values of the constitution.

In August singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic led pro-Ustasha chants during a concert commemorating the country’s Victory and Homeland Day in Slunj. Police filed misdemeanor charges against him for violating public peace and order.

On November 18, members of the veterans group Croatian Defense Forces (HOS) marched in a commemorative parade in Vukovar, marking the 26th anniversary of the siege of that city. The HOS members flew flags and displayed insignia bearing the World War II-era Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni.”

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, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited the access of students with disabilities to secondary and university education.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While constitutional protections against discrimination applied to all minorities, there was discrimination against ethnic Serbs and Roma. The November ombudsman’s report noted that ethnic discrimination, particularly against the Serb and Romani minorities, dominated unequal treatment complaints in 2016.

On September 2, an estimated 20 members of the A-HSP staged a demonstration in front of the Serbian National Council (SNV) offices in Zagreb, protesting the government’s decision to relocate the plaque bearing the phrase “Za Dom Spremni” from Jasenovac. A-HSP leader Drazen Keleminac burned a copy of the SNV newsletter Novosti, calling it an anti-Croatia publication. After a second incident in which members of the A-HSP burned Novosti (see section 2), police filed criminal charges against Keleminec for “public incitement of violence and hatred.”

The government allocated funds and created programs to assist in development and integration of Romani communities, but widespread discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained a problem. The government supported Roma education initiatives, but Romani children faced obstacles to education, including discrimination in schools.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported, however, that discrimination remained a problem. The government decided to revise the 2016-20 National Plan for Combating Discrimination, a strategic document that set out priorities and targets and directed government efforts towards a comprehensive system of protection against discrimination, following criticism from groups that objected to aspects of the plan that addressed LGBTI and gender equality and other issues.

LGBTI NGOs noted uneven performance by the judiciary on discrimination cases. LGBTI activists reported that members of their community had limited access to justice, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding an inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings.

Two significant incidents of violence against LGBTI persons occurred. In February an unidentified attacker released tear gas at an LGBTI party at a Zagreb nightclub, affecting approximately 300 persons. In June, approximately one week before the Zagreb pride march, a Brazilian citizen suffered physical injuries from the security guards at a popular Zagreb club after he was seen being intimate with another man.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, with some facing discrimination including employment discrimination after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the recently implemented National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. In addition, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for civilian employees of the military. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is illegal, any participant may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The law allows the government unilaterally to amend collective agreements in the public sector. Employees of local or regional governments may not bargain collectively. Manual labor and retail employees were often hired on fixed-term contracts that made it difficult for them to unionize; some employers hired workers for trial periods lasting three months, during which employees could be dismissed without cause. Workers on temporary contracts generally did not form or join unions due to fear of termination at the end of the trial period.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government was generally effective in enforcing laws. Penalties of one to 15 years imprisonment were considered sufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays. The inefficiency of the court system hampered attempts to seek redress for antiunion discrimination and legal violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The state prosecutor reported no incidents of forced labor in 2016 or during the first six months of the year.

The government was partially effective in enforcing applicable laws. Identification of victims of forced labor was limited, although penalties for conviction of forced labor, one to 15 years imprisonment, were sufficiently stringent to deter violations if enforced. The sentencing rate of offenders for forced labor remained low, however, and was insufficient to deter violators. The government collaborated with several NGOs on public awareness programs.

There were isolated incidents of forced labor in private homes. Croatians, Bosnians, and Romanians were subjected to forced labor in agriculture. Romani children were at risk of forced begging (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 minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children under 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsman for children. In 2016 there were 245 such requests, of which 243 were approved, usually for children to be filmed or to work in theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers under age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor and the Pension System, the ministry’s Office of the State Inspectorate, and the ombudsman for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation and did so adequately.

There were isolated instances of violations of child labor legislation. Labor inspectors identified 38 violations involving 24 minors. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality, retail, services, food service, and tourism sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. According to the ombudsman for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce. The 2014 report of the ombudsman for gender equality estimated that women earned 10 percent less than men. In addition, salaries were much lower in occupations filled mostly by women, while men more often filled higher-paying management positions.

The ombudsman for gender equality reported that women, regardless of education level, were more likely than men to lose their jobs. According to the ombudsman, government inspections were ineffective in uncovering and sanctioning employer violations.

The ombudsman for persons with disabilities reported that 2016 was the first year to mark an increase in employment of persons with disabilities, with a 34 percent increase in employment since 2014. The ombudsman for persons with disabilities concluded this increase was a direct result of new legislation that targets rehabilitation and employment of persons with disabilities and includes quotas and incentives for employers. The ombudsman reported underutilization of social and labor services provided by this legislation, stating the private sector lacked mechanisms to provide for and monitor reasonable accommodations for employing persons with disabilities.

LGBTI NGOs noted discrimination and harassment against LGBTI employees in the workplace, specifically in the health sector. Neither state nor private employers have regulations for protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the NGO Freedom House, while national labor legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to guarantee protections. NGOs reported that LGBTI persons refrained from publicly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The State Bureau of Statistics reported that the minimum wage was slightly above official poverty income level. The law requires premium pay for overtime worked beyond the 40-hour workweek. Overtime is limited to 10 hours per week and 180 hours annually. The law does not address compulsory overtime. The law also entitles employees to at least four weeks of paid annual leave and seven days of personal leave in addition to national holidays. The law includes protections for women who recently gave birth, nursing women, persons who lost the ability to perform their jobs, and persons at risk of injury at their place of work.

The government set health and safety standards harmonized with EU laws and regulations, which are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The Office of the Labor Inspectorate provided for compliance with the labor law through on-site inspections. According to the Labor Inspectorate Annual Report for 2016, there were 236 inspectors. The inspectorate conducted 35,723 workplace inspections in 2016 (up 80 percent from 2015) and reported 5,867 violations of labor laws. The inspectorate referred 2,365 of these violations to misdemeanor courts for further action, and it temporarily closed 292 companies during the first six months of the year for labor law violations. The inspectorate issued fines for labor violations, which were deemed sufficient to deter future violations. Violations included employing workers without work permits, illegal labor contracts, failure to pay wages or benefits, failure to grant leave, failure to register employees with the pension authority, employing workers not registered with a health insurance agency, and failure to report overtime. Nonsafety violations of labor law were most common in the hospitality sector.

There were reports of employees working in the informal sector without labor protections. Nonpayment of wages and wage arrearages as well as nonpayment for overtime and holiday work were problems. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty of up to three years in prison for convicted employers. The law, however, exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees in order to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs. During 2016 inspectors identified 5,138 persons who were not paid the minimum wage by their employers; the employers were fined. During the same period, municipal prosecutors initiated 133 criminal proceedings against employers.

Of 35,723 inspections in 2016, 8,149 inspections involved work safety standards that prompted 1,997 orders for implementing measures proscribed by the labor law, particularly in the construction sector. The inspectors issued 267 misdemeanors and 738 fines totaling 7,748,000 kuna ($1.23 million) for various violations of safety standards.

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 postponed October municipal elections due to recovery efforts related to Hurricane Irma but conducted them in November, although they were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates.

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

The most significant human rights issues included torture of perceived political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; politically motivated, sometimes violent, detentions and arrests; a complete absence of judicial independence; arbitrary arrest and detention that was politically motivated and sometimes violent; trial processes that effectively put the burden on the defendant to prove innocence; and political prisoners. There was arbitrary interference with privacy, including search-and-seizure operations in homes and monitoring and censoring private communications. Freedom of expression was limited to expression that “conforms to the goals of socialist society,” with strict censorship punishing even distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There were bans on importation of informational materials; strict control of all forms of media; restrictions on the internet, including severely limiting availability and site blocking; restrictions on academic freedom, including punishment for any deviation from the government line; criminalization of criticism of government leaders; and severe limitations on academic and cultural freedom, including on library access. There were restrictions on rights of assembly to those that the government deemed to be “against the existence and objectives of the socialist state”; criminalization of gatherings of three or more not authorized by the government, and use of government-organized acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; restriction of participation in the political process to those approved by the government; official corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; compulsory labor; and trafficking in persons.

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 long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities, but there were several reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions.

On October 23, police detained civil society activist Roberto Jimenez, a leader of the youth organization Active Youth, United Cuba, along with Cesar Ivan Mendoza Regal. Authorities did not permit Jimenez to contact family or friends during his 16-day detention and reportedly beat him and refused to tell him where he was being held. The international human rights organization Freedom House publicized Mendoza and Jimenez’s case and called on the government to provide information about their status. Authorities released Jimenez on November 8 after charging him for “illicit association, meetings, and protest,” a crime that can carry a three- to 12-month sentence. In the case of Mendoza, although no longer incommunicado, his family was still unaware of any charges brought against him more than two months after his detention.

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, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse 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.).

State security forces held graffiti artist and political dissident Danilo Maldonado from November 26, 2016 to January 21 for spray-painting “se fue” (he’s gone) on a building the night of Fidel Castro’s death. According to Maldonado, prison authorities stripped him naked and held him in solitary confinement on International Human Rights Day, laced his food with sedatives, beat and gagged him on at least one occasion, and perpetuated a rumor that he would be shot and killed in a staged escape attempt. He said authorities moved him to six different prisons over the eight-week period to make it difficult for his family and girlfriend to visit him; routinely cancelled, denied, or changed visits; and did not provide adequate medical treatment.

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, including prisons, 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 some food and medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and nongovernmental organizations (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 prisoner deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners were held jointly with the general prison population. 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, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and 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: 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 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; the Roman Catholic Church also engaged in a prison chaplain program. Persons of other faiths were also allowed to practice their religion. 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.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. Nevertheless, arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. Challenges of arrests or detentions were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to be politically motivated.

By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out search-and-seizure operations. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “report 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 frequently not 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 NGO Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) counted more than 4,800 detentions through November, compared with 9,940 in all of 2016. Members of the Todos Marchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In March the largest human rights and political opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), published a list of 54 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for crimes such as contempt, “precriminal dangerousness,” failure to pay fines, and assault. According to UNPACU these individuals were in prison because they participated in peaceful protests and assemblies or otherwise defied the government.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “precriminal 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. Multiple domestic human rights organizations published lists of persons they considered political prisoners, and at least five individuals appearing on these lists remained imprisoned under the “precriminal dangerousness” provision of the law as of December.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the 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 these units by carrying out search-and-seizure operations of homes and headquarters of human rights organizations, 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 “acts of repudiation” 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.). In August the human rights group Estado de SATS leaked a video of First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel giving a lecture in February to CP leadership during which he instructed party members to use such “acts of repudiation” as a tool to silence members of civil society who attempt to criticize the government during public forums or town hall events.

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 initial 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, allowing them to contact family members, 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.

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 some observers to trials during the year. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are active or former members of the military, police, or other law enforcement agency.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for 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 concluded quickly and were closed to the press.

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. The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. Privately hired attorneys were often reluctant to defend individuals charged with political crimes or associated with human rights cases. 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. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials for non-Spanish speakers, but the government claimed that limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

In trials where defendants are charged with “precriminal 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 hold political prisoners, but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The exact number of political prisoners was difficult to determine, though independent human rights organizations estimated there were 65 to 100 political prisoners. The government continued to deny holding any political prisoners and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations. This lack of governmental transparency, along with 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 “precriminal dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not publicize those numbers. The government closely monitored organizations tracking political prisoner populations, which often faced harassment from state police.

On March 20, authorities sentenced Eduardo Cardet, director of the human rights organization Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), to three years in prison for assaulting a police officer. Amnesty International called Cardet a prisoner of conscience and stated that he was arrested because he spoke critically of Fidel Castro and the government. According to MCL and witness reports, authorities quickly and violently restrained Cardet after stopping him on his bicycle. Authorities claimed that Cardet shoved one of the officers when they stopped him. Cardet’s arrest took place five days after the death of Fidel Castro and two days after Cardet criticized the forced period of mourning, the prohibitions on music and alcohol, and other government actions during a radio interview with a Spanish news organization.

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

It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, but 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.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In November 2016 the government passed a regulation governing the process by which nonprofit organizations, including religious organizations, may petition to reclaim property confiscated by the government at the beginning of the revolution. It was unclear if any organizations applied this procedure to reclaim property during the year.

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.

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 left international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits. Family members of human rights defenders, including their minor children, reportedly suffered reprisals related to the activities of their relatives. These reprisals included reduced salaries and termination of employment, denial of acceptance into university, expulsion from university, and other forms of harassment.

On April 11, the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled university professor Dalila Rodriguez Gonzalez for having “a social and ethical attitude that undermines the teaching process and the instruction of students.” According to Rodriguez, university authorities did not tell her what specific attitude or behavior was inappropriate and did not offer her the opportunity to defend herself or appeal the decision. Rodriguez stated she believed authorities expelled her, in part, because her father was a human rights defender.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the 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 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.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

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 the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: 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. 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 barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

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 Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 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 sometimes resulted 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 cell 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 April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

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 access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email 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 in order to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

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, 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 overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media 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.

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.

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.

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 were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL 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.

On August 19, more than 100 state security agents reportedly used force to break up a family-themed event organized by the political and human rights organization UNPACU. According to UNPACU president Jose Daniel Ferrer, approximately 50 activists, family members, and neighbors had gathered for a picnic on the banks of a river before authorities arrived and used violence and intimidation, including against minors, women, and elderly attendees, to disperse the gathering. Authorities reportedly severely beat five UNPACU members, with some suffering broken noses and at least one requiring stitches.

The government also continued to organize acts of repudiation 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 those assembled peacefully. 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 or 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.

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 or the CP. 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.

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.

Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they 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 clandestinely, commonly using homemade vessels). 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 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station, 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.

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 illegal Havana residents. Police threatened to prosecute 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.” Dissidents frequently reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes even though they had no written or formal restrictions placed against them.

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 many former political prisoners and human rights activists. It also used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists to leave the island to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. For example, the CCDHRN reported that authorities denied at least 12 human rights defenders permission to leave during August alone.

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 political parties other than 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 November municipal elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested. There were reports that a municipal-level electoral commission denied at least one candidate from competing in municipal elections because she lacked “commitment to the goals of the revolution.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions had to preapprove all candidates for office and rejected certain candidates without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government organized protests and town hall meetings to besmirch their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents. Numerous opposition candidates were physically prevented from presenting their candidacies or otherwise intimidated from participating in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women constituted 23 percent of the Council of Ministers, 42 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 senior 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 myriad economic restrictions and provision of government services. 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.

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, MCL, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.

No officially recognized NGOs monitored human rights. The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored or promoted human rights. 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, including the United Nations, its affiliate organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to prisoners and detainees. In September the United Nations issued a report describing Cuba as a country of concern related to intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

The UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons visited in April, and the UN independent expert on human rights and international solidarity visited in July. The government tightly controlled the visits of both UN experts, and neither representative met with independent individuals or organizations not approved by the government.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, and separately criminalizes “lascivious abuse” against both genders. The government enforced both laws. Penalties for rape are at least four years’ imprisonment.

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 range from fines to prison sentences of varying lengths, depending on the severity of the offense.

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.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

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.

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.

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.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Prostitution is legal for those age 16 and older. 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 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. Child trafficking across international borders is punishable with seven to 15 years’ imprisonment.

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 State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/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. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is in charge of the Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities. 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, 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.

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.

Throughout the year the government promoted the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including nonviolence and nondiscrimination, in regional and international fora. Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBTI rights and faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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 Central Union of Cuban Workers (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.

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. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC and purported to advocate for the rights of small-business owners and employees. Police reportedly harassed the independent unions and government agents reportedly infiltrated them, 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. The government deemed persons 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 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. The government enforced the laws, and the penalties appeared sufficient to deter violations.

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 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. Anti-truancy 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 346 such inspections of state-run and private sector enterprises from November 2016 through February. 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 farms during peak harvest time. Student participants did not receive pay but received school credit and favorable recommendations for 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 occurred with respect to 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 nonstate 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 700 CUP ($29) 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 vacation. These standards apply to state workers as well as to workers in the nonstate 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 few 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 and Social Security (MTSS) 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 MTSS enforced the minimum wage and hours-of-work standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to enforce occupational safety and health standards adequately. 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 weakened by corrupt practices.

According to government statistics, 567,982 workers (33 percent of whom were female) were self-employed at the end of June, a 5 percent increase from 2016. The percentage of the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent in 2012 to 29 percent at the end of 2016. The government maintained a list of fewer than 200 trades in which citizens were allowed to operate privately, including hiring labor. Self-employed and private sector workers obtained licenses by applying to the MTSS and were subject to inspection by the government. In August the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for certain activities in the lucrative hospitality sector. 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 or performed 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 via 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 MTSS 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 labor regulations common to most state and nonstate workers, and to some regulations specific to 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.

Official government reports cited 3,576 workplace accidents in 2016 (an increase of 92 compared with 2015) and 89 workplace deaths (an increase of 18 compared with 2015). The CTC provided only 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.

Cyprus

Executive Summary

The Republic of Cyprus is a constitutional republic and multiparty presidential democracy. In 2013 voters elected President Nicos Anastasiades in free and fair elections. In May 2016 voters elected 56 representatives to the 80-seat House of Representatives (Vouli Antiprosopon) in free and fair elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included instances of corruption, which the authorities investigated; and societal violence against members of minority ethnic and national groups.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses. There were no reports of impunity during the year.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports, however, that police engaged in abusive tactics and degrading treatment of suspects. Members of ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to be subjected to such treatment.

On September 5, the NGO Action for Equality, Support, and Antiracism (KISA) reported that a police officer brutalized a 60-year-old Turkish citizen on August 31, when he crossed the Ledra Palace checkpoint on his bicycle without showing a valid entry visa. KISA claimed the incident occurred in front of citizens who urged police to stop. The beating allegedly continued inside a police station in view of another officer who did nothing to stop it. KISA reported the incident to the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints against Police, and the authority investigated the complaint and recommended the criminal prosecution of the officer. The Office of the Attorney General ordered the officer’s criminal prosecution and rejected a police request for criminal prosecution of the complainant for resisting arrest and causing bodily harm to a police officer. The complainant remained in custody until the completion of the investigation and was deported to Turkey on October 7.

During the year the ombudsman, who also acts as the country’s national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, received “a small number” of complaints of mistreatment and discriminatory and degrading behavior, including complaints of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, from inmates in the Central Prison and in detention centers. The ombudsman reported that most of the complaints were not sufficiently substantiated. Overall, the ombudsman established improvement in the treatment of prisoners and detainees in the Central Prison and in detention centers.

KISA reported that police sometimes used violence to suppress detainees’ protests in the Mennoyia Detention Center. Following a January 2016 visit to the country, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture stated that it still faced several problems, particularly regarding the independent monitoring of places of detention and the treatment of migrants.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions, including detention centers for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, did not sufficiently meet international standards, and prison overcrowding was a problem. Nicosia Central Prison, the only prison in the Republic of Cyprus, and all detention centers are operated by the government. In addition to Mennoyia Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants and the Central Prison, there are seven detention facilities suitable for over 24 hours of detention in the Republic of Cyprus. There are also holding cells in police stations for short-term detention.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued to be a problem for the male wing of Nicosia Central Prison, but to a lesser extent than in previous years. In 2016 the prison’s official capacity was 528; the maximum number of inmates held during the year was 624. In December 2016 a new wing for female prisoners was opened which has resolved the problem of overcrowding of female prisoners.

Prison authorities held juvenile pretrial detainees in cells separate from convicted juveniles, but the two groups shared the same grounds in their daily activities. Authorities reportedly held migrants detained on deportation orders together with detainees charged with criminal offenses in nearly all police stations. Such detentions are limited to a maximum of 48 hours.

During the year the ombudsman reported a further reduction in the number of migrant detainees in detention centers as a result of a policy instituted in 2015 to transfer them to the Mennoyia Detention Center within 48 hours. The Ministry of Justice reported that it runs a substitution program for drug addicts at the Central Prison, which is based on World Health Organization recommendations.

Approximately 44 percent of prisoners in the Central Prison were non-Cypriots convicted for criminal offenses. They were convicted for immigration and drug-related offenses, thefts, sexual offenses, and road accidents.

The ombudsman reported a further reduction in the number of detainees at Mennoyia Detention Center during the year but noted that there were still some rare cases of migrants and asylum seekers detained for deportation purposes for periods longer than the stated government policy, although there was no prospect they would be deported. A considerable number of detainees at Mennoyia Detention Center were awaiting a decision on their request for international protection or for adjudication of their appeals against the rejection of their asylum applications. Unlike in previous years, the ombudsman and NGOs did not encounter cases of detainees deported before final adjudication of their asylum applications. In previous years the ombudsman intervened and prevented some of the deportations. In a February 2016 report, the ombudsman warned that deportation of asylum seekers while court proceedings were still pending could amount to violation of the principle of nonrefoulement, which could bring into question the legality of the deportation order and detention.

Administration: Detention centers did not have facilities for religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits, unrestricted and unannounced, occurred during the year. The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CTP) visited the Central Prison in February. The House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Education and Culture also visited the prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police enforce the law and combat criminal activity. The Cyprus National Guard, backed by a contingent of Greek military forces, the Hellenic Force in Cyprus, protects national security. The National Guard reports to the Ministry of Defense, which reports to the president, while police report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Order. The president appoints the chief of police.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the National Guard, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity during the year.

In June 2016 a police officer and his wife were shot and killed and a second officer was seriously injured in a mafia-style shooting while dining at an Ayia Napa resort restaurant with a local businessman rumored to be a major crime lord, who was also killed. Acting on findings of a criminal investigation into possible police complicity and case file mismanagement, on May 4, the attorney general ordered the criminal prosecution of the deputy police chief for leaking confidential information related to the case to the press. Seven other police officers and a prison warden faced disciplinary action in the absence of evidence to support their criminal prosecution. The deputy police chief was fired from the police force. His trial began on July 3.

From July to October, the attorney general ordered the criminal prosecution of police officers in six cases. From January to October, the police investigated 34 criminal cases against members of the police force.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicially issued arrest warrants, and authorities respected this requirement. Authorities may not detain a person for more than one day without referral of the case to a court for extension of detention. Most periods of investigative detention did not exceed 10 days before the filing of formal charges. Detainees were promptly informed of the charges against them, and the charges were presented in a language they could understand. The attorney general made efforts to minimize pretrial detention, especially in cases of serious crimes.

While attorneys generally had access to detainees, the CPT noted in a 2014 report that persons apprehended by police were usually able to speak in private with an ex officio lawyer only at the time of their first court appearance. In criminal cases the state provides indigent detainees with an attorney. To qualify for free legal aid, however, detainees require a court decision, based on their financial need, before a lawyer is assigned. In its report the CPT noted this system inevitably delayed detainees’ access to a lawyer.

There is a system of bail. The government claimed the right to deport foreign nationals for reasons of public interest, regardless of whether criminal charges had been filed against them or they had been convicted of a crime. Trial delays were common and partially caused by lengthy legal procedures, which caused a larger workload for the courts.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court to challenge the legal basis and length of their detention or for a writ of habeas corpus. If the application is successful, authorities should immediately release the detainee. NGOs reported a number of cases, however, of rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants who successfully challenged their detention before the Supreme Court, but the administration immediately issued new detention orders and rearrested them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

On March 1, the former deputy attorney general was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for conspiring to pervert the course of justice while in office. In 2015 the Supreme Court ordered his dismissal for conduct unbecoming a public official.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to appeal. Officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The constitution provides for fair and public trials without undue delay, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provide an attorney for defendants who are unable to afford one, and defendants are allowed adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities provided free interpretation as necessary through all stages of the trial. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present evidence or witnesses on their behalf. The government generally respected the above rights and provided them to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, permitting claimants to bring lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations, and citizens used this procedure. Individuals could appeal cases involving alleged human rights violations by the state to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) once they exhausted all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

According to the law, the minister of interior is the guardian of the properties of Turkish Cypriots who have not had permanent residence in the government-controlled area since 1974. Ownership remains with the original owner, but the sale or transfer of Turkish Cypriot property under the guardianship of the minister requires the approval of the government. The minister has the authority to return properties to Turkish Cypriot applicants after examining the circumstances of each case. Owners can appeal the minister’s decisions to the Administrative Court.

During the year Turkish Cypriots filed seven court cases seeking to reclaim property located in the government-controlled area, including one filed with the Administrative Court. The Administrative Court issued one decision accepting the application of the owner against the guardian’s decision to place the property under guardianship law. The court annulled the guardian’s decision.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In national elections only Turkish Cypriots who resided permanently in the government-controlled area were permitted to vote and run for office. In elections for the European Parliament, Cypriot citizens, resident EU citizens, and Turkish Cypriots who lived in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and run for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2016 the country held free and fair elections for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives. In 2013 voters elected Nicos Anastasiades president in free and fair elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. There was one woman in the 11-seat Council of Ministers and 10 women in the 56-seat House of Representatives.

In 2014 some Turkish Cypriots complained that problems in the electoral roll disenfranchised a number of Turkish Cypriot voters. A law enacted in 2014 automatically registered all adult Turkish Cypriot holders of a government identity card who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots in the electoral roll for the European Parliament elections. Turkish Cypriots not residing in that area needed to apply for registration in the electoral roll, as did all other citizens. The government did not automatically register an unspecified number of Turkish Cypriots residing in the north because they were incorrectly listed in the official civil registry as residents of the government-controlled area.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, which vary depending on the charges, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government generally investigated and prosecuted cases of corruption.

Corruption: During the year the government initiated several investigations against public officials on suspicion of corruption. In August and September, police arrested 14 individuals in connection with possible fraud in the implementation of 23 multimillion euro ($27 million), EU cofunded research programs by the state-owned Cyprus University of Technology and the University of Cyprus. Police were investigating embezzlement and whether the funds went to relatives of university staff without completing the projects.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, members of the Council of Ministers, and members of parliament to declare their income and assets. The publication of their declarations is obligatory. There are no specific sanctions for noncompliance. Spouses and children of the same officials are required to declare their assets but the publication of their declarations is prohibited. Other public officials are not required to declare their assets.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison for violations. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of violence against women, including spousal abuse, and the number of cases reportedly increased in recent years. The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence and provides for the imprisonment of persons found guilty of abusing family members. A court can issue a same-day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic-violence offenders.

Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs noted, however, that police dismissed claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): While the practice was not a problem locally, the government received and granted asylum applications from migrant women subjected to FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides a penalty of up to six months in prison and/or a 12,000 euro ($14,440) fine. The ombudsman and NGOs reported that authorities did not investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment was reportedly a widespread problem.The office of the ombudsman provided training to police, social workers, health care providers, teachers, prosecutors, labor and immigration service personnel, and journalists.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires equal pay for equal work or work of equal value. The government generally enforced these laws. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as hiring, career advancement, conditions of employment, and pay.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, and there was universal registration at the time of birth.

Child Abuse: From January to October 15, police investigated 134 cases of child abuse, 47 of which were filed in court.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18, but persons between the ages of 16 and 18 may marry, provided there are serious reasons justifying the marriage and their legal guardians provide written consent. A district court can also allow the marriage of persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if the parents unjustifiably refuse consent or in the absence of legal guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and engaging in or promoting a child in any form of sexual activity. The penalty for violations is up to life in prison. Authorities enforced these laws. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child between the ages of 13 and 17 is a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child under 13 is up to life in prison.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 3,000 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israeli, British, and other Jews.

There were reports of verbal harassment of members of the Jewish community along with incidents of property damage.

Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue in the Republic of Cyprus. Since 2009 the country has included International Holocaust Remembrance Day among important historical events observed in public secondary schools and regularly organizes teacher and student participation in Holocaust-related lectures, cultural events, and projects. This year the Honorary President of the Greek-Jewish Association of Holocaust Survivors gave lectures to secondary education teachers and students at the Ministry of Education (MOE) in cooperation with the Embassy of Israel. Teachers and MOE officials also participated in an educational visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem.

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, or in the provision of other state services. The law provides persons with disabilities the right to participate effectively and fully in political and public life, including by exercising their right to vote and to stand for election. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Problems facing persons with disabilities included access to natural and constructed environments, transportation, information, and communications.

The state provided facilities to enable children with disabilities to attend all levels of education. The MOE has adopted a code of good practices, prepared in collaboration with the ombudsman, regarding attendance of students with disabilities in special units of public schools. Authorities provided a personal assistant for students with disabilities attending public schools but not private ones.

In a March 13 report assessing the 2016 deinstitutionalization program for persons with mental disabilities, the ombudsman noted that authorities failed to handle effectively matters related to the rights, needs, and abilities of these persons, and did not meet the main objective, which was the enjoyment of the right of independent living within society.

The Cyprus Paraplegics Organization reported that several public buildings were still not accessible to wheelchair users

The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Observers did not consider fines for violating the law against employment discrimination sufficient to deter employers from discriminating against persons with disabilities (see also section 7.d.).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minority groups in the government-controlled area of Cyprus included Latins, Maronites, Armenians, and Roma. Although legally considered one of the two main communities of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots constituted a relatively small proportion of the population in the government-controlled areas and experienced discrimination.

There were incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots as well as some incidents of verbal abuse or discrimination against non-Greek Cypriots. On April 14, a married Turkish Cypriot couple driving a car with Turkish Cypriot license plates were forced off the road by a taxi and another vehicle bearing Republic of Cyprus Cypriot plates. The Greek Cypriot drivers of the two vehicles beat the husband and caused damage to the couple’s car. The victims reported the attack to police. A police investigation is ongoing.

The MOE applied a code of conduct against racism in schools that provided schools and teachers with a detailed plan on handling, preventing, and reporting racist incidents.

On May 12, CERD reported that the Romani community continued to face discrimination and stigmatization as well as challenges such as low school attendance and high dropout rates of Romani children, difficulty accessing adequate housing, unemployment, and racist attacks. The 2014 EU Roma Health Report  (PDF 2 MB) also noted that the Romani population faced difficulty obtaining housing, education, and employment.

In 2015 the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities noted incidents of racial prejudice against Romani and migrant children in schools and of Greek Cypriot parents removing their children from certain schools where there were a large number of non-Greek Cypriot students.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints that the government delayed approval of citizenship to children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Antidiscrimination laws cover employment and the following activities in the public and private domain: social protection, social insurance, social benefits, health care, education, participation in unions and professional organizations, and access to goods and services. An LGBTI NGO noted in February that equality and antidiscrimination legislation remained fragmented and failed to adequately address discrimination against LGBTI persons. NGOs dealing with LGBTI matters claimed that housing benefits favored “traditional” families. Hate crime laws criminalize incitement to hatred or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite legal protections, LGBTI individuals faced significant societal discrimination. As a result, many LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor did they report homophobic violence or discrimination. There were reports of employment discrimination against LGBTI applicants (see section 7.d.).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The president of the HIV-Positive Persons Support Center stated that HIV-positive persons faced prejudice from society and their own families, largely due to lack of public awareness. She also claimed that raising public awareness of this problem was low in the government’s priorities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including supporting statutes and regulations, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively with employers. Antiunion discrimination is illegal. Dismissal for union activity is illegal with reinstatement, a fine, compensation options, or all three, if the courts find the dismissal illegal. The law excludes essential services personnel from joining unions and striking. Police officers could form associations that had the right to bargain collectively.

Authorities have the power to curtail strikes in essential services defined by the law as the armed forces, police, and gendarmerie. An agreement between the government and essential services personnel provides for dispute resolution and protects workers in the sector.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources and investigations were adequate in the formal sector. Penalties require payment of pecuniary damages and compensation, but unions did not consider them sufficient to deter violations. Administrative procedures were efficient and immediate, but judicial procedures were subject to delays due to a backlog.

The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and employers generally respected the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Although collective agreements are not legally binding, employers and employees effectively observed their terms. Workers covered by such agreements were predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, the health industry, and manufacturing.

Private sector employers were able to discourage union activity in isolated cases because of sporadic enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination and the implicit threat of arbitrary dismissal for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor occurred. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Inspections of the agricultural and domestic service sectors remained inadequate, and resources at the Department of Labor Inspections within the Ministry of Labor were insufficient. The maximum penalty is six years’ imprisonment for forced labor of adults and 10 years’ imprisonment for forced labor of minors, but actual penalties imposed were not sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred primarily in the agriculture sector. Police investigated cases of forced labor among men and women working on farms. Foreign migrant workers, children, and asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable. Employers forced foreign workers, primarily from Eastern Europe and East and South Asia, to work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for very low wages and in unsuitable living conditions. In 2016 police identified two victims of labor trafficking. Employers often retained a portion of foreign workers’ salaries as payment for accommodations. There have been isolated cases of Romani parents forcing their children to beg.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children, defined as persons under the age of 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who are at least 14 or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to rules limiting work hours. The law prohibits night work and street trading by children. The law also permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons between the ages of 15 and 18, provided it is not harmful, damaging, or dangerous and subject to rules limiting hours of employment. The law prohibits employment of adolescents between midnight and 4 a.m. The minimum age for employment in industrial work is 16.

The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and did so effectively. The Social Welfare Services Department of the ministry and the commissioner for the rights of the child could also investigate suspected cases of exploitation of children at work. Employment of children in violation of the law is punishable by penalties, which were sufficient to deter violations. There were isolated examples of children under the age of 16 working for family businesses.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit direct or indirect discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, national origin or citizenship, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or regulations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and HIV-positive status. Penalties provided by the law were sufficient to deter violations.

A survey published in the International Journal of Manpower in 2014 suggested that despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s enforcement of the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women was ineffective. Eurostat data released in October indicated that the average pay gap between men and women was 14 percent in 2015. The ombudsman reported receiving 19 complaints related to gender discrimination in the workplace, particularly against pregnant women who were not promoted or were dismissed from employment, as well as complaints relating to additional leave for breastfeeding and mothers achieving a work-life balance.

A survey published in the International Journal of Manpower in 2014 suggested that LGBTI job applicants faced significant bias compared with heterosexual applicants. The survey found that gay male applicants, who made their sexual orientation clear on their job application, were 39 percent less likely to get a job interview than equivalent male applicants who did not identify themselves as gay. Employers were 42.7 percent less likely to grant a job interview to openly lesbian applicants than to equivalent heterosexual female applicants.

Discrimination against Romani migrant workers occurred. Turkish Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although there is no national minimum wage, there is a minimum wage for groups deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The minimum wage for shop assistants, clerks, assistant baby and child minders, health care workers, security guards, cleaners of business/corporate premises, and nursery assistants was 870 euros ($1,044) per month for the first six months and 924 euros ($1,109) per month thereafter.

The official poverty income level is set at 60 percent of the national median equalized disposable income, as per the EU commonly agreed definition. In 2015 (the latest estimate available) the official poverty income level was 8,276 euros ($9,931) per year for a single person and for a household of two adults with two dependent children it was 17,380 euros ($20,856).

Collective bargaining agreements covered workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the minimum wage for specific occupations.

Foreign workers were able to claim pensions, and some bilateral agreements allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not actively do so.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, including overtime. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods. The law stipulates that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. The Department of Labor Relations within the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing these laws. Labor unions, however, reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in the construction industry, exploited undocumented foreign workers by paying them very low wages. The penalty for violating the law was sufficient to deter violations. The court may order the employer to pay the employee back wages.

The law protects foreign domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from deportation until their cases have been adjudicated. The Department of Labor Relations reported that from January to June, it received 289 complaints from migrant workers against their employers; 221 were submitted by domestic workers. The department examined 226 of the complaints. Of those, 209 were resolved by both sides signing a release agreement which gave the worker the opportunity to seek employment with another employer, while eight cases were resolved with the voluntary return of the worker to the employer on mutually agreed terms. In nine cases the workers chose to return home. A total of 56 cases were referred to the Labor Disputes Committee for Migrants from Third Countries for examination. The ministry reported that most disputes were resolved with an amicable solution.

NGOs reported many foreign domestic workers remained reluctant to report contract violations by their employers due to fear of losing their jobs and, consequently, their work and residency permits. The ombudsman and NGOs reported that both the ineffective investigation of sexual harassment and violence, and the mismanagement of complaints submitted by domestic workers to the Department of Labor discouraged domestic workers from submitting complaints. They reported authorities treated sexual harassment complaints by foreign domestic workers merely as requests for a change of employer. The victims were allowed routinely to change employers, but sexual harassment complaints rarely were examined. The ombudsman reported that it did not receive sexual harassment complaints by foreign domestic workers but continued to monitor the issue closely because the unclear status of employment of this vulnerable group of employees could lead to nonapplication of the sexual harassment legal framework. The Department of Labor reported that it received five sexual harassment complaints from foreign domestic workers. Three of them withdrew their complaint after the employer agreed to release them from their contract and were free to change employer. The department was investigating the remaining two complaints.

The Department of Labor Inspection in the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. Authorities enforced health and safety laws satisfactorily in the formal sector but not in the informal sector. Labor unions stated that more work was required to protect undocumented workers. The penalty for failing to comply with work safety and health laws was up to four years’ imprisonment, a fine not to exceed 80,000 euros ($96,000), or both. From January to October, authorities prosecuted 12 persons for violations.

The number of inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labor was not sufficient to provide for enforcement of labor laws in the agricultural sector and in the informal economy where the majority of employees are migrant workers and undocumented workers. The Department of Labor Relations, on the other hand, carried out its own inspections to assure that employers abide by other labor laws. Inspectors were not allowed to inspect private households where persons were employed as domestic workers without a court warrant.

From January to June, there were no fatalities in work-related accidents. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and the senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition. On October 20 to 21, the country held parliamentary elections. In 2013 voters elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s first direct presidential election. Observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included societal violence against Romani persons, which the authorities investigated and prosecuted.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

High prison populations and overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions in some prisons, cases of mistreatment of inmates, and generally unsatisfactory conditions for inmates with physical or mental disabilities remained the main concerns during the year.

The situation in migrant detention facilities improved significantly during the year as the number of migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia entering the country significantly decreased. Children stayed with their families in one detention facility for irregular migrants but were able to leave the facility accompanied by staff.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. While an amnesty in 2013 temporarily relieved overcrowding, it did not improve services to prisoners, since the government cut prison staff proportionally. Facilities for prisoners serving their sentences were at almost 103 percent of capacity in the first seven months of the year in prisons for men. There was no overcrowding in prisons for women.

According to the Czech Prison Service, there were 43 deaths in prisons and detention facilities in 2016, of which nine were suicides; 11 of the deaths were still under investigation.

The public defender of rights (ombudsperson) reported mistreatment of inmates in two prisons and generally unsatisfactory conditions of imprisonment for convicts with physical or mental disabilities. She also noted inadequate prison health care standards due to a lack of physicians motivated to work in prisons.

Prisoners had limited access to hot water, which posed sanitary problems.

Administration: The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made routine prison visits. On later visits, the ombudsperson reported that the conditions in the prisons noticeably improved.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups, such as the Helsinki Commission and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and by the media.

Improvements: During the year the Prison Service accepted the ombudsperson’s proposal to establish a transparent system for relocating convicts to prisons closer to their homes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police report to the Ministry of Interior and are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. The General Inspectorate of Security Forces (GIBS), which reports to the Office of the Prime Minister, oversees police, customs, fire fighters, and the prison service, and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct. The Ministry of Defense oversees the Army of the Czech Republic. Inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out “integrity tests,” or sting operations, to catch violators in action. In 2016 inspectors opened proceedings in 247 cases nationwide. Authorities reported that police committed 170 crimes in 2016, a decrease of 62 since 2015, while members of the prison service committed 44 crimes, an increase of 15. Customs officers committed 10 crimes, compared with 12 in 2015.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies. In the first six months of 2016, police investigated 19 cases of corruption, compared with 174 cases in 2015. The GIBS reported this was the lowest number of such crimes since 1994 and may reflect a shift of criminal activities to cyberspace. Police also investigated 51 public figures for abuse of power.

The Ministry of Interior has a police ombudsperson who serves as a mediator within the ministry. All public safety personnel employed by the ministry, including civilians, can approach the ombudsperson with suspicions of possible wrongdoing or improper activities. The ombudsperson focused primarily on prevention, transparency, and repression. In cases of suspected criminal misconduct, she forwards the case to the GIBS, which investigates police officers. The law requires the police ombudsperson to share all information about cases with the GIBS upon request, which led to privacy and confidentiality concerns.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of Interior, the GIBS, and the Army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases police use judicial warrants to arrest persons accused of criminal acts. Police may make arrests without a warrant when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, when they regard arrest as necessary to prevent further offenses or the destruction of evidence, to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders to move.

Police must refer persons arrested on a warrant to a court within 24 hours. A judge has an additional 24 hours to decide whether to continue to hold the individuals. For suspects arrested without a warrant, police have 48 hours to inform them of the reason for the arrest, question them, and either release them or refer them to a court, after which a judge must decide within 24 hours whether to charge them. Authorities may not hold detainees for a longer period without charge.

The law provides for bail except in cases of serious crimes or to prevent witness tampering. A defendant in a criminal case may request a lawyer immediately upon arrest. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government provides one. The court determines whether the government partially or fully covers attorneys’ fees. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons detained or arrested on criminal or other grounds were entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release/compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. In most instances, authorities respected court orders and carried out judicial decisions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence and the right to receive prompt and detailed information about the charges against them (with free interpretation as necessary). They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, the right to be present at their trial, and the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. They generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have a right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for a separate, independent judiciary in civil matters and for lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. Available remedies include monetary damages, equitable relief, and cessation of harmful conduct. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported increased coherence between criminal and civil procedures that simplified the process for victims, although remedies and relief still required a lengthy legal process and were difficult to obtain, particularly for members of disadvantaged groups, such as the Romani minority. Plaintiffs may appeal unfavorable rulings that involve alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights. Administrative remedies are also available.

The law recognizes children, persons with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, and victims of sexual and brutal crimes as the most vulnerable populations. It lists the rights of crime victims, such as to claim compensation and access to an attorney.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law provides for restitution of private property confiscated under the communist regime as well as restitution of, or compensation for, Jewish property seized during the Nazi era. Although it was still possible during the year to file claims for artwork confiscated by the Nazi regime, the claims period for other types of property had expired. The law allows for restitution and compensation for property of religious organizations, including Jewish religious communities, confiscated under the communist regime. Churches filed 7,671 claims for agricultural property and 2,172 claims for nonagricultural property. Churches are also to receive compensation of 59 billion korunas ($2.8 billion) for property that is not returnable. The law requires that the state pay compensation over a period of 30 years while simultaneously phasing out state subsidies for registered religious groups over a 17-year period.

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and local NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens, though outstanding claims remain. Some NGOs outside the country continued to push for more progress, particularly on the disposition of heirless property and complex cases involving non-Czech citizens.

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

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

In December 2016 the Prague Municipal Court overturned the acquittal of Jana Necasova, the wife and then chief of staff of former prime minister Petr Necas, as well as three military intelligence officers, on charges of corruption and unwarranted surveillance of Necas’ former wife. The case was pending at the Prague District Court.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 20 through 21, the country held parliamentary elections. In 2013 voters elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s first direct presidential election. Observers considered both elections free and fair, and there were no reports of any irregularities.

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

Roma participated in politics and were members of mainstream as well as Romani-specific political parties, although few of the country’s estimated 300,000 Roma were integrated into political life. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court justices. In the regional elections, Romani candidates had no success winning office. There were 59 Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. In April a Rom was appointed political deputy human rights minister.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. An offender may face up to twelve years in prison and property forfeiture. The government generally implemented the law effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In May 2016 the High Court in Prague found Marek Dalik, a lobbyist and former advisor to former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, guilty of corruption. The case concerned the government’s purchase of Pandur military armored vehicles from the Steyer Company. Dalik demanded an 18 million euro ($21.6 million) payment from Steyer officials in exchange for mediating the purchase. Dalik started his prison sentence in September 2016. Both Dalik and the supreme public prosecutor filed appeals to the Supreme Court, and in April the Supreme Court cancelled the verdict and returned the case to the High Court. In July the High Court pronounced a final sentence of five years in prison and 21.9 million koruna ($1 million) in fines.

Financial Disclosure: The law obliges legislators, members of the cabinet, and other selected public officials to declare their assets annually. The public can view the declarations on a website, but access remained difficult because it required a time-sensitive password issued by the official’s department. The information tended to be general and lacking in detail.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 15 years in prison for violations. The government effectively enforced these provisions.

NGOs noted in particular the underreporting of violence against women in immigrant communities, where victims often feared losing their immigration status. Some NGOs continued to offer increased social, legal, and psychological services to rape victims.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to three years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law limits to six months the total time, including extensions, a removal order can remain in effect. The Ministry of Interior reported that, in the first six months of the year, police removed 1,022 offenders from their homes.

The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other persons living in the household, especially children and seniors.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. Penalties for conviction may include fines, dismissal from work, or imprisonment for up to eight years. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced discrimination in the area of employment (see section 7.d.)

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain only the citizenship of their parents. Authorities registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: NGOs estimated that 40,000 children experienced some form of violence each year. According to police and the Ministry of Interior, there were 259 cases filed in the first six months of the year, including for sexual abuse and commercial sex exploitation. Nine children died due to abuse or mistreatment in 2016. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reported that in 2016 authorities removed 892 children from families and placed them in children’s homes due to abuse or mistreatment.

Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years in the case of the death of a child.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone under 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years or up to 18 years in the case of the death of the child. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of up to 16 years’ imprisonment for violations. These laws are effectively enforced. There were reports of children subjected to sex trafficking in the commercial sex industry.

In addition to strict punishments, the Ministry of Interior combats sexual exploitation of minors through seminars and lectures at schools and programs on public radio and television.

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 country’s Jewish population numbered approximately 10,000. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well-organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active around the country. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of such groups, increase cooperation with police from neighboring countries, and shut down unauthorized rallies.

In 2016 the Ministry of Interior recorded 28 criminal offenses with anti-Semitic motives compared with 47 in 2015. A well-known anti-Semitic blogger continued his internet postings, including statements denying the Holocaust. In March he was sentenced to one year in prison with a two-year probation for incitement to hatred.

The Ministry of Culture designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov (in Eastern Czech Republic) which was designated as a cultural monument in 2016. A foreign philanthropist led efforts to restore the cemetery, which the Nazis had destroyed and which was later turned into a public park. A local school director’s messages to parents, which mischaracterized the proposed restoration, alarmed them and led to 10 percent of the city’s voters signing a petition against the project. The local mayor supported the petition, claiming the park provided needed access to a nearby school and residential parking. Soon thereafter, anti-Semitic hate speech appeared in social media and a local tabloid characterized the dispute as an orthodox Jewish attack on the city. Prime Minister Sobotka appointed his chief advisor, Vladimir Spidla, to mediate the dispute. In April a group of minors vandalized a symbolic tombstone of Rabbi Zvi Horowitz at Prostejov Cemetery; the case was dismissed due to the age of the perpetrators.

The government had an antiextremism strategy emphasizing prevention and education to combat hostility and discrimination toward the Romani community as well as address anti-Semitism and Holocaust education.

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. The government generally enforced these provisions. Nevertheless, persons with disabilities faced a shortage of public accommodations and were unemployed at disproportionately high rates. Most children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities.

According to the law, only children with significant disabilities should attend special schools with specially trained teachers.

The ombudsperson is required to make regular visits to all governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson’s office conducted such visits throughout the year. According to a report by the Ministry for Human Rights, during 2016 government ministries were not complying with the law that requires 4 percent of the staff of companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to be persons with physical disabilities. Only four of 25 government ministries and their branches met the requirement. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council criticized.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In the first half of the year, the Ministry of Interior reported 95 extremists were charged with criminal acts of violence or instigation of violence against national minorities, most often Roma. The authorities indicted 92 individuals.

The approximately 300,000 Roma in the country faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing and have high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy.

In early 2016 a Romani NGO filed more than 10 criminal complaints against several social media sites for hate speech that targeted Roma and other minorities. The Prague 1 District Public Prosecution Office and police investigators opened investigations into four such cases; the cases are pending. According to the Ministry of Interior, Roma were the victims of 25 criminal acts in 2016, compared with 33 in 2015.

In June the Czech Constitutional Court rejected a complaint filed by the town of Vsetin over its protracted dispute with Roma whom it evicted and forced to take up residence outside of the Zlin Region. The Romani evictees were seeking compensation from the town. The case was pending.

A white supremacist webpage registered outside the country listed the names and addresses of Romani activists and several high-profile individuals who either worked on Romani issues or expressed support for Roma in the past.

Only 24.3 percent of Romani children attended mainstream elementary school. The remaining Romani children attended special schools, which effectively segregated them into a substandard educational system.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in “excluded localities” or ghettos. According to a 2015 report by the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs, the number of ghettos doubled to 606 since 2006, and their population grew from 80,000 to 115,000.

While the law prohibits housing discrimination based on ethnicity, NGOs stated that some municipalities discriminated against certain socially disadvantaged groups, primarily Roma, basing their decisions not to supply housing on the allegedly bad reputation of Romani applicants from previous residences.

The Agency for Social Inclusion is responsible for implementing the government’s strategy to combat social exclusion, mainly among the Romani population. The minister for human rights and the minister for labor and social affairs made public statements in support of socially disadvantaged groups, in particular Roma, and advocated policies favorable to them within the government.

In July the owners of a controversial pig farm located on the site of a WWII Roma concentration camp in Lety announced that they had come to an agreement with the government to sell the farm for an undisclosed sum. According to the Ministry of Culture, the Museum of Roma Culture will build a memorial on the site.

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

The country has antidiscrimination laws that cover sexual orientation. In its report published in 2015, the European Commission against Racial Intolerance criticized the country for not having specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

NGO contacts reported the number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was very low. Local LGBTI activists stated that citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. The Czech AIDS Help Society reported a number of cases of discrimination, primarily in access to health and dental care, and wrongful termination of employment or discrimination during the hiring process. The government took no action in most cases, since individuals with HIV/AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the anti-discrimination law, which contributes to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals.

Other Societal Violence and Discrimination

According to BIS (Security Intelligence Service) there were no violent anti-Muslim protests or demonstrations in 2016 or the first half of 2017. Anti-Muslim protests and sentiments largely shifted to social media. NGOs reported instances of hate speech related to migration. Some politicians, including the president, the deputy prime minister, members of parliament, senators, and local politicians across the political spectrum, used antimigrant rhetoric with Muslims the main target.

Although the government publicly condemned anti-Islamic rhetoric, President Zeman continued to criticize Islam, calling it a “religion of death, and Islamic anticivilization.”

NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Islamic attitudes, and several events promoting tolerance took place during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without authorization or excessive requirements. It permits them to conduct their activities without interference. The right to associate freely covers both citizens and foreign workers, but the latter generally did not join unions due to the often short-term nature of their employment or the lack of social interaction with employees who were citizens.

The law provides for collective bargaining. It prohibits antiunion discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal. Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercised this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors, including hospitals, electricity and water supply services, air traffic control, nuclear energy, and the oil and natural gas sector. Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form or join trade unions or strike. The scope for collective bargaining was limited for civil servants, whose wages were regulated by law. Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including nonmembers. When planning a strike, unions are required to inform employers in writing of the number of strikers and provide a list of the members of the strike committee or contact persons for negotiation. They must announce the strike at least three days in advance. While regulations entitle union members to conduct some union activities during work hours, they do not specify how much time workers may use for this purpose, leaving room for diverse interpretations on the part of employers.

The law protects union officials from dismissal by an employer during their term of union service and for 12 months after its completion. To dismiss a union official, an employer must seek prior consent from the employee’s unit within the union. If the union does not consent, a dismissal notice is invalid.

The government worked to enforce such laws effectively and permitted unions to conduct their activities without interference. Government resources for inspections and remediation were adequate, and legal penalties in the form of fines were sufficient to deter violations.

The Czech-Moravian Federation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) complained that, under the law, employers are not required to consult with unions on matters related to individual employees or to seek mutual agreement on some workplace problems, hurting the ability of employees of small enterprises to maintain union rights.

According to CMKOS, employer violations of the labor law and trade union rules continued during the year, following the trend of the previous several years. CMKOS reported a number of violations and cases of discrimination and unequal treatment, including employers raising administrative obstacles to collective bargaining; making unauthorized, unilateral wage changes; and threatening to dismiss employees who asserted their union rights, refused to terminate union activities, or attempted to form unions. Sometimes, employers formed “yellow,” employer-dominated trade unions to thwart collective bargaining by splitting unity and capacity of action of employees.

According to CMKOS, some employers forced employees to work without a regular work agreement during a “trial period,” paying them only a minimum wage with the remaining amount provided “under the table” or not paying wages on time in violation of the labor law. Nevertheless, proving a violation of the law was difficult. Employees, union as well as nonunion, were often unwilling to file formal complaints or testify against their employers due to fear of losing their jobs, having their wages reduced, or being moved to positions with poorer working conditions, regardless of the positive macroeconomics situation which includes low unemployment and a labor shortage. Employees would usually file complaints only if the employer stopped paying wages, their jobs were immediately threatened, or after a job loss.

CMKOS still reported cases of employers not allowing union members sufficient paid time off to fulfill their union responsibilities or pressuring union members to resign their employment to weaken the local union unit. There were cases of bullying of union officials, including unreasonable performance evaluation criteria, excessive monitoring of work performance, and being targeted for disciplinary action or reduced financial compensation based solely on union participation.

During the year labor unions most frequently used strike alerts and strikes to advance their goals. Strikes and strike alerts targeted wages, obstacles in collective bargaining, excessive overtime, premium pay for overtime, concerns about the closure of a business without a follow-on social program, including reasonable compensation for disadvantaged employees such as single parent employees, or intended layoffs.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. In the previous few years, inspections were more numerous and enforcing the law was more effective.

The government implemented legislation tightening regulation of potentially abusive labor agencies by raising requirements to enter the labor agency business, levying fines for illegal employment, and establishing limits on temporary employment of foreign nationals. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports that men and women, including migrant workers, were subjected to trafficking for forced labor, typically through debt bondage. The Ministry of Interior reported seven victims of forced labor in the first eight months of the year. Private labor agencies often used deceptive practices to recruit workers from abroad as well as from inside the country.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15. Employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 was subject to strict safety standards, limitations on hours of work, and the requirement that work not interfere with education.

The law permits children under 15 (or until completion of mandatory elementary education) to work only in certain areas: cultural and artistic activities, advertising, product promotion, and certain modelling and sport activities. A child under 15 may work only if he or she obtains a positive health assessment from a pediatrician and prior approval by the Labor Office. Work permits for children are issued for 12 months. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. The State Bureau for Labor Inspections (SBLI) effectively enforced these regulations. Penalties for infringement of these laws and regulations were sufficient to deter violations. During the year the SBLI did not report any child labor law violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit any kind of discrimination based on nationality, race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, disability, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, social status, or trade union membership. According to the 2015 analysis of socially excluded localities in the country conducted by the Gabal Analysis Company, unemployment within the Roma community was high, especially in socially excluded localities where it amounted to 80-85 percent. In the rest of the country, Romani unemployment was 39 percent, while among the non-Roma the rate was 3.3 percent.

In 2016 the SBLI conducted checks for unequal treatment and discrimination and imposed penalties violations of discrimination laws, mostly noncompliance with the requirement to employ a specific number of persons with disabilities, discrimination based on gender and age, or the publication of discriminatory job advertisements that were sufficient to deter violations. According to CMKOS, cases of labor discrimination usually involved gender pay gaps.

In 2016 women made up 44 percent of the nonagricultural workforce. Women’s salaries lagged behind those of men by approximately 24 percent.

Associations supporting HIV-positive individuals reported cases of discrimination. HIV-positive individuals are not legally obligated to report their diagnoses to their employer unless the diagnosis prevents them from executing their duties. Some employers dismissed HIV-positive employees due to prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

The government generally enforced the antidiscrimination laws involving employment effectively. According to the ombudsman’s report, discrimination occurred in job advertisements, which mentioned criteria such as age, gender, physical disability, and nationality. Employees were often unwilling to file formal complaints or testify against their employers due to fear of losing their jobs, having their wages reduced, or being transferred to positions with poorer working conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs establishes and enforces minimum wage standards. The minimum wage is above the “minimum subsistence cost,” which is defined as the minimum amount needed to satisfy the basic needs of a working-age adult for a month. Enforcement of the minimum wage was one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspections.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a break of at least 30 minutes during the standard eight-hour workday. Employees are entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual leave. Employers may require up to eight hours per week of overtime to meet increased demand but not more than 150 hours of overtime in a calendar year. Additional overtime is subject to the consent of the employee. The labor code requires premium pay for overtime that is equal to at least 125 percent of average earnings.

The government set occupational health and safety standards, which were appropriate for the country’s main industries. The labor code obliges an employer to provide safety and health protection in the workplace, maintain a safe and healthy work environment, and prevent health and safety risks.

SBLI inspectors conducted checks for compliance with the labor code and imposed penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. SBLI’s labor inspection plan focused on sectors where there were typically high-risk working conditions, such as construction, agriculture, and forestry.

The SBLI is responsible for combating illegal employment. Labor inspectors prioritized inspections for illicit employment in those sectors that were especially vulnerable to illegal employment, such as the lodging/catering, retail, warehousing and logistic centers, agricultural, forestry, and construction industries. Inspectors conducted numerous inspections in selected, seasonal businesses, including outdoor swimming parks, ski resorts, gasoline stations, and service stations. To strengthen the effectiveness of inspections, SBLI inspectors acted in conjunction with the Labor Office, the Social Insurance Bureau, the Licensing Office, foreign police, the Customs Office, and police.

Employers sometimes ignored standard work conditions requirements in situations involving migrant workers. More than 90 percent of migrant workers were Ukrainians, followed by Moldovans and Vietnamese. Migrant workers were most frequently employed in the construction industry and forestry. Many worked in the so-called shadow economy with no work permits and often faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions. Relatively unskilled foreign workers from less developed countries were sometimes dependent on temporary employment agencies to find and retain work. Migrants sometimes worked in substandard conditions and were subjected to undignified treatment by these agencies. Most commonly, salaries were paid to the agencies, which then garnished them, resulting in workers receiving subminimum wages, working overtime without proper compensation, or working without compensation. Since migrant workers seldom filed formal complaints of such abuses, authorities had few opportunities to intervene.

The SBLI effectively enforced health and safety standards. Laws requiring acceptable conditions of work cover all workers equally in all sectors. During the year the SBLI conducted checks focused on health and safety standards, primarily in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, agricultural, forestry, and heavy machine industries. The inspections occurred both proactively and in response to complaints. Authorities imposed penalties that were sufficient to deter violations.

In 2016 the number of registered injuries in the workplace increased by 1 percent from 2015. Fatal accidents decreased by 0.8 percent during 2016. The vast majority of workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the mining, transport, construction, warehousing, and processing industries. According to the SBLI, the most common causes of injuries or fatal incidents included underestimated risk, falls from height, irresponsible application of dangerous work procedures and techniques, unauthorized conduct and/or stay in hazardous zones, and failure to observe bans. Employees of small and medium-sized companies often declined to use protective gear even though their employer provided it.

Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and the SBLI aimed to enforce this standard consistently.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with democratic, parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is head of state. A prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party of a multiparty coalition, is head of government and presides over the cabinet, which is accountable to a unicameral parliament (Folketing). The kingdom includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous with similar political structures and legal rights. They manage most of their domestic affairs, while the central Danish government is responsible for constitutional matters, citizenship, monetary and currency matters, foreign relations, and defense and security policy. Observers deemed national elections in 2015 free and fair. In November 2016 the center-right Venstre Party formed a coalition government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of committing abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met established domestic and international standards. There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Women and men were held in the same institutions, but in separate wings. According to the Danish Institute of Human Rights (DIHR), authorities continued occasionally to hold pretrial detainees with convicted criminals and to detain minors older than 15 with adults.

Independent Monitoring: The parliamentary ombudsman functioned as a prison ombudsman as required. The government additionally permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and the media. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers, regularly received access to police headquarters, prisons, establishments for the detention of minors, asylum centers, and other detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintain internal security and, jointly with the Danish Immigration Service, is responsible for border enforcement at the country’s ports of entry. The Ministry of Justice oversees both services. The Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have responsibility for external security as well as some domestic security responsibilities, such as disaster response and maritime sovereignty enforcement. The Home Guard, a volunteer militia without constabulary powers under the Ministry of Defense, assisted the National Police in conducting border checks.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, the Danish Immigration Service, and the Armed Forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law allows police both to begin investigations and to make arrests on their own initiative based upon observed evidence or to enforce a court order following an indictment filed with the courts by public prosecutors.

The law mandates that Danish citizens and legal migrants taken into custody appear before a judge within 24 hours. The law requires police to make every effort to limit postarrest detention time to less than 12 hours. Authorities may hold irregular migrants up to 72 hours before bringing them before a judge or releasing them. During the 72-hour holding period, the National Police and the Danish Center for Human Trafficking can review an irregular migrant’s case to determine if the migrant is a victim of human trafficking. In addition the Ministry of Immigration and Integration can suspend the requirement for a 72-hour case review if the volume of asylum requests exceeds the ability of the government to complete reviews within 72 hours. Authorities can extend detention beyond 72 hours in cases where the migrant’s country of origin or identity cannot be positively verified to conduct additional research.

Authorities generally respected the right of detainees to a prompt judicial determination and informed them promptly of charges against them. There is no bail system; judges decide either to release detainees on their own recognizance or to keep them in detention until trial. A judge may authorize detention prior to trial only when authorities charge the detainee with a violation that could result in a prison sentence of more than 18 months or when the judge determines the detainee would seek to impede the investigation of the case, would be a flight risk, or would be likely to commit a new offense. The standard period of pretrial custody is up to four weeks, but a court order may further extend custody in four-week increments.

Arrested persons have the right to unsupervised visits with an attorney from the time police bring them to a police station. Police frequently delayed such access until the accused appeared in court for a remand hearing. The government provides counsel for those who cannot afford legal representation. Detainees have the right to inform their next of kin of their arrest, although authorities may deny this right if information about the detention could compromise the police investigation. Detainees have the right to obtain medical treatment, and authorities generally respected this right. Police may deny other forms of visitation, subject to a court appeal, but generally did not do so. While there were no known instances of authorities’ holding suspects incommunicado or placing them under house arrest, human rights observers expressed concern about the administrative use of solitary confinement in some cases, as well as a need to reduce the use and duration of remand custody while waiting for trial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A detainee has the right to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention during initial court hearing, typically in a district court. Both the detainee and prosecutor can appeal the district court’s decision to a court of appeal, the (regional) high court. If a defendant is acquitted after being taken into custody or if the prosecution withdraws its charges, the former detainee may apply for financial compensation within two months of the final court judgment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; a prompt and detailed notification of the charges against them; a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal one’s case.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. The complainant may also pursue an administrative resolution. The law provides that persons with “reasonable grounds” may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts. Human rights groups asserted the law’s requirement of “reasonable grounds” unjustly targeted asylum seekers, who as a group have fewer legal appeal channels than citizens or legal residents.

PROPERTY RESITUTION

The government reports that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities. The Law of Compensation to the Victims of the Occupation passed in 1945 provided a mechanism by which Danish citizens could be eligible to receive compensation and assistance regarding restitution. The related Compensation Council was decommissioned in 1996, and the mechanism for compensation was also repealed at that time. The Jewish Community in Denmark (Mosaiske) confirmed that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration were pending before authorities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but government audits released in May found instances of interception of private data and communication by the intelligence services without appropriate legal authorization (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws provide citizens, including those of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held free and fair parliamentary elections in 2015. There were no reports of abuses or electoral irregularities. The Faroe Islands held parliamentary elections in 2015, and Greenland did so in 2014. These elections were also considered to be free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reported cases of corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require public officials to disclose their personal finances. Government officials may not work on specific matters in which they, persons they represent, or persons with whom they have close relations have a personal or economic interest. Officials must inform their superiors of any possible conflicts of interest that might disqualify them.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women or men (the statute is gender neutral), including spousal rape, and domestic violence. Penalties for rape include imprisonment for up to 12 years. The government effectively prosecuted persons accused of rape.

Faroese law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 12 years. The law considers nonconsensual sex with a victim in a “helpless state” to be sexual abuse rather than rape. In certain instances it also reduces the level of penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage.

Greenlandic law criminalizes rape but reduces the penalty for rape and sexual violence within marriage. Persons convicted of rape in Greenland typically receive a prison sentence of 18 months.

In February, UN Women  reported approximately 32 percent of women in the kingdom experienced domestic violence in the course of their lifetime.

The government and NGOs operated 24-hour hotlines, counseling centers, and shelters for female survivors of violence. The royal family supported a variety of NGOs that worked to improve conditions and services at shelters and to assist families afflicted with domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides that authorities may order a perpetrator or an employer who allowed or failed to prevent an incident of harassment to pay monetary compensation to victims. The law considers it an unsafe labor condition and gives labor unions or the Equal Treatment Board the responsibility of to resolve it. The government enforced the law effectively. Beginning in January a Ministry of Justice directive permits the director of the National Police to issue expedited restraining orders against accused stalkers or harassers in order to protect their victims from further harassment.

A 2016 report from the Danish Labor Rights think-tank found that 5 percent of women reported being sexually harassed in the workplace during the previous year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Little discrimination was reported in employment, ownership and management of businesses, or access to credit, education, or housing.

Children

Birth Registration: Most children acquire citizenship from their parents. Stateless persons and certain persons born in the country to noncitizens may acquire citizenship by naturalization, provided, in most cases, that they apply for citizenship before their 21st birthday. The law requires medical practitioners to register promptly the births of children they deliver, and they generally did so.

Child Abuse: The National Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office actively investigated child abuse cases. In 2016 authorities in Denmark received 116 reports of rape involving a child 12 years and younger as well as 185 reports of sexual intercourse with a child 15 years and younger. In the same year, authorities received 178 reports of sexual relations with a child 12 years and younger and 137 reports of sexual relations with a child 15 years and younger.

In Greenland child abuse and neglect remained a significant problem. According to the DIHR’s most recent statistics, approximately 11 percent of sexual assaults in Greenland were committed against victims under the age of 15. A study by the Danish National Center for Social Research commissioned by the Greenlandic government and published in 2015 reported that every other woman and every third man experienced sexual contact with an adult before they turned 15.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government generally enforced these laws. In 2016 authorities prosecuted 133 cases of child pornography, up from 110 cases in 2015. The minimum age for consensual sexual activity is 15. The purchase of sexual services from a person under the age of 18 is illegal.

Displaced Children: The government considered refugees and migrants who were unaccompanied minors as vulnerable, and the law includes special rules regarding them. A personal representative is appointed for all unaccompanied children who seek asylum or who stay in the country without permission (see section 2.d.).

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Community (Mosaiske) estimated between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews lived in the country.

The Jewish Community called on police to investigate a possible case of incitement to hatred after a March sermon by an imam at the Masjid al-Faruq Mosque in a Copenhagen suburb posted on YouTube in May appeared to call for the killing of Jews. A translation of the Arabic transcript of the sermon included, “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.” Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg described the imam’s address as “horrible, antidemocratic, and abominable.”

In May, 17-year-old Natascha Colding-Olsen was sentenced to six-years’ incarceration for her role planning a terrorist attack against two schools, including a Jewish private school in Copenhagen. After an appeals process, in November her sentence was increased to eight years in prison. Charges against her alleged accomplice, a 24-year-old man who had recently returned from Syria, were dropped.

Representatives of Copenhagen’s Jewish community reported 22 anti-Semitic acts against Copenhagen’s Jewish community, its community center, or synagogue. The acts included one attempted murder, two cases of threats or intimidation, 17 cases of anti-Semitic slurs or language, and one case of vandalism (graffiti) and occurred despite increased police protection and physical security improvements.

During the year the government cooperated with the Jewish community to provide police protection for the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen as well as other locations of importance to the Jewish community. Jewish community leaders reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.

Concerns remained in the Jewish community regarding a growing movement to prohibit infant male circumcision. Some organizations and individuals, including members of parliament, continued to campaign to have the practice banned (see also section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

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 . It also mandates access by persons with disabilities to government buildings, education, information, and communications. The government enforced these provisions. The DIHR reported that the enforcement of antidiscrimination laws was well established for the workplace but less so in other areas, such as laws on accessibility, coercive measures in psychiatric treatment, self-determination, political participation, inclusion in the labor market, and equal access to healthcare. In addition outside the labor market there is no express prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

The DIHR reported that the practice of using of physical force and restraints during psychiatric treatment for periods in excess of 48 hours continued. According to Ministry of Health statistics from March, physical force or restraints were used on approximately 30 percent of patients undergoing psychiatric treatment in facilities.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs was generally not restricted, but some persons with disabilities reported problems in connection with elections, including ballots that were not accessible to blind persons or persons with mental disabilities. The country maintained a system of guardianship for persons considered incapable of managing their own affairs due to psychosocial or mental disabilities. Persons under guardianship who do not possess legal capacity have the right to vote in local and regional elections as well as elections to the European Parliament.

According to the DIHR, persons with disabilities in Greenland, including children, had limited access to support, including physical aids, counselling, educated professionals, and appropriate housing. Persons with severe disabilities were often placed in foster homes far from their families or relocated to Denmark because of lack of resources in Greenland.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The National Police reported that in 2016 race was a factor in 140 crimes. The government effectively investigated hate crimes and prosecuted the perpetrators.

Indigenous People

The law protects the rights of the indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, all of whom are Danish citizens and whose legal system seeks to accommodate their traditions. Through their elected internally autonomous government, they participated in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of energy, minerals, and other natural resources.

Indigenous Greenlandic people in Denmark remained undereducated, underrepresented in the workforce, overrepresented on welfare rolls, and more susceptible to suicide, homelessness, poverty, chronic health conditions including substance abuse, and sexual violence.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation. The law allows transgender persons to obtain official documents reflecting their new gender identity without requiring a diagnosis for a mental disorder or undergoing surgery.

The law allows individuals to determine their gender, but government guidelines require that hormone treatment for gender reassignment be conducted only in one designated clinic located in Copenhagen. Transgender activists continued to highlight this policy as evidence of discrimination against transgender persons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

During the year no overt acts of discrimination against Muslims were reported., Spokespersons from Muslim Council of Copenhagen reported that Muslims in the country lived with a sense of increased scrutiny from the government and society. For example, in January the Jewish and Muslim communities worked together to engage society on the topic of (ritual) circumcision and counter public comments by some politicians that the practice should be outlawed. Leaders from the two communities believed the proposed ban specifically targeted them (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

The National Police reported that in 2016 religion was a factor in 88 crimes. The government effectively investigated hate crimes and prosecuted the perpetrators.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law states all workers may form or join independent unions. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and to legal strikes but does not provide nonresident foreign workers on Danish ships the right to participate in the country’s collective bargaining agreements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and prohibits antiunion discrimination.

These laws were effectively enforced. Resources, inspections, and remediation including supporting regulations were adequate. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Breaches of collective agreement are typically referred to the Labor Court, and, if the parties agree, the industrial arbitration courts may decide whether there was a breach. Penalties for violation are determined on the facts of the case and with due regard to the degree that the breach of agreement was excusable. Penalties typically imposed by the Labor Court frequently amount to 500,000 kroner ($80,000) and in more serious cases as high as 20 million kroner ($3.2 million).

Employers and the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Annual collective bargaining agreements covered members of the workforce associated with unions and indirectly affected the wages and working conditions of nonunion employees.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced this prohibition. The law prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations, which was generally sufficient to deter violations. The most recent (2016) statistics of the Danish Center for Human Trafficking identified five victims of forced labor, two for (commercial) forced labor, and three who were trafficked to the country to commit crimes, such as drug sales and organized theft. The government also trained tax inspectors and trade union officials to identify forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum legal age for full-time employment is 15. The law sets a minimum age of 13 for part-time employment and limits school-age children to less strenuous tasks. The law limits work hours and sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Minors may not operate heavy machinery or handle toxic substances, including harsh detergents. Minors may only carry out “light work” that is the equivalent of lifting no more than 26.4 pounds from the ground and 52.8 pounds from waist height. For minors working in jobs where there is a higher risk of robbery, such as a snack bar, kiosk, bakery, gas station, a coworker over the age of 18 must always be present between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays, and 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination and the government generally enforced these laws effectively. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation was limited and occurred with respect to gender and ethnicity (see section 6).

Danish gender equality law does not apply to Greenland, but Greenland’s own law prohibits gender discrimination. No Greenlandic laws prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not mandate a national minimum wage, and unions and employer associations negotiated minimum wages in collective bargaining agreements. The average minimum wage for all private- and public-sector collective bargaining agreements was 110 kroner ($17.60) per hour, exclusive of pension benefits. The law requires equal pay for equal work; migrant workers are entitled to the same minimum wages and working conditions as other workers.

Workers generally worked a 37.5-hour week established by contract rather than law. Workers received premium pay for overtime, and there was no compulsory overtime. Working hours are set by collective bargaining agreements, and adhere to the EU directive that average workweeks not exceed 48 hours.

The law prescribes conditions of work, including safety and health standards, and authorities enforced compliance with labor regulation. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were effectively enforced in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for safety and health violations, for both employees and employers, include fines or imprisonment for up to one year; penalties for violations that result in a serious personal injury or death include imprisonment for up to two years. The Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) under the Ministry of Employment may settle cases subject only to fines without trial. These penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Employment is responsible for the framework and rules regarding working conditions, health and safety, industrial injuries, financial support, disability allowances, and enterprise placement services. The DWEA is responsible for enforcing health and safety rules and regulations. This is carried out through inspection visits as well as guidance to companies and their internal safety organizations. The DWEA’s scope applies to all industrial sectors except for work carried out in the employer’s private household, exclusively by members of the employer’s family, and by military personnel. The Danish Energy Agency is responsible for supervision of offshore energy installations, the Maritime Authority is responsible for supervision of shipping, and the Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for supervision in the aviation sector.

The DWEA has authority to report violations to the police or the courts if an employer fails to make required improvements by the deadline set by the DWEA. Court decisions regarding violations were released to the public and show past fines imposed against noncompliant companies or court-ordered reinstatement of employment. Greenland and the Faroe Islands have similar work conditions, except in both cases collective bargaining agreements set the standard workweek at 40 hours.

Workers can remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations. The same laws protect legal immigrants and foreign workers and apply equally to both categories of workers.

The number of labor inspectors was considered sufficient to enforce compliance. The DWEA effectively enforced labor health and safety standards in all sectors, including enforcement of limiting the hours worked per week. Vulnerable groups generally include migrant and seasonal laborers, as well as young workers.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. In April 2016 President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fourth term. International observers from the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but they noted irregularities. Most opposition groups did not characterize the elections as free and fair. Opposition parties participated in 2013 legislative elections for the first time in 10 years; perceived flaws in the vote fueled months of protest and an opposition boycott of the National Assembly that lasted until the signing of a framework agreement with the government in 2014. International observers from the African Union, IGAD, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2013 elections as free and fair, an assessment disputed both domestically and by some other international observers.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included use of excessive force, including torture; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention; denial of fair public trials; interference with privacy rights; harassing, abusing, and detaining government critics; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and religion; government abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose or influence significantly their government; government corruption; violence against women and children with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; and restrictions on worker rights, and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. The government seldom took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to political opposition members and domestic human rights organizations, security force use of excessive force resulted in deaths.

According to human rights groups, on May 28, Djibouti Port security personnel beat a dockworker who subsequently died on June 11 from injuries sustained during his arrest. In late March security personnel in Djibouti City reportedly strangled to death an urban Ethiopian refugee, Mohamoud Mohamed Kamil.

In 2015 the government investigated law enforcement officials and civilians allegedly responsible for killing as many as 30 persons gathering for a religious ceremony. The government did not find any law enforcement officials responsible for the deaths; several civilian cases related to the same incident remained pending.

Authorities seldom took known actions to investigate reported cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings from previous years or to try suspected perpetrators.

The government prioritized investigating and arresting alleged members of a rebel group after accusing the group of an April attack on two vehicles in the North.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and tortured detainees.

Security forces arrested and abused journalists, demonstrators, and opposition members.

On March 8, domestic human rights groups alleged that Documentation and Security Service (SDS) personnel beat and tortured cartoonist Idriss Hassan Mohamed, breaking one of his legs, for Facebook posts criticizing the government.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

International organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the central prison. The Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held irregular migrants and was not part of the prison system. There were reports police and gendarmes abused prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Gabode Prison had a maximum intended capacity of 350 inmates but often held more than 600, approximately 30 of whom were women. Conditions of detention for women were similar to those for men, although less crowded. There were generally fewer than 30 juvenile prisoners. Authorities allowed young children of female prisoners to stay with their mothers. Due to space constraints, authorities did not always hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities separated opposition supporters from the rest of the prison population and reportedly provided them with worse incarceration conditions than those for other prisoners. Authorities reportedly provided poor lighting and heating, limited potable water and ventilation, and inhuman sanitation conditions for the prison population.

Prisoners with mental disabilities, who constituted a growing percentage of the prison population, did not receive adequate care. They were kept in the infirmary, although separately from seriously ill prisoners.

Conditions in jails, which held detainees until their summary release or transfer to the central prison, were poor. Jails had no formal system to feed or segregate prisoners and did not provide medical services. Prisoners were fed, but not on a regular basis.

Conditions at the Nagad Detention Facility were poor, although detainees had access to potable water, food, and medical treatment. Authorities deported most detainees within 24 hours of arrest. While normally used for irregular migrants and prisoners of war, the government used the Nagad Detention Facility as a temporary holding place for civilians arrested during political demonstrations or engaged in political activity.

No public statistics were available on the number of overall prisoner and detainee deaths. On August 2, after seven years in prison, Mohamed Ahmed, also known as Jabha, who was accused of being a member of a rebel group, died in prison after government officials reportedly refused to provide him medical support.

Administration: Officials investigated reports of cases of inhuman conditions that they deemed credible. The government-sponsored National Commission for Human Rights in August conducted a tour of the prisons but did not release a report.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted prison access to foreign embassies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) only for cases of foreign citizens detained in the prisons. The government refused access to foreign embassy representatives to monitor prisons. Authorities allowed ICRC regional representatives based in Nairobi to visit the Nagad Detention Facility and the Gabode Prison quarterly and to conduct visits to individual detainees.

Improvements: In June an international organization led a fundraiser, including the participation of government officials, to provide hygiene kits to incarcerated women.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police under the Ministry of Interior, the army and National Gendarmerie under the Ministry of Defense, and the Coast Guard under the Ministry of Transport. An elite Republican Guard unit protects the president and reports directly to the presidency. A separate National Security Service also reports directly to the presidency. The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as at the international airport. The army is responsible for defense of the national borders. The Coast Guard enforces maritime laws, including interdicting pirates, smugglers, traffickers, and irregular migrants.

Security forces were generally effective, although corruption was a problem in all services, particularly in the lower ranks where wages were low. Each security force has a unit responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct, and the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution. No known formal complaints of misconduct were filed during the year. Authorities took no known action to investigate complaints of misconduct from previous years. Impunity was a serious problem.

The National Police has a Human Rights Office and has integrated human rights education into the police academy curriculum.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement authorities should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays. The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, although the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could get court ordered release but not compensation.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year government officials arbitrarily arrested journalists, opposition members, academics, and demonstrators, often without warrants.

For example, on January 19, gendarmes arrested former minister of education Adawa Hassan Ali Gaanta for posting on Facebook that he wanted to host a conference on Afar federalism. A week before his arrest, gendarmes reportedly entered his house, confiscating his computers, telephones, and other electronic devices.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and approximately 20 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Prisoners often waited two, three, or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.

Security officials allegedly held Abdo Mohamed Ismail for two months in pretrial detention. According to human rights groups, Ismail had no court hearing and died in prison on June 25.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities often did not respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.

Authorities held Mohamed Ahmed (Jabha) in pretrial detention from June 2010 until October 2016. That month the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed Jabha’s case for lack of evidence. Despite the court ruling, authorities appealed the decision. Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed stated at a National Assembly session that Jabha would remain in jail as long as he was prime minister. On June 18, the Criminal Court sentenced Jabha to 15 years’ imprisonment. On August 2, he passed away in prison (see section 1.c.).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Islamic law (sharia), and nomadic traditions.

The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but trials did not proceed in accordance with the presumption of innocence. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases the court consists of the presiding judge of the court of appeal, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law provides that detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities generally respected these rights. The indigent have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Traditional law often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates that compensation be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as killing and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive issues such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued over the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by such rulings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters. For example, between March 13 and 22, SDS personnel arrested 19 members of the Movement for the Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD) after the MRD started soliciting funds for entrepreneurial activities among members. Nine of 19 MRD members had a court hearing, with authorities convicting four of “illegal political activities,” since the MRD is a banned party. Authorities released the remaining MRD members. SDS personnel reportedly confiscated MRD members’ funds and did not return them.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In cases of human rights violations, citizens could address correspondence to the National Human Rights Commission. On a variety of matters, citizens could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes between government branches. Citizens could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government did not always comply with those bodies’ decisions and recommendations pertaining to human rights.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property, but the government did not always respect the law. Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance.

The government monitored digital communications intended to be private and punished their authors (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the 2016 presidential election and confirmed the re-election of President Ismail Omar Guelleh for a fourth term in the first round of voting. The Constitutional Council certified that Guelleh was re-elected president with 111,389 of 127,933 votes cast, giving him 87.7 percent of the vote. Two opposition and three independent candidates shared the rest of the votes. One opposition group boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities unfairly ejected opposition delegates from polling stations, precluding them from observing the vote tallying. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International observers from the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the 2016 presidential election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. For example, international observers stated the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) coalition continued to provide campaign paraphernalia after the campaign period closed, including on the day of the election. Some polling station workers also wore shirts and paraphernalia supporting the UMP. The African Union made a list of 13 recommendations, including the need for an independent electoral commission in charge of overseeing the election process and the counting of votes. The executive branch selected the members of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).

In contrast to the presidential election, the 2013 legislative elections resulted in a narrow victory for the ruling UMP coalition. According to official results, the Union for National Salvation opposition coalition received 10 seats in the 65-member National Assembly. International observers from the African Union, IGAD, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the election as free and fair, an assessment that domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized.

There was limited progress on implementing the 2014 framework agreement prior to the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, following the 2016 election, National Assembly opposition leaders and UMP leaders resumed their discussions, as reflected in an October 2016 open debate on government policies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government beat, harassed, and excluded some opposition leaders. The government also restricted the operations of opposition parties. According to Freedom House, opposition parties were “disadvantaged by electoral rules and the government’s abuse of the administrative apparatus.”

As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize three opposition political parties, although they continued to operate: the Movement for Development and Liberty, the Movement for Democratic Renewal, and the Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Djibouti elected its first female mayor in the communal election.

Women held eight of 65 seats in the National Assembly, and there were three women in the 23-member cabinet. The president of the Supreme Court, who by law acts as the country’s president in case of the latter’s death or incapacitation, was a woman. Custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life.

For the 2016 presidential election, CENI had no female members. According to the African Union’s observation mission, women represented 12 percent of personnel working at polling stations and on average 10 percent of delegates for each candidate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption. The government ceased an initiative begun in 2012 to rotate accountants among government offices as a check on corruption. The law requires the court and Inspectorate General to report annually, but both entities lacked resources, and reporting seldom occurred.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law, but they usually did not abide by the law.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law includes sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape but does not address spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence against women was common. While the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, it prohibits “torture and barbaric acts” against a spouse and specifies penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for perpetrators. Police rarely intervened in domestic violence incidents.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but it was a problem. According to a 2012 Ministry of Health survey, 78 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C. According to UNFD, infibulation, the most extreme form of FGM/C, with a prevalence rate of 67.2 percent, continued, although with declining frequency. The law sets punishment for FGM/C at five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650) and NGOs may file charges on behalf of victims. In late 2014 the government convicted two women for the first time on charges of committing FGM/C. Both women, one the excisor (cutter) and the other the mother of the victim, received six-month suspended sentences. This was reportedly the only conviction. The law also provides for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 DJF ($565) for anyone convicted of failing to report a completed or planned FGM/C to the proper authorities; however, the government had punished no one under this statute by year’s end.

The government continued efforts to end FGM/C with a high-profile national publicity campaign, public support from the president’s wife and other prominent women, and outreach to Muslim religious leaders.

For more information, see:

https://data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ 

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal information suggested such harassment was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens without distinction concerning gender, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector. In accordance with sharia, men inherit a larger proportion of estates than do women. The government continued to promote female leadership in the small business sector, including through expanded access to microcredit.

A presidential decree requires that women hold at least 20 percent of all high-level public service positions, although the government has never implemented the decree.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. The government continued to encourage the immediate registration of births, but confusion over the process sometimes resulted in children without proper documentation. Lack of birth registration did not result in denial of public services but did prevent youth from completing their higher studies and adults from voting. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although primary education is compulsory, only an estimated three of every four children reportedly were enrolled in school. Primary and middle school are tuition free, but other expenses could be prohibitive for poor families.

Child Abuse: Child abuse existed but was not frequently reported or prosecuted, and the government made only limited efforts to combat it.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the law fixes the minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years, it provides that “marriage of minors who have not reached the legal age of majority is subject to the consent of their guardians.” Child marriage occasionally occurred in rural areas. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning worked with women’s groups throughout the country to protect the rights of girls, including the right to decide when and whom to marry. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for three years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650) for the commercial exploitation of children. The law does not specifically prohibit statutory rape, and there is no legal minimum age of consent. The sale, manufacture, or distribution of all pornography, including child pornography, is prohibited and violations are punishable with a year in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 DJF ($1,130).

The government also passed and promulgated a new anti-trafficking-in-persons (TIP) law in 2016, which prohibits trafficking and outlines definitions distinguishing trafficking and smuggling. The law provides language that the “means” element generally needed to prosecute TIP cases is not required when the victim is a child.

Despite government efforts to keep at-risk children off the streets and to warn businesses against permitting children to enter bars and clubs, children were vulnerable to prostitution on the streets and in brothels.

Displaced Children: Statistics about children living on the streets and unaccompanied migrant children were unavailable, although NGOs reported an increasing number of unaccompanied minors living in Djibouti City or traveling through the country en route to the Middle East.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community at fewer than 30 persons, the majority of whom were foreign military members stationed in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, although the law prohibits such discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Both the Ministry of National Solidarity and the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning have responsibility specifically to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, the law was not enforced. The government did not mandate access to government services and accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, and buildings were often inaccessible. The law provides persons with disabilities access to health care and education, but the law was not enforced.

Authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities separately from other pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. They received minimal psychological treatment or monitoring. Families could request confinement in prison for relatives with mental disabilities who had not been convicted of any crime, but who were considered a danger to themselves or those around them. There were no mental health treatment facilities and only one practicing psychiatrist in the country.

Government agencies conducted awareness raising campaigns, and NGOs continued to organize seminars and other events that drew attention to the need for enhanced legal protections and better workplace conditions for persons with disabilities.

The state secretary for social affairs completed a census to document the number of persons with disabilities in the country.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The governing coalition included all of the country’s major clans and ethnic groups, with minority groups also represented in senior positions. Nonetheless, there continued to be discrimination based on ethnicity in employment and job advancement (see section 7.d.). Somali Issas, the majority ethnic group, controlled the ruling party and dominated the civil service and security services. Discrimination based on ethnicity and clan affiliation remained a factor in business and politics.

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

The law does not directly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct, but authorities prosecuted the public display of same-sex sexual conduct under laws prohibiting attacks on “good morals.” No antidiscrimination law exists to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reported incidents of societal violence or discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, although LGBTI persons generally did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no known LGBTI organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reported cases of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although stigma against individuals with the disease was widespread. Several local associations worked in collaboration with the government to combat social discrimination. In April the National Assembly and UNAIDS signed a memorandum of understanding to work on raising awareness of the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS and to fight against HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right to form and join independent unions with prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law provides the right to strike after giving advance notification, allows collective bargaining, and fixes the basic conditions for adherence to collective agreements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The Economic Free Zones (EFZs) operate under different rules, and labor law does not apply in the EFZs.

These rights were restricted in several ways. The procedure for trade union registration, according to the International Labor Organization, is lengthy and complicated, allowing the Ministry of Labor virtually unchecked discretionary authority over registration. The government also requires unions to resubmit to this approval process following any changes to union leadership or union statutes, meaning each time there is a union election, the union must reregister with the government.

The law provides for the suspension of the employment contract when a worker holds trade union office. The law also prohibits membership in a trade union if an individual has prior convictions (whether or not the conviction is prejudicial to the integrity required to exercise union office). The law provides the president with broad discretionary power to prohibit or restrict severely the right of civil servants to strike, based on an extensive list of “essential services” that may exceed the limits of international standards.

The government neither enforced nor complied with applicable law, including the law on antiunion discrimination. Resources provided to enforce the law, including inspections, were inadequate. The Labor Inspectorate had insufficient resources to train inspectors, conduct regular preventive inspections, or pursue enforcement of previous cases. The most common remedy for violations was for the labor inspector to visit the offending business and explain how to correct the violation. If the business complied, there was no penalty. Available remedies and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations, particularly in view of the lack of enforcement.

The government also limited labor organizations’ ability to register participants, thus compromising the ability of labor groups to operate. The government continued not to recognize the two independent labor unions or allow them to register as official labor unions. Two government-backed labor unions with the same names as the independent labor unions, sometimes known as “clones,” served as the primary collective bargaining mechanisms for many workers. Only members of government-approved labor unions attended international and regional labor meetings with the imprimatur of the government. Independent union leaders alleged the government suppressed independent representative unions by tacitly discouraging labor meetings.

Collective bargaining sometimes occurred and usually resulted in quick agreements. The National Council on Work, Employment, and Professional Training examined all collective bargaining agreements and played an advisory role in their negotiation and application. The council included representatives from labor, employers, and government. Workers exercised the right to strike and occasionally disregarded the requirement for giving advance notification.

In disputes over wages or health and safety problems, the Ministry of Labor encouraged direct resolution by labor representatives chosen by the government and employers. Workers or employers could request formal administrative hearings before the Labor Inspectorate. According to the inspectorate, these hearings could last anywhere from one day for simple disputes to two or more months for complex cases.

There were no reports that employers refused to bargain with unions or that employers avoided hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

In 2016 the government passed and promulgated a new TIP law. It prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and strengthens tools available to prosecutors to convict and imprison traffickers (see section 6, Children). Prosecutors increasingly enforced the law, but law enforcement investigators had difficulties in identifying trafficking crimes. Nevertheless, law enforcement leadership sought out training for their respective investigative officers. On July 30, the Ministry of Justice led a roundtable for the World Day against Trafficking with representatives from relevant ministries, including law enforcement, and civil society.

Citizens and migrants were vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including as domestic servants in Djibouti City and along the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor. Parents or other adult relatives forced street children, including citizen children, to beg. Children also were vulnerable to forced labor as domestic servants and coerced to commit petty crimes, such as theft (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 prohibits all labor by, and employment of, children under the age of 16. Government enforcement of the law was ineffective. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for monitoring workplaces and preventing child labor; however, a shortage of labor inspectors, vehicles, and other resources impeded investigations of child labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. No inspections were conducted in response to possible violations of the law. Inspections were carried out in the formal economy, although most child labor took place in the informal sector.

Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, existed throughout the country. Children were engaged in the sale of the narcotic khat, legal under local law. Family-owned businesses such as restaurants and small shops employed children at all hours. Children were involved in a range of activities such as shining shoes, washing and guarding cars, selling items, working as domestic servants, working in subsistence farming and with livestock, begging, and other activities in the informal sector. Children of both sexes worked as domestic servants.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no law prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable law. The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate resources to carry out inspections for discrimination in either the formal or informal sectors. According to disability advocates, there were not enough employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and legal protections and access for such individuals were inadequate. The law does not require equal pay for equal work (see section 6).

By law foreign migrant workers who obtain residency and work permits enjoy the same legal protections and working conditions as citizens. The law was not enforced, and migrant workers experienced discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 35,000 DJF ($198) per month for public sector workers, compared to the World Bank poverty income level equivalent to 336 DJF ($1.90) per day. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for the private sector but it provides that minimum wages be established by common agreement between employers and employees. According to the government statistics office, 79 percent of the population lived in relative poverty.

The legal workweek is 40 hours over five days, a limit that applies to workers regardless of gender or nationality. The law mandates a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours and the provision of overtime pay at an increased rate fixed by agreement or collective bargaining. The law states overtime hours may not exceed 60 hours per week and 12 hours per day. The law provides for paid holidays. The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which cover the country’s main industries. The minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced, including in the informal economy.

No law or regulation permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment.

There was a large informal sector but no credible data on the number of workers employed there.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards, wages, and work hours; however, resources allotted to enforcement were insufficient, and enforcement was ineffective. The ministry employed one labor inspector and four controllers. The Labor Inspectorate conducted 30 inspections during the year based on complaints about illegal labor conditions and found law violations in every case. Because of lack of enforcement, penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Migrants were particularly vulnerable to labor violations. Workers across several industries or sectors sometimes faced hazardous working conditions, particularly in the construction sector and at ports. According to the Labor Inspectorate, workers typically reported abuses only after being fired. In most cases the claimed abuse was improper termination, not an abuse of safety standards. Data on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available.

Dominica

Executive Summary

Dominica is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. In the 2014 general election, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Dominica Labor Party prevailed over the opposition United Workers Party by a margin of 15 seats to six. Organization of American States election observers noted some irregularities but found the elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, but authorities were investigating one police killing that occurred in February.

As of September, two officers were awaiting trial for the 2014 killing of a suspect while in custody. Cases against two other officers involved were dismissed, and another officer was discharged from the police.

In June 2016 a magistrate discharged the accused in the case of a police officer who allegedly shot a man in 2013. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions requested the magistrate send the case to the Criminal High Court for review, but during the year the case was dismissed because the deadline for submitting required documents to the court expired.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In the country’s sole prison, Stockfarm Prison, male juveniles were not separated from the adult male population.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsman to respond to complaints, but authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints. An independent committee composed of the chief welfare officer, chaplain, social workers, and senior retired civil servants investigated complaints and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. As of September no independent human rights observers visited the prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security oversees the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force, the country’s only security force. The Financial Intelligence Unit, some of whose officers have arrest authority, reports to the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The police have a formal complaint procedure to handle allegations of excessive force or abuse by police officers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended persons openly with warrants issued by a judicial authority. The law requires that authorities inform persons of the reasons for their arrest within 24 hours and bring detainees to court within 72 hours. Authorities generally honored this requirement. If authorities are unable to bring a detainee to court within the requisite period, the detainee may be released and rearrested at a later time. There was a functioning bail system. Criminal detainees had prompt access to counsel and family members. The state provides a lawyer if a defendant charged with murder cannot afford one.

Arbitrary Arrest: Following a February 7 opposition political meeting and a subsequent riot whose origins were not irrefutably linked to the political rally, police detained United Workers Party (UWP) Senator Thomason Fountaine on February 12-13, former UWP deputy leader Claudius Sanford on February 16, Dominica Freedom Party general secretary Johnson Boston on February 17, and UWP parliamentarian Joseph Isaac on February 20. Except for Fountaine, police took other opposition figures from their homes in the early hours of the morning, searched their homes, and detained them for questioning in connection with the February 7 events, including an alleged attempted coup. Police charged Sanford for obstructing a police officer, but the court dismissed the charge on April 28. Police released the others without charges. In July, Sanford filed charges of malicious prosecution and false imprisonment, requesting “interest” (damages), aggravated and exemplary damages, and cost against the government for unlawfully detaining him for 14 hours. In August Boston, Isaac, and Fontaine also filed charges of wrongful arrest and imprisonment.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy detention before trial was a problem due to judicial staff shortages. On average, prisoners remained on remand status for six to 24 months. As of August, 29 percent of detainees were awaiting trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Inadequate prosecutorial and police staffing, outdated legislation, and a lack of magistrates resulted in severe backlogs and other problems in the judicial system.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence; prompt and detailed information about charges; a trial without undue delay; personal presence at their trial; communication with an attorney of their choice; adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter; challenge of prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and presentation of one’s own witnesses and evidence; freedom from being compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Attorneys are not provided at public expense to defendants who cannot pay, unless the charge is murder.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

For civil matters there is an independent, impartial judiciary to which one can bring lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations cannot appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights courts for a binding decision; however, individuals and organizations may present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Government officials at times did not permit journalists to attend parliamentary sessions.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. While there were no active defamation suits against local journalists, there were three active libel cases against opposition leader Linton Lennox, and the government was suing a foreign-based blogger for libel. Public and private threats of lawsuits from a variety of sources, including the Skerrit government, were used against media members, leading to some self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

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 peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Following the February 7 public meeting and subsequent riot, the government denied the opposition a number of permits to hold public meetings, citing public safety.

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.

In-country Movement: The only internal restriction on movement applies to the Carib Reserve area. The land is collectively owned by the community and managed by the Carib Council, which must grant permission for a newcomer to live in the territory and to use the land.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: While the law provides for asylum or refugee status, as of August the government did not receive any cases to consider. The government has not established a system for determining when to grant asylum or for providing protection to refugees in general.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the ruling Dominica Labor Party won 15 seats in the House of Assembly, defeating the United Workers Party, which won six seats. Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States election observers declared the election generally fair and transparent. Observers noted concerns about the voter list, on which the number of registered voters exceeded the country’s population.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but implementation was inconsistent. According to civil society sources and members of the political opposition, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In 2015, 2016, and 2017, local media alleged government officials sold diplomatic passports to noncitizens. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Francesco Corallo, and Alireza Zibahalat Monfared, all former Dominican diplomatic passports holders, were arrested in 2016 and 2017 and faced criminal charges in their respective homelands. The government denied selling diplomatic passports and halted the issuance of diplomatic passports to noncitizens until the policy was reviewed and updated.

By the end of 2016, the High Court had not completed its review of a 2012 case concerning allegations the prime minister used his influence to secure concessions for a business concern in which he supposedly had an interest. During the year the integrity commission dismissed this case and all other pending cases against the government officials, including the president.

Financial Disclosure: The Integrity in Public Office Act requires government officials to account annually for their income, assets, and gifts. All offenses under the act, including the late filing of declarations, are criminalized. The integrity commission generally reported on late submissions and inappropriately completed forms but did not share financial disclosures of officials with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights and advocacy organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Some civil society groups complained the government had blacklisted them and attacked their members in the media.

Government Human Rights Bodies: According to the constitution, a parliamentary commissioner has responsibility for investigating complaints against the government. This position, however, has never been filled.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape or incest) is 25 years’ imprisonment, the usual sentence was five to seven years. Police generally were not reluctant to arrest or prosecute offenders; whenever possible, female police officers handled rape cases.

Sexual violence and domestic violence cases were common, and the government recognized it as a problem. Although no specific laws criminalize spousal abuse, spouses were able to bring charges against their partners for battery.

The law allows abused persons to appear before a magistrate without an attorney and request a protective order.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it continued to be a serious and persistent problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution provides women with the same legal rights as men, but property continued to be deeded to heads of households, who were usually men. The law establishes pay rates for civil service jobs without regard to gender.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or to a citizen parent. Birth certificates were provided to parents on a timely basis. Failure to register resulted in denial of access to public services except emergency care.

Child Abuse: Child abuse continued to be a pervasive problem. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women, but marriage is allowed at 16 years with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent for sexual relations is 16. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children for purposes of prostitution, and related activity may be prosecuted under laws against prostitution or trafficking. The law protects all persons from “unlawful sexual connection,” rape, procurement for prostitution, and incest. It prohibits sexual intercourse with a child by an adult, and it increases the penalty to 25 years’ imprisonment for an adult who rapes a child whom the adult employs or controls, or to whom the adult pays wages. The October 2016 Sexual Offenses Act Amendment criminalizes behaviors such as voyeurism.

The maximum sentence for sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 14 years is 25 years in prison. When victims are between 14 and 16 years of age, the maximum sentence is 14 years.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is no organized Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of discrimination or anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that the country was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. There is no legal requirement mandating access to buildings for such persons. Although persons with disabilities have the right to vote, polling stations were often inaccessible.

The government funded one special education school for children with intellectual or mental disabilities. Children with physical disabilities and those with hearing and vision disabilities were integrated into mainstream schools.

Indigenous People

The Kalinago (Carib) population was estimated at 3,000 persons, most of whom lived in the 3,782-acre Kalinago Territory. The government recognizes their special status, and their rights are protected in law and practice.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity for both sexes is illegal under indecency statutes. The law also prohibits anal intercourse between males. The government reported rare enforcement of both statutes, and there were no instances of the law being enforced through October. Indecency statutes carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adult men carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. No laws prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, education, or health care.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that strong societal and employment discrimination against persons due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was common. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported that LGBTI victims of violence or harassment avoided notifying police of abuse because of social stigma. Stigma and fear of abuse and intimidation prevented LGBTI organizations from developing their membership or executing activities such as gay pride marches.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by providing that employers must reinstate workers who file a complaint of illegal dismissal, which can cover being fired for engaging in union activities. The law applies to all workers.

Restrictions on worker rights include the fact that emergency, port, electricity, telecommunications, and prison services, as well as the banana, coconut, and citrus fruit cultivation industries, are deemed “essential.” The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that the list of essential services is broader than international standards and called on the government to exclude the banana, citrus, and coconut industries, as well as the port authority, from the schedule of essential services. The procedure for essential workers to strike is cumbersome, involving appropriate notice and submitting the grievance to the labor commissioner for possible mediation. Strikes in those services deemed essential also could be stopped by compulsory arbitration. In recent years mediation by the Office of the Labor Commissioner resolved approximately 70 percent of strikes and sickouts, while the rest were referred to the Industrial Relations Tribunal for binding arbitration.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced laws that govern worker rights, and penalties generally were effective at deterring violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals, and there were no cases during the year. Government mediation and arbitration were free of charge. Few disputes escalated to strikes or sickouts. A company, a union representative, or an individual may request mediation by the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security. In most cases the ministry resolved the matter.

Workers exercised the legal right to organize and choose their representatives. Small family-owned farms performed most agricultural work, and workers on such farms were not unionized. Workers exercised the right to collective bargaining, particularly in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy, including in government service. Employers generally reinstated or paid compensation to employees who obtained favorable rulings by the ministry after filing a complaint of illegal dismissal. Generally, essential workers conducted strikes and did not suffer reprisals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, but neither the criminal code nor the labor code prescribes penalties for forced labor. There were no reported cases of forced labor.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law allows children to start working at the age of 12 years in family-run businesses and farms, as long as the work does not involve selling alcohol. The law allows children age 14 to work in apprenticeships and regular jobs that do not involve hazardous work. The law prohibits employing any child under 16 during the school year but makes an exception for family-owned businesses. While the government does not have a comprehensive list of hazardous work prohibited for children, the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security reported that jobs such as mining and seafaring were considered hazardous. In addition children under 18 are prohibited from engaging in night work and from working on ships. Safety standards limit the type of work, conditions, and hours of work for children over 14, most of whom worked in services or hospitality. Children may not work more than eight hours a day. The government effectively enforced these standards, and no abuses were reported. The law provides for sentences of up to 20 years in prison for child labor violations. Although resources were insufficient to engage in inspections on a comprehensive basis, the laws and penalties generally were adequate to remove children from illegal child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, place of origin, color, creed, and political opinion, and the government generally enforced this provision. There were no government programs in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, sexual orientation, and persons with disabilities. The labor law permits employers to pay persons with disabilities less money (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage law establishes no universal minimum wage but rather varies base wages depending on the category of workers, with the lowest minimum wage set at $4.00 east Caribbean dollars (XCD) ($1.48) per hour and the highest minimum wage at $5.50 XCD ($2.04) per hour. A 2009 study by the Central Statistical Office, the most recent data available, estimated the poverty income level at $6,230 XCD ($2,310) annually and found that 29 percent of the population lived below this threshold. The law provides that the labor commissioner may authorize the employment of a person with disabilities at a wage lower than the minimum rate to enable that person to be employed gainfully. The labor commissioner did not authorize subminimum wages during the year.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours, worked in five or six days. The law provides for overtime pay for work above the standard workweek, and the employee must give prior agreement for overtime work. The law does not prohibit forced or compulsory overtime but mandates that overtime wages paid to employees be not less than 1.5 times standard wages. Some overtime violations were reported in the tourism sector. Work on holidays is paid double, and the law stipulates paid holidays.

The law mandates that occupational health and safety standards be consistent with international standards. The Employment Safety Act of 1982 was amended during the year in accordance with ILO safety and health standards. Workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively enforced this right.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the labor commissioner within the Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security, including in sectors where workers were not commonly unionized such as the informal sector, but the commissioner lacked sufficient resources to do so effectively. Four inspectors from the Department of Labor in the ministry, as well as 12 safety officers in the Fire Department, conducted inspections. To ensure compliance with labor regulations, inspectors have the authority to prescribe specific compliance measures and impose fines. Noncompliance can result in prosecution of offenders. The penalties for violations were insufficient to ensure compliance. The Ministry of Health had 17 inspectors who also inspected labor violations and conducted health and safety surveys. Fines for noncompliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act were up to $10,000 XCD ($3,700), and $75 XCD ($28) per day for violations of wage or hours of work laws. Domestic service labor is not covered by labor law.

The informal sector was significant, although statistics were unavailable. No social protection is provided to persons in the informal sector beyond social security benefits for maternity leave, sickness, disability, or death. Most of the informal sector worked in agriculture.

Quarry workers faced hazardous conditions. Some reports claimed that workers entered mines before adequate time elapsed after blasting, exposing them to hazardous chemicals. Other reports claimed that workers refused to wear their protective gear due to discomfort.

There were no reported workplace fatalities and accidents.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In May 2016 Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) was re-elected president for a second four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the elections were generally free and orderly despite failures in the introduction of an electronic voting system.

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

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; impunity for corruption; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

The government took some steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but there were widespread reports of official impunity and corruption, especially concerning officials of senior rank.

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 numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported more than 180 extrajudicial killings by police forces through early December.

In November the National Police arrested Fernando de los Santos, nicknamed “The Rope,” a former police lieutenant who had been wanted since 2011 for killing at least 35 persons while working as a police officer. Some of those killed were believed to be criminals wanted by the police, while others were killings for hire committed on behalf of drug traffickers, according to news accounts.

In July, Blas Peralta, a former transportation union president, was convicted of killing a man during the 2016 presidential campaign and sentenced to 30 years in prison. As of November his appeal was pending.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The NHRC reported it continued investigating six unresolved disappearance cases of human rights activists that occurred between 2009 and 2014, which they believed were politically motivated.

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

Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse of detainees and prisoners, there were reports that security force members, primarily police, carried out such practices.

The NHRC reported that police used various forms of physical and mental abuse to obtain confessions from detained suspects. According to the NHRC, methods used to extract confessions included covering detainees’ heads with plastic bags, hitting them with broom handles, forcing them to remain standing overnight, and hitting them in the ears with gloved fists or hard furniture foam so as not to leave marks.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions ranged from compliance with international standards in “model” prisons or correctional rehabilitation centers (CRCs) to harsh and life threatening in “traditional” prisons. Threats to life and health included communicable diseases, poor sanitation, poor access to health-care services, a lack of well-trained prison guards, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, all of which were exacerbated in the severely overcrowded traditional prisons.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem in traditional prisons. The Directorate of Prisons reported that as of June there were approximately 17,750 prisoners in traditional prisons and 8,960 in CRCs, a ratio that remained constant for the past several years because traditional prisons had not been phased out. La Victoria, the oldest traditional prison, held nearly 9,000 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,011. The inmate population at all 19 traditional prisons exceeded capacity, while only two of 22 CRCs were over capacity. Both male and female inmates were held in La Romana Prison but in separate areas.

Police and military inmates received preferential treatment, as did those in traditional prisons with the financial means to rent preferential bed space and purchase other necessities.

According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded traditional prisons, while a trained civilian guard corps provided security at CRCs. Reports of mistreatment and violence in traditional prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Some traditional prisons remained effectively outside the control of authorities, and there were reports of drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse within prisons. Wardens at traditional prisons often controlled only the perimeter, while inmates ruled the inside with their own rules and system of justice. Although the law mandates separation of prisoners according to severity of offense, authorities did not have the capability to do so.

In traditional prisons health and sanitary conditions were generally poor. Prisoners often slept on the floor because there were no beds available. Prison officials did not separate sick inmates. Delays in receiving medical attention were common in both the traditional prisons and CRCs. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In most cases inmates had to purchase their own medications or rely on family members or other outside associates to deliver their medications. Most reported deaths were due to illnesses.

According to the Directorate of Prisons, all prisons provided HIV/AIDS treatment, but the NHRC stated that none of the traditional prisons was properly equipped to provide such treatment. In CRCs some prisoners with mental disabilities received treatment, including therapy, for their conditions. In traditional prisons the government did not provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities. Neither CRCs nor traditional prisons provided access for inmates with disabilities.

In October the Constitutional Tribunal declared the condition of some jails were a “gross and flagrant” violation of the constitution and ordered the Attorney General’s Office to take steps to improve them within 180 days or face a fine of approximately 21,450 pesos ($450) per day.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints regarding their treatment verbally or in writing to the human rights committees and most often did so through family members, lawyers, or human rights defenders. Public defenders provided legal services to prisoners and in some cases assisted with certain complaints. The NHRC director served as a prisoner advocate.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring by independently funded and operated nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers and media. The NHRC, National Office of Public Defense, Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC that were authorized to conduct surprise visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits detention without a warrant unless authorities apprehend a suspect during the commission of a criminal act or in other special circumstances but permits detention without charge for up to 48 hours. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her detention in court, and the government generally observed this requirement. Arbitrary arrest and detention were problems, and there were numerous reports of individuals held and later released with little or no explanation for the detention. NGOs reported that many detainees were taken into custody at the scene of a crime or during drug raids. In many instances authorities fingerprinted, questioned, and then released those detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior and Police oversees the National Police, Tourist Police, and Metro Police. The Ministry of Armed Forces directs the military, Airport Security Authority and Civil Aviation, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps. The National Department of Intelligence and the National Drug Control Directorate, which have personnel from both police and armed forces, report directly to the president.

The Internal Affairs Unit investigates charges of gross misconduct by members of the National Police. These cases involved physical or verbal aggression, threats, improper use of a firearm, muggings, and theft. Authorities fired or prosecuted police officers found to have acted outside of established police procedures.

Training for military and the National Drug Control Directorate enlisted personnel and officers and the National Police included instruction on human rights. The Ministry of the Armed Forces provided human rights training or orientation to officers of various ranks as well as to civilians during the year. The Border Security Corps conducted mandatory human rights training at its training facilities for border officers. The Graduate School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights trained civilians and armed forces personnel. The school also had programs in which members of the armed forces and civilians from the Supreme Court, congress, district attorney offices, government ministries, National Police, and Central Electoral Board participated.

In October the National Police announced that officers and recruits applying to join the police force who were suspected of corruption would be required to take polygraph tests.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution provides that an accused person may be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant before being presented to judicial authorities. The law also permits police to apprehend without an arrest warrant any person caught in the act of committing a crime or reasonably linked to a crime, such as in cases involving hot pursuit or escaped prisoners. Police sometimes detained suspects for investigation or interrogation longer than 48 hours. Police often detained all suspects and witnesses to a crime. Successful habeas corpus hearings reduced abuses of the law significantly. There was a functioning bail system and a system of house arrest.

The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants, although staffing levels were inadequate to meet demand. The National Office of Public Defense (NOPD) represented 80 percent of the criminal cases brought before the courts, covering 28 of 34 judicial districts. Many detainees and prisoners who could not afford private counsel did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Prosecutors and judges handled interrogations of juveniles, which the law prohibits by or in the presence of police.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police made sporadic sweeps or roundups in low-income, high-crime communities during which they arrested and detained individuals without warrants. During these operations police arrested large numbers of residents and seized personal property allegedly used in criminal activity. The Attorney General’s Office reported a decrease in arbitrary arrests connected to mass arrests at the scene of a crime due to training conducted in concert with human rights NGOs.

Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. Under the criminal procedures code, a judge may order detention to be between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of November, 63 percent of inmates were in pretrial custody. The average pretrial detention time was three months, but there were reports of cases of pretrial detention lasting up to three years. Time served in pretrial detention counted toward completing a sentence.

The failure of prison authorities to produce detainees for court hearings caused some trial postponements. Many inmates had their court dates postponed because of a lack of transportation from prison to court or because their lawyer, codefendants, interpreters, or witnesses did not appear. Despite additional protections for defendants in the criminal procedures code, in some cases authorities held inmates beyond the legally mandated deadlines even when there were no formal charges against them.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: There were isolated cases of asylum seekers detained due to a lack of documentation (see sections 2.d. and 6).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Improper influence on judicial decisions was widespread. Interference ranged from selective prosecution to dismissal of cases amid allegations of bribery or undue political pressure. The judiciary routinely dismissed high-level corruption cases. Corruption of the judiciary was also a serious problem. The NOPD reported that the most frequent form of interference with judicial orders occurred when authorities refused to abide by writs of habeas corpus to free detainees.

The Office of the Inspector of Tribunals, which disciplines judges and handles complaints of negligence, misconduct, and corruption, received an increase in its budget and technical training, and as a result it opened more investigations. Eighteen judges and 295 administrative personnel were suspended and the cases referred to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a defense in a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify the defendant and attorney of criminal charges. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, the right to confront or question witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and the indigent have a right to a public defender. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The constitution also provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts. The courts frequently exceeded the period of time provided by the criminal procedures code when assigning hearings dates.

Military and police tribunals share jurisdiction over cases involving members of the security forces. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of internal rules and regulations. Civilian criminal courts handle cases of killings and other serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are separate court systems for claims under criminal law, commercial and civil law, and labor law. Commercial and civil courts reportedly suffered lengthy delays in adjudicating cases, although their decisions were generally enforced. As in criminal courts, undue political or economic influence in civil court decisions remained a problem.

Citizens have recourse to file an “amparo,” an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of human rights protected by the constitution. This remedy was used infrequently and only by those with sophisticated legal counsel.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence, except when police are in hot pursuit of a suspect, when a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or if police suspect a life is in danger. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge. Police conducted illegal searches and seizures, however, including raids without warrants on private residences in many poor neighborhoods.

Although the government denied using unauthorized wiretaps, monitoring of private email, or other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of individuals and families, human rights groups and opposition politicians alleged such interference occurred. Opposition political parties alleged government officials at times threatened subordinates with loss of employment and other benefits to compel them to support the incumbent PLD party and attend PLD campaign events. The NOPD reported two cases in which police imprisoned family members of a suspect to compel the suspect to surrender.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restriction.

Press and Media Freedom: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated journalists or other news professionals. In October the Dominican Association of Dailies expressed concern that the president’s security detail mistreated journalists and impeded media participation at presidential events.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. Some media outlets reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. The Inter American Press Association reported that journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly while covering civil society-led protests. In July the Dominican College of Journalists denounced inaction by government officials after an attack on television reporter Indira Vasquez and cameraman Jose Manual de la Cruz. The journalists said they were assaulted by a businessman and his two sons while covering environmental damage caused by the excavation of aggregate material at the Bajabonico River in Puerto Plata.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Nonetheless, journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Some media outlets chose to omit the bylines of journalists reporting on drug trafficking and other security matters to protect the individual journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, government officials, and the private sector to pressure them to stop reporting. In 2016 the Constitutional Tribunal annulled several articles in the Law on Freedom of Expression that criminalized statements denouncing events that were of public interest and that authorities considered damaging. The court also ruled that media outlets, executive staff, and publishers are not liable for libel suits against individual journalists. While some observers proclaimed this relieved pressure on journalists by business interests that controlled much of the mainstream media, others described the ruling as benefiting business interests’ ability to distance themselves from protecting their editors and journalist teams. The law continues to penalize libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content without appropriate legal authority; however, there were allegations that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 61 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Outdoor public marches and meetings require permits, which the government usually granted. On several occasions police used force to disperse demonstrations and injured demonstrators and bystanders.

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, with some exceptions. The government cooperated in a limited manner with 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 noted persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: During a December 2016 hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on human rights and statelessness in the country, civil society organization representatives said deportations of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continued. They said some deportations were arbitrary and consisted of taking persons across the border without any record. Monitoring of the border by the International Organization for Migration found that some of those deported were unaccompanied children. The Center for Migration Observation and Social Development in the Caribbean reported in October concern regarding the lack of information on accountability mechanisms stipulating that migration officials and other members of state security adhere to legal provisions for due process and other rights of migrants during deportations. It reported that abuses appeared to be greater when the deportations were carried out by military personnel than by officials of the General Directorate of Migration. In addition to deportation, undocumented Haitian victims faced increased vulnerability to trafficking.

The International Organization for Migration reported cases of individuals deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences as well as deportations of women who left children behind in their residences.

A 2012 National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) study estimated the total Haitian population in the country at 668,145, of whom 458,233 were identified as Haitian immigrants and 209,912 were categorized as persons of Haitian descent. The exact number of undocumented persons was unclear. During the year the statistics office and UNFPA conducted a survey to obtain more accurate and up-to-date statistics on immigrants in the country.

In 2014 the government promulgated the National Regularization Plan that enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. In July 2016 the government extended the expiration date of the temporary resident cards issued under the plan, marking the third time the government had done so. The plan granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 irregular migrants (98 percent Haitian). According to census data, up to 280,000 Haitian migrants may not have applied or qualified for regularization and were subject to deportation. UN officials accompanied immigration authorities during interception procedures conducted in different provinces. According to the United Nations, deportation procedures were orderly, legal, and individualized, in compliance with applicable international human rights standards.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has an established refugee protection system but did not effectively implement it. In 2016 UNHCR recognized 787 asylum seekers, 93 percent of them Haitian, but the government historically recognized few of those claims. Of the more than 300 asylum-seeker cases between 2012 and 2016 that received a final decision, the government rejected 99 percent with the vague justification of “failure of proof.” NGOs concluded that this alone was evidence of systemic discrimination, as 99 percent of asylum seekers were also of Haitian origin.

The National Office of Refugees in the Migration Directorate of the National Commission for Refugees (CONARE) adjudicates asylum claims. CONARE is an interagency commission that includes the Foreign Ministry, National Department of Investigations, and General Directorate of Migration.

A 2013 CONARE resolution requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. Under this resolution, if an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days and without applying for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The resolution also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus, the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.

According to refugee NGOs, there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum or of the timeline or process for doing so. Furthermore, the NGOs reported that immigration officials did not know how to handle asylum cases. UNHCR protection officers were occasionally and unpredictably granted access to detained asylum seekers. CONARE policies do not provide for protection screening in the deportation process. By law the government must afford due process to detained asylum seekers, and those expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review to provide for protection screening.

CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers details of the grounds for the rejection of their initial application for asylum or information regarding the process for appeal. Rejected applicants received a letter informing them that they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Per government policy, rejected asylum seekers have seven days from receipt of notice of denial to file an appeal; however, the letter providing notice of denial does not mention this right to appeal.

Freedom of Movement: The government issued travel documents to approved refugees for a fee of 3,150 pesos ($65). Refugees commented that the travel document listed their nationality as “refugee” and not their country of origin. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only a letter to present to avoid deportation, which deterred freedom of movement.

Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was further complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite, waiting periods for pending cases to be resolved. Lack of documentation also precluded refugees from certain employment. Employment was nonetheless a requirement for the government to renew refugees’ temporary residency cards.

Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees receive the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. This provided refugees the right to access education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, UNHCR reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported that their government-issued identification numbers were not recognized, and thus they could not access other services, such as opening a bank account or entering service contracts for basic utilities, but instead had to rely on friends or family for such services.

STATELESS PERSONS

Prior to 2010 the constitution bestowed citizenship upon anyone born in the country except children born to diplomats and children born to parents who are “in transit.” The 2010 constitution added an additional exception for children born in the country to parents without migratory status. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that undocumented migrants were considered “in transit” for purposes of citizenship transmission, and thus all children born to undocumented migrant parents were not Dominican citizens. The ruling retroactively revised the country’s citizenship transmission laws and stripped citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who had been conferred citizenship by virtue of jus soli since 1929.

Until 2012 the Haitian constitution did not permit dual citizenship. Therefore, individuals of Haitian descent who obtained Dominican citizenship at birth by virtue of birth on Dominican soil forfeited their right to Haitian citizenship. The 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling therefore stripped nearly all of those affected of the only citizenship they held. The IACHR, UNHCR, and Caribbean Community criticized the 2013 tribunal judgment. The IACHR found that the 2013 ruling implied an arbitrary deprivation of citizenship and that it had a discriminatory effect, stripped citizenship retroactively, and led to statelessness for individuals not considered citizens.

In 2014 President Medina signed and promulgated law 169-14 to regularize and (re)issue identity documents to individuals born in the country between June 16, 1929, and April 18, 2007, to undocumented migrant parents, who were previously registered in the civil registry (Group A), recognizing them as Dominican citizens from birth. Based on an audit of the national civil registry archives, that population was estimated to total 60,000. As of the end of 2015, according to media reports, the government had issued new citizenship documents to 13,495 persons and continued processing the remainder. Civil society reported an additional 6,000 Group A cases obtained new citizenship documents, bringing the estimate of known Group A cases whose citizenship was restored to 20,000. The law also creates a special path to citizenship for persons born to undocumented migrant parents who never registered in the civil registry, including an estimated 45,000-75,000 undocumented persons, predominantly of Haitian descent (Group B). Group B individuals were able to apply for legal residency under this law and apply for naturalized citizenship after two years. The law granted Group B individuals 180 days to apply for legal residency, an application window that closed on January 31, 2015. A total of 8,755 Group B individuals successfully applied before that deadline. NGOs and foreign governments expressed concern for the potentially large number of Group B persons who did not apply before the deadline. The government committed to resolve any unregistered Group B cases but had not identified the legal framework under which that commitment would be fulfilled. The government also committed not to deport anyone born in the country.

In 2015 the civil registry (known as the Central Electoral Board or JCE) announced it had transferred the civil records of the 54,307 individuals identified in Group A to a separate civil registry book and annulled their original civil registrations. The JCE invited those on the list to report to JCE offices and receive a reissued birth certificate. In 2015 civil society groups reported that many Group A individuals experienced difficulties obtaining reissued birth certificates at JCE offices. NGOs documented cases of individuals they determined qualified as Group A but were not included in the JCE’s audit results list. In response to complaints, the government created channels for reporting missing cases, delays, or failures to issue Group A nationality documents in JCE satellite offices, including a telephone line and social media accounts. NGOs reported the measures led to improved document issuance rates for Group A.

Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. In addition undocumented persons may not obtain national identification cards or voting cards. Persons who did not have a national identification card or birth certificate had limited access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, public education, marriage and birth registration, formal financial services such as banks and loans, courts and judicial procedures, and ownership of land or property.

In April the IACHR placed the Dominican Republic on a “black list” reserved for countries with the most egregious violations of human rights because of its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The IACHR declared that the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal decision disproportionately deprived black, ethnically Haitian Dominicans of citizenship based on their race and national origin, and also that the government’s efforts had not fully mitigated the harmful impact of the ruling. The IACHR stated many of those affected by the ruling remained without a path to citizenship, and it questioned the legality, implementation, and viability of some of the solutions the government offered.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The constitution prohibits active-duty police and military personnel from voting or participating in partisan political activity.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2016 voters participated in general elections for all levels of government and elected Danilo Medina of the PLD as president for a second four-year term. The JCE instituted a system of electronic vote counting during this election. According to international observers and experts on electronic voting systems, the JCE did not follow international standards, as it neither audited nor gradually implemented the system. On election day many electronic voting systems failed or were unused. The JCE did not announce final, official results with all ballots counted until 13 days after the elections. Many congressional and municipal races remained contested for weeks after, leading to sporadic protests and violence. On election day the Organization of American States (OAS) and domestic observers noted widespread political campaigning immediately outside of voting centers in violation of the law, as well indications of vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The OAS and domestic NGOs criticized the inequality of preceding political campaigns regarding allocation of funding. By law major parties, defined as those that received 5 percent of the vote or more in the previous elections, received 80 percent of public campaign finances, while minor parties shared the remaining 20 percent of public funds. Civil society groups criticized the government and the incumbent PLD party for using public funds to pay for advertising in the months leading up to the 2016 elections, although the law prohibits the use of public funds for campaigns. In March 2016 President Medina ordered a stop to the use of public funds for the campaign, and government spending on advertising decreased. According to civil society groups, revenue from government advertising influenced media owners to censor voices in disagreement with their largest client, the PLD party.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials. In December he obtained the conviction of the former mayor of San Francisco de Macoris, Felix Manuel Rodriguez Grullon, and an administrator, Jerson Lizardo, for the misuse of eight million dollars of public funds. According to news accounts, Rodriguez Grullon received a five-year sentence and Lizardo an eight-year sentence.

NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to apply the law and prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly when those accused included well-connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and public grievance.

Corruption: Civil society organizations criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage and alleged many civil servants did not have to perform any job functions for their salary. Small municipalities reported having staffs far in excess of what the physical offices could house.

NGOs as well as individual citizens regularly reported that police officers attempted to solicit bribes during routine traffic stops or arrests. Numerous individuals reported having their personal property taken by police. Police reportedly detained drivers, including foreign tourists, and requested money in exchange for release. Local human rights observers reported immigration officials and police officers particularly targeted undocumented immigrants of Haitian descent to extort money by threatening deportation. NGOs reported incidents of corruption among military and immigration officials stationed at border posts and checkpoints. NGOs reported police complicity in areas known for child sex trafficking. Prison officials accepted money in exchange for recommendations to release prisoners for health reasons. There were credible allegations that prisoners paid bribes to obtain early release on parole.

The government on occasion used nonjudicial sanctions to punish corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police officers, judges, and other minor officials engaged in bribe taking and other corrupt behavior. Widespread acceptance and tolerance of petty corruption, however, hampered anticorruption efforts.

In May the attorney general indicted 14 active and former public officials, including three sitting members of congress and the minister of trade, for their alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts. By law members of congress may not be prosecuted unless the House of Deputies or the Senate votes to lift immunity of its members facing criminal charges. The House of Deputies and the Senate voted against lifting immunity for the three members charged.

A national anticorruption citizens’ movement known as the Green Movement arose because of the Odebrecht scandal, resulting in well-attended public demonstrations throughout the country. The protesters demanded the government appoint an independent prosecutor. They also demanded investigations of President Medina and former presidents Hipolito Mejia and Leonel Fernandez. The attorney general, however, continued to investigate and prosecute the case.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, vice president, members of congress, some agency heads, and other officials, including tax and customs duty collectors, to declare their personal property within 30 days of being hired, elected, or re-elected as well as when they end their responsibilities. The constitution further requires public officials to declare the provenance of their property. The law makes the Chamber of Accounts responsible for receiving and reviewing these declarations. As of March, 4,061 public officials, including members of congress and mayors, had not presented their declarations, according to the Chamber of Accounts. NGOs questioned the veracity of the declarations, as amounts often fluctuated significantly from year to year, and total declared assets often appeared unrealistically low.

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

A number of domestic and international organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While officials often were cooperative and responsive, human rights groups that advocated for the rights of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent faced occasional government obstruction.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not attend a December 2016 IACHR hearing in Panama on the situation of human rights defenders in the Dominican Republic, saying it had not received the invitation in time.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the position of human rights ombudsman, and in 2013 the Senate appointed Zoila Martinez, a former Santo Domingo district attorney, for a six-year term. The ombudsman’s functions are to safeguard the fundamental human rights of persons and protect collective interests established in the constitution and law. There is also an Interinstitutional Human Rights Commission, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs and the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Office has its own human rights division.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and other forms of violence against women, such as incest and sexual aggression. The sentences for conviction of rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,100 to $4,200).

Rape was a serious and pervasive problem. Despite government efforts, violence against women was pervasive. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes, even in cases in which victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.

The Ministry of Women actively promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women through implementing education and awareness programs and the provision of training to other ministries and offices. It also operated shelters and provided counseling services, though NGOs argued these efforts were inadequate.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a fine equal to the sum of three to six months of salary. Union leaders reported that the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see section 2.d.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. A child not registered at birth remains undocumented until parents file a late declaration of birth.

Education: The constitution stipulates free, compulsory public education through age 18, however, not all children attended. A birth certificate is required to register for high school, which discouraged some children from attending or completing school, particularly children of Haitian descent. Children who lacked documentation also were restricted from attending secondary school (past the eighth grade) and faced problems accessing other public services.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. For additional information, see Appendix C.

The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a fine of three to five times the monthly minimum wage for persons convicted of abuse of a minor. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of women, before age 18 was common. According to a 2014 UNICEF survey, 10 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 37 percent by age 18. The government conducted no known prevention or mitigation programs. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone under age 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,100 to $4,200).

The commercial sexual exploitation of children generally occurred in tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking. See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on 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 community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, these individuals encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, and in obtaining health care and transportation services. The law provides for access to basic services and physical access for persons with disabilities to all new public and private buildings. It also specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.

The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities as well as to run schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.

The law states that the government should provide for persons with disabilities to have access to the labor market as well as to cultural, recreational, and religious activities, but it was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for care of children with disabilities–in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. In May 2016 the Ministry of Education reported that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, but the government denied such prejudice or discrimination existed and, consequently, did little to address the problem. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent.

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

The constitution upholds the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. It does prohibit, however, discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.

Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTI individuals to access education, employment, health care, and other services.

NGOs reported police abuse, including arbitrary arrest, police violence, and extortion, against LGBTI persons. According to civil society organizations, authorities failed to properly document or investigate the incidents that were reported. According to a report presented by Dominican civil society before the UN Human Rights Committee, the law does not provide for the prosecution of hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in such areas as health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many workers found to have the disease were not hired, and those employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed alleged criminals in vigilante-style reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary.

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 military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement considered excessive by the ILO restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise to bargain collectively. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being part of a committee seeking to form a union. Although the law requires the Ministry of Labor to register unions for them to be legal, it provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join a union for it to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones (FTZs).

The government and private sector inconsistently enforced laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor inspectors did not consistently investigate allegations of violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Workers in the sugar sector, for example, reported that labor inspectors did not ask them or their supervisors about freedom to associate, right to organize, union membership or activity, or collective bargaining, although workers had separately reported some instances of employers threatening them with firing or loss of housing if they met with coworkers.

Penalties under law for labor practices contrary to freedom of association range from seven to 12 times the minimum wage and may increase by 50 percent if the employer repeats the act. Noncompliance with a collective bargaining agreement is punishable with a fine. Such fines were insufficient to deter employers from violating worker rights and were rarely enforced. In addition the process for dealing with disputes through labor courts was often long, with cases pending for several years. NGOs and labor federations reported companies took advantage of the slow and ineffective legal system to appeal cases, which left workers without labor rights protection in the interim.

There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide legal documentation to participate in the union, despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers within the territory regardless of their legal status. Twenty-eight Dominican air traffic controllers claimed they were fired in 2014 for engaging in union activity and filed a lawsuit. A lower court decision ordering the reinstatement of the controllers was overturned on appeal, and in October 2016, 17 of the 28 who were fired reached a settlement. The others continued to pursue their case in national and international courts.

Labor NGOs reported the majority of companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers frequently had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.

Companies used short-term contracts and subcontracting, which made union organizing and collective bargaining more difficult. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that nascent unions could not afford.

Unions in the FTZs, who are subject to the same labor laws as all other workers, reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of discharging workers who attempted to organize unions.

The law applies equally to migrant workers, but NGOs reported that many irregular Haitian laborers and Dominicans of Haitian descent in construction and agricultural industries, including sugar, did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported. The Ministry of Labor reported that during the first half of 2014 there were 237,843 Haitians living in the country, of whom 157,562 were working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Multiple labor unions represented Haitians working in the formal sector; however, these unions were not influential.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes imprisonment with fines for persons convicted of forced labor. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter abuses.

The government reported it received no forced labor complaints during the year. Nonetheless, there were credible reports of forced labor of adults in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors as well as reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.). For example, workers and unions reported instances of forced overtime, induced indebtedness, deception, false promises about terms of work, and withholding and nonpayment of wages in the construction and agricultural sectors, including sugar.

Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and legal status in the country made them vulnerable to forced labor. Although specific data on the problem were limited, Haitian nationals reportedly experienced forced labor in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Many of the 240,000 mostly Haitian irregular migrants who received temporary (one- or two-year) residency through the Regularization Plan for Foreigners worked in these sectors. In 2015 and 2016, the government created the regulatory framework to include documented migrants in the national social security network, including disability, health-care, and retirement benefits. As of November the government had enrolled 14,013 migrants in the social security network; more than 90 percent had registered under the regularization plan.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under the age 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children under 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For persons under 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work, such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law also prohibits minors from selling alcohol, certain work in the hotel industry, handling cadavers, and various tasks involved in the production of sugarcane, such as planting, cutting, carrying, and lifting sugarcane, or handling the bagasse. Firms employing underage children are subject to fines and legal sanctions.

The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. While the ministry and the council generally effectively enforced regulations in the formal sector, child labor in the informal sector was a problem. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences.

A National Steering Committee against Child Labor plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor established objectives, identified priorities, and assigned responsibilities to combat exploitative child labor. Several government programs focused on preventing child labor in coffee, tomato, and rice production; street vending; domestic labor; and commercial sexual exploitation.

The government continued to implement a project with the ILO to remove 100,000 children and adolescents from exploitative labor as part of its Roadmap Towards the Elimination of Child Labor. The roadmap aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the country and all other types of child labor by 2020.

Nevertheless, child labor was a problem. A 2014 health survey published by the National Statistics Office revealed that 12.8 percent of children between ages five and 17 performed some sort of illegal labor.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal economy, small businesses, private households, and the agricultural sector. In particular there were reports children worked in the production of garlic, potatoes, coffee, sugarcane, tomatoes, and rice. Children often accompanied their parents to work in agricultural fields. NGOs also reported many children worked in the service sector in a number of jobs, including as domestic servants, street vendors and beggars, shoe shiners, and car window washers. The commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a problem, especially in popular tourist destinations and urban areas (see section 6, Children).

Many children who worked as domestic servants were victims of forced labor. There were credible reports that poor Haitian families arranged for Dominican families to “adopt” their children. In some cases adoptive parents reportedly did not treat the children as full family members, expecting them to work in the household or family businesses rather than attend school, which resulted in a kind of indentured servitude for children and adolescents. There were also reports of forced labor of children in street vending and begging, agriculture, construction, and moving of illicit narcotics.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to LGBTI persons, especially transgender persons; against HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, and women (see section 6). For example, the ILO noted its concern regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and urged the government to take specific steps to address existing social and cultural stereotypes contributing to discrimination. Discrimination against Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent occurred across sectors. Haitians earned, on average, 60 percent of the amount a Dominican worker received in wages. Many Haitian irregular migrants did not have full access to benefits, including social security and health care (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There were 14 different minimum wages, depending on the industry. The minimum wage for workers in FTZs was 8,310 pesos ($183) per month. The minimum wage for workers outside the zones ranged from 9,412 pesos ($197) to 15,448 pesos ($324) per month. The minimum wage for the public sector was 5,884 pesos ($130) per month. The daily minimum wage for agricultural workers was 320 pesos ($6.70) based on a 10-hour day, with the exception of sugarcane field workers, who received a lower wage based on an eight-hour workday. Minimum wage provisions cover all workers, including migrants and those in the informal sector. The Central Bank calculated that, due to inflation, the minimum wage had not increased in real terms since 1979.

In 2016 the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development calculated the official poverty line at 4,644 pesos ($97) per household per month. The ministry estimated that 30.5 percent of the population, approximately 3.2 million persons, were living in poverty. In 2015 the Juan Bosch Foundation released a study that reported 63 percent of workers did not receive an income sufficient to pay for the lowest-cost family budget, and only 3.4 percent received a salary adequate to provide for a family of four. The report stated that 80 percent of workers earned less than 20,000 pesos ($454) per month.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours. While agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, in no case may the workday exceed 10 hours. The law stipulates all workers be entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime during three months. The labor code covers domestic workers but does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.

The law applied to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced. According to an ILO report published in 2014, informal employment as a portion of nonagricultural employment grew from 50 percent in 2011 to 51.5 percent in 2012. In 2013 the Central Bank calculated that 58 percent of employment was informal and theorized the high rate stemmed from a low minimum wage and workforce elasticity in the availability of cheap migrant labor. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported that in 2014, 48 percent of workers worked in the informal sector, with men more likely to work informal jobs than women. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.

The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they could not do so without reprisal.

Authorities did not always enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for these violations range between three and six times the minimum wage. Both the Social Security Institute and the Ministry of Labor had a small corps of inspectors charged with enforcing labor standards, but it was insufficient to deter violations.

Workers complained that labor inspectors lacked training, often did not respond to their complaints, and responded to requests from employers more quickly than requests from workers. For example, in the sugar sector there continued to be reports of procedural and methodological shortcomings in the ministry’s inspections. These included: Interviewing few or no workers; failing to discuss topics related to legal compliance with workers; interviewing workers with employer representatives present; employing inspectors lacking language skills (particularly Creole) to effectively communicate with all workers; failing to follow up on allegations of violations made by workers during the inspection process; and failing to conduct follow-up inspections to verify remediation of violations.

Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In some cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under labor laws. Some companies paid biweekly salaries every eight days with the four-by-four schedules instead of weekly salaries with a standard 44-hour schedule every seven days. These practices resulted in underpayment of wages for workers, as they were not compensated for the extra hours worked.

Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.

Companies did not regularly adhere to workplace safety and health regulations. For example, the National Confederation of Trade Unions Unity reported unsafe and inadequate health and safety conditions, including lack of appropriate work attire and safety gear; vehicles without airbags, first aid kits, properly functioning windows, or air conditioning; inadequate ventilation in workspaces; an insufficient number of bathrooms; and unsafe eating areas.

Accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable by year’s end.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 2, voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair, marking a successful democratic transfer of power after the two-term presidency of Rafael Correa.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included instances of arbitrary arrest or detention; corruption and progovernment bias on the part of judges that affected the right to fair public trial; unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; restrictions on freedom of expression, including for the press; censorship and the use of criminal libel against media companies and journalists, although the situation improved during the second half of the year; limits on freedom of association; official corruption at high levels of government; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, although in cases of public interest, political interference often resulted in impunity.

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 reports that police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings typically involving excessive use of force during routine law enforcement activities. A human rights nonprofit organization reported that on June 15 in Las Lajas, two police officers shot and killed Daniel Elias Jumbo Quizhpe while conducting an antismuggling operation. The two officers are under criminal investigation.

b. Disappearance

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

On March 17, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances called on the government to treat all pending cases of disappearances as forced disappearances. On June 14, a court held a hearing on the 2003 case known as “Las Dolores” in which 11 police officers were accused of the forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of eight individuals, including Johnny Gomez Balda and Cesar Mata. The decision to move to trial came after a 14-year investigation; however, the judge decided to prosecute the defendants for the crime of kidnapping, which carries a punishment of five to seven years, instead of treating the crime as forced disappearance, which carries a punishment of 22 to 26 years.

In 2016 the Office of the Attorney General determined that law enforcement officers committed arbitrary detention in all 18 of the forced disappearance cases from 1984-2005 that were reported by the 2008-10 Truth Commission. On October 16, President Moreno signed compensation agreements for 24 of the remaining 119 victims of human rights abuses with pending cases documented by the Truth Commission.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports that police officers and prison guards reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners. The Ombudsman’s Office conducted random inspections of sites where freedom of movement was restricted, including prisons, mental health facilities, and treatment clinics, among others, and investigated alleged cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment.

On September 4, local media and human rights organizations reported new allegations of torture involving prisoners in the Turi prison center. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electroshock. According to daily newspaper La Hora, in August a doctor stated that an examination of a prisoner confirmed the prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment. On August 15, Judge Alfredo Serrano acquitted 15 law enforcement officers and dismissed charges against another 32 officers who were under criminal investigation for cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners after conducting a raid in Turi prison center in Cuenca in May 2016. Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the public defender, David Ayala, criticized the judge’s decision. Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called the prosecutor’s decision unjustified due to the extent of the injuries suffered by the prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: The April 2016 earthquake, which damaged the penitentiary facility in the town of Portoviejo, exacerbated overcrowding in some prisons, causing relocation of prisoners to other facilities that were already over capacity. On June 29, the UN Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders reported that the prison population was 73.5 percent above the designed capacity. In a July 10 article in the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship Rosana Alvarado reported that the country had 10,000 inmates beyond capacity in 37 prisons.

Prisoners and human rights activists complained of a lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported that public officials expected prisoners to buy provisions from the prison centers on a monthly basis and that prison officials did not allow families of inmates to provide basic supplies purchased outside of the prison, including clothing and toiletries.

In some facilities, health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water.

Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. Human rights organizations remained concerned about the mixing of prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On January 4 and October 4, local media reported fights between rival groups of prisoners resulted in serious injury to 10 inmates in each instance. CEDHU reported that as of August 25, it had received information concerning the killing of eight prisoners in their cells in the cities of Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, Tulcan, and Latacunga. On October 11, police raided a prison in Guayas as part of a law enforcement investigation called “Fortaleza 145.” During the raid, police arrested 22 prisoners for involvement in ordered killings and drug dealing.

On March 8, police detained 51 individuals in connection with the extortion of 67 inmates. The then minister of interior, Diego Fuentes, stated a criminal network extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar) in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints. On July 10, Minister Alvarado noted that searches and raids in prisons were necessary because “mafias” continued to operate in prison centers.

On September 20, a member of the National Assembly’s Justice Committee, Lourdes Cuesta, reported that she had received information of rape cases, the transmission of HIV, and beatings of prisoners in detention centers.

Administration: Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.

Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the human rights nonprofit Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who could visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prevented independent monitors from accessing prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the State Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Insufficient training, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although not all cases were fully investigated.

Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the independent Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 27, public officials released indigenous leader Jimpikit Agustin Wachapa after four months of arbitrary detention. In December 2016 police officers and military officials entered Wachapa’s house without a judicial order and transferred him to a maximum-security prison in the town of Latacunga. The Office of the Public Prosecutor later charged Wachapa with “instigation of discord,” and then deputy interior minister Diego Fuentes reported that the leader was seeking to incite public discord through a message posted on Facebook.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. The country also lacked resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. On September 20, Justice and Human Rights Minister Alvarado reported to the National Assembly’s Justice Committee that 36 percent of inmates had not yet been sentenced.

Amnesty: On June 14, President Moreno pardoned environmentalist Patricio Marcelo Meza, who was arrested on June 6 and sentenced to six months in prison for assault and resistance during the 2015 indigenous demonstrations.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Some judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protective measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protective measures against the government. On August 21, 40 judges filed a complaint against their removal from office as ordered by the Judicial Council, the governmental oversight entity for the judicial branch. The Judicial Council declared the dismissals were based on charges leveled by private parties. The affected former judges claimed they were removed from office for unjust cause. On August 22, private defense attorney Hernan Ulloa representing the affected judges alleged that the Judicial Council committed “crimes of influence peddling, illicit enrichment, and organized crime, following interference in the independence of the judicial branch.” The former judges demanded the resignation of the Judicial Council’s president Gustavo Jalkh, through the National Committee of Judges against Corruption. On August 28, Jalkh told media outlets the initiative was an attempt to destabilize the judicial branch before the partial renewal of the National Court of Justice.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. They have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. They also have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or, in some cases, the payment of bribes. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in summary proceedings against defendants with few, if any, due process protections.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory. On September 12, members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and officials from the Judicial Council discussed the application of indigenous justice and expressed willingness to work together in strengthening the administration of justice in all spheres.

On July 13, media outlets reported that 121 Cuban citizens deported from Ecuador in June and July 2016 suffered mistreatment, illegal detention, and rushed deportation proceedings, allegations the government denied.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongdoings by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with some judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. The government claimed that many of those evicted either were squatters or had purchased their land illegally. On October 12, local media reported that a joint operation by police and the Technical Secretariat for the Prevention of Irregular Human Settlements could result in the eviction of up to 200 families from their homes in southern Guayaquil within 48 hours if they could not produce proof of ownership. On July 7, indigenous organizations appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to report human rights violations that led to forced displacement of their communities in 2016. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government. In the two weeks before the April presidential elections, representatives of a Catholic church reported detecting surveillance of their facility and religious services and receiving threatening telephone messages from unidentified callers warning the parish priest there would be consequences if he continued to politicize his sermons. In September, local media sources reported they obtained documents dating from 2010-14 detailing efforts by the National Intelligence Secretariat to spy on opposition parties, businesspersons, journalists, social movements, ecological groups, and indigenous organizations. The media sources claimed that public funds were used to record persons of interest and hack into personal email accounts in direct contravention of the penal code.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Generally, individuals could discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued that the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 communication law, media outlets are also legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. Independent of this law, the 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months to two years’ imprisonment or a fine from $16 to $77.

Article 176 of the criminal code establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” Regulatory bodies created under the communication law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 210 “attacks on freedom of expression” through June 30, including sanctions of media outlets under the communications law, cases of restrictions on digital rights, and the “abusive use of State power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. Fundamedios noted that the number of attacks were unusually high during the first semester of the year, especially during the presidential campaign season (between January and April), compared with 2016. Fundamedios also reported that during the first three months of Moreno’s presidency, attacks on the media decreased and the government-aligned public media outlets became more objective and balanced both in their news reporting and in editorial pages. President Moreno encouraged dialogue with the media and specifically called on journalists to report on corruption. Although the communication law remains in place, media outlets reported a reduction in government attacks on the media.

Independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government, although many analysts and journalists noted the 2013 law had led to self-censorship in private media, pointing to a decrease in investigative reporting under the Correa administration.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability. Some analysts viewed this as a warning to the media in their reporting on the country’s financial problems. Media outlets reported privately that they refrained from some financial reporting due to concern over possible legal consequences.

The government administered an estimated 30 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. During the Correa administration, the government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute broadcast weekly. President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper, El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the government and its policies, with former journalist Fernando Larenas.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. Government officials asserted in public statements that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. In the previous year, the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications and the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (known by its Spanish acronym CORDICOM) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. In January well established, private radio outlets Radio Democracia and Radio Vision, among others, were told that they were at risk of losing their frequencies to government-associated community media outlets due to the government adjudication process. Opposition groups protested the government-run tendering process of airwaves for its lack of transparency and for taking place during an election year. As of August 26, the redistribution of frequencies was suspended.

Violence and Harassment: On February 16, media outlets reported that authorities found explosive devices targeting two female journalists, Janeth Hinostroza of Teleamazonas television station and Estefani Espin of Ecuavisa, three days prior to the 2017 general elections. Former president Correa and other high-level government officials criticized journalists and media outlets. In his last national televised address on May 21, Correa tore up a copy of the newspaper La Hora, labeled the media as his “greatest opponent” in his 10-year administration, and asked his followers to promote awareness in citizens to avoid being cheated by the “mercantilist press.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship. On May 25, the Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) fined a radio station $3,750 for insulting former president Correa. The director of the radio station, Luis Almeida, asserted that no infractions were committed, as analyst Jaime Verduga was exercising his freedom of thought and expression. Almeida also noted that Verduga repeated Correa’s own words, which were published by the government-owned digital media outlet El Ciudadano.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. Supercom decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. On April 27, three media outlets received a warning in writing from Supercom for transmitting results of exit polls that projected the opposition candidate as winner of the 2017 national elections on April 2. On April 21, Supercom fined seven outlets $3,750 for “prior censorship” due to their decision not to publish a series of articles by Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, alleging that opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso had dozens of offshore accounts. Representatives of the affected media outlets argued that the original story was poorly reported and that the publishing of unverified allegations would have violated the law. The ruling remained in effect as of September 15. On August 24, a district administrative court nullified a $90,000 fine originally levied in 2014 against political cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla) of the daily newspaper El Universo. The court ruled that “opinions are not meant to inform” and that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The head of Supercom, Carlos Ochoa, announced that Supercom would contest the ruling.

The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. Supercom has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions. On June 5, former president Correa filed a complaint against journalist Martin Pallares for an article he published on April 21, alleging that Pallares uttered expressions in disrepute or dishonor against him, a crime punishable by 15 to 30 days’ imprisonment. On July 3, Judge Fabricio Carrasco found Pallares innocent of the charges of discrediting the president. On July 19, Judge Maximo Ortega de Ferrer accepted Correa’s appeal to review the July 3 ruling.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the Media: On inauguration day President Moreno announced that his government would end former president Correa’s practice of holding multihour, mandatory press events on Saturdays (often used by Correa to attack his opponents, particularly the media). Moreno subsequently highlighted the important role the press plays in the fight against corruption. Moreno invited civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communication law through a national dialogue. Supercom officials participated in roundtable discussions on communication law reforms. Fundamedios noted in September that reported attacks against freedom of expression dropped more than 50 percent in the first three months of the Moreno administration, compared with the final three months of the Correa administration, adding, “The drastic drop in the number of attacks on freedom of expression reflects a new reality that could translate into an improvement in the exercise of this fundamental right in Ecuador.” Supercom issued fewer sanctions during the first three months of the Moreno administration.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported a 54 percent internet usage rate in 2016.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated since they occurred during coverage of the 2017 general elections and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On August 25, Fundamedios reported attacks on its digital portal for two consecutive weeks. On May 22, Usuarios Digitales, an internet watchdog organization, reported 160 internet attacks on social networks and digital platforms between April 2016 and March 2017. The website of the national private media group El Comercio was hacked on a regular basis. The organization had a team of digital experts tracking internet attacks on a daily basis.

The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information. On April 17, the Ministry of Interior’s legal office filed a case against Luis Eduardo Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Horanewspaper, based on his tweets that “attempt to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” On May 18, Vivanco appeared before the Office of the Public Prosecutor to render his testimony.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship. In December 2016 the National Assembly passed legislation eliminating public funding for research at universities that operate under international agreements. According to human rights organization Freedom House, “The legislation has the potential to undermine the sustainability of two graduate universities, Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar and Universidad Latinoamericana de Posgrado Lider en Ciencias Sociales (commonly referred to as FLACSO Ecuador.)”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits that usually are granted. The government often deployed a large security presence at demonstrations, and security forces generally respected the rights of participants.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, but the government took steps to limit this right. On October 23, President Moreno issued decree 193 to replace executive decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Human rights organizations claimed former president Correa used decrees 16 and 739, which required all social organizations, including NGOs, to reregister in a new online registration system within one year of the decree or face dissolution, to stymie opposition and limit foreign influence.

Decree 193 simplified the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closed loopholes that Correa exploited to infiltrate and divide NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. The government also ended the requirement that a state entity collect information through the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on the “legality, solvency, and seriousness” of foreign NGOs before they are allowed to work in the country. Civil society representatives said that the new decree was a step in the right direction but lamented that it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for ill defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. On January 28, then president Correa signed the Human Mobility Law, which codifies the legal protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. The law entered into force on February 6. Large numbers of refugee seekers and the country’s economic slowdown strained the government’s immigration and social services, and it worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps when necessary.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, especially women and children, experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children remained susceptible to violence, human trafficking, labor exploitation in sex trafficking, and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized criminal gangs that also operated in Colombia.

The government cooperated with 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.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Following an earthquake on April 16 that struck the Pacific coast, the government declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santo Domingo, and Santa Elena. According to the final status report from the Secretariat of Risk Management on May 18, the earthquake claimed 663 lives and injured 6,274 persons. More than 40,000 persons were internally displaced following the earthquake, and approximately 29,000 were sheltered in public spaces, including sports stadiums. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of October 21, at least 12,000 persons remained in official and informal shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law’s implementing regulation establishes a two-step procedure for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status with a right to appeal rejections in the second stage of the process. The government limits applications for asylum to persons who enter the country within the previous 90 days. While an improvement over the previous 15-day time limit, experts noted that the admissibility procedure and a lack of qualified staff still hampered the granting of protection to deserving cases and remained the main challenges to refugee protection in the country.

The Human Mobility Law establishes a maximum of 120 days for the application process. During this process an applicant receives a humanitarian visa until the refugee status is adjudicated and all appeals are exhausted. Once the government grants refugee status to an individual, that person becomes a temporary resident. An individual with refugee status may apply for a visa renovation within two years or apply for permanent residence. An international NGO reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in the process of implementing the new legal provisions, including the issuance of humanitarian visas. An international organization stated that a significant number of Venezuelan migrants were arriving in the country. The government noted an increase in the entry and exit of Venezuelans across the border. On August 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Ecuador hosted 60,560 refugees, 98 percent of whom were Colombian and that an average of 418 persons entered the country each month seeking asylum.

Access to Basic Services: Forty percent of refugees and asylum seekers resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs providing social services to refugees, refugees continued to encounter discrimination in employment and housing. In September 2016 UNHCR and the Civil Registry signed an agreement that would enable recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate their access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. As of October, however, the Civil Registry had not started to issue national identification cards to recognized refugees. UNHCR reported that technical issues with the software and system to produce these cards led to delays.

Durable Solutions: The main durable solution was local integration, although there were many obstacles to achieve sustainable local integration. Discrimination; difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation; and limited access to formal employment, services, and housing with basic services affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population. Few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status, due to the expensive and lengthy legal process required.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to refugees recorded as having crossed the border during the year. Most government assistance ended after denial of official refugee status.

As an associate member of Mercosur (Southern Common Market), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the Mercosur visa does not provide any safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for the visa, since it was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visa is renewable, but the requisites for such renewal were unclear to refugee advocates.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2015 the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits for all elected positions, including the president, starting after the 2017 national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 19, the government held general elections for national offices, including the presidency and the National Assembly. On April 2, the government held a presidential runoff election between the top two tickets, Alianza PAIS (AP) and Creating Opportunities-United Society Movement More Action (CREO-SUMA) alliance. The Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and domestic observers deemed both election rounds as open, free, and well organized, despite limited local irregularities. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no fraud, some reports of premarked ballots and of counting and vote-tabulation irregularities resulted in challenges filed with the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Electoral Contentious Court (TCE), the appeals body for electoral matters. Political organizations challenged the legitimacy of 11.2 percent of total votes, with CREO requesting a total vote recount. The request was denied because the law does not allow for a recount of 100 percent of the votes. The OAS reported that in the precampaign period, “representatives of opposition parties and civil society organizations objected to unequal access to the media.” Furthermore, during the campaign period, there was unequal coverage of parties and candidates in news reports, depending on the ownership of the media. According to media monitoring by the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana, private and public media outlets gave opposition and government party presidential candidates more equitable access to media than in the 2013 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Electoral laws require political parties to register with the CNE. To receive authorization to participate in elections, parties and movements need to show the support of at least 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls by collecting voters’ signatures. The law requires registered parties to obtain minimum levels of voter support to maintain registration. Voters are restricted to registering with only one political group.

The OAS reported an active presence of then president Correa in the precampaign and campaign periods, stating that “…political organizations complained of the lack of sanctions against the then-president of the republic for promoting the ticket of the official party during the government-funded Enlaces Ciudadanos,” a weekly program broadcast nationwide during the Correa administration. During the postelection period, citizens gathered outside the CNE to protest alleged fraud in the election results. On April 2, Ecuavisa TV channel reported the polling company Cedatos’ exit poll results, which identified the opposition presidential candidate as the winner. Participacion Ciudadana conducted a quick count and announced on national television a “statistical tie” between the two presidential candidates. Shortly thereafter their results were leaked on social media. On April 7, police raided the offices of Cedatos. The OAS considered that “the raid was excessive and deepened existing tensions following the elections.” On April 8, then president Correa accused Participacion Ciudadana, TV channel Ecuavisa, and Cedatos of attempting to manipulate the outcome of the runoff election to favor opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso.

On March 29, the Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against Cedatos for falsifying data and using false documents, after the then vice president of the National Assembly, Rosana Alvarado, filed a complaint against Cedatos on March 22.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The Correa administration took some steps to address official corruption. It continued a process to increase the efficiency of judicial services, which improved the judiciary’s ability to remove corrupt or ineffective judges. Many civil society activists noted, however, that judges on the higher courts appeared more closely aligned with the former administration, and many questioned the independence of those courts, especially in politicized cases. Media reports alleged police corruption and corruption in public contracts and procurement, including in state-owned companies. Labor leaders and business owners reported corruption among labor inspectors.

Corruption: On February 16, the Attorney General’s Office sentenced Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, former minister of hydrocarbons, in absentia, and Alex Bravo, former manager of the public oil company Petroecuador, to five years in prison for committing bribery. Pareja Yannuzzelli returned to the country in September and was under investigation for embezzlement, money laundering, organized crime, and illicit enrichment. The Attorney General’s Office sentenced 14 other individuals to prison for committing bribery in relation to the Petroecuador corruption case. On August 17, El Universo reported that more than 140 persons were under investigation in the Petroecuador corruption case. As of September the Petroecuador cases continued.

In December 2016 unnamed officials were cited among those taking bribes from the Brazilian construction and engineering company Odebrecht. Odebrecht admitted to making more than $33.5 million in corrupt payments to government officials in Ecuador between 2007 and 2016. On April 21, police arrested Alecksey Mosquera, former minister of electricity, for allegedly accepting $924,000 in bribes from Odebrecht for the construction of the Toachi-Pilaton hydroelectric dam in 2007. On April 21, police placed under house arrest Mosquera’s uncle-in-law Marcelo Endara for allegedly accepting $80,000 in bribes from Odebrecht. On June 2, police arrested six suspects, including Ricardo Rivera, Vice President Glas’ uncle, for allegedly having committed illicit association. On July 3, the National Assembly censured Carlos Polit, former comptroller general, for breaching his official duties and having ties to the Odebrecht corruption scheme. On August 25, the National Assembly voted unanimously to authorize the judicial hearing of Vice President Glas for illicit association. On August 29, the National Court of Justice officially included Vice President Glas and 10 other suspects within the illicit association investigation in relation to the Odebrecht corruption case. On October 2, the National Court of Justice ordered the preventive imprisonment of Vice President Glas and on November 14 ruled that Vice President Glas will stand trial (with 12 other suspects). Vice President Glas will remain in prison until the conclusion of his trial and could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and if requested during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information annually. The constitution requires civil servants to present a sworn statement regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term of office, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. All declarations are filed in the offices of public notaries and are entered as a public document. The comptroller general’s website contains a section where the public can conduct a search on officials to see if the officials complied with the income and asset disclosure requirement. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, except for the inability to assume office. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, even when changes occur in their holdings.

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

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

Civil society organizations expressed concern about the government’s discretion to dissolve NGOs per Decrees 16 and 739 (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Decree 16 created the National Secretariat of Policy Management, an authority responsible for regulating the fulfillment of the objectives and activities of social and civic organizations. Civil society representatives argued that the vague and overly broad grounds for dissolution led to self-censorship among NGOs. Additionally, NGOs contended that challenging an order of dissolution via the judicial process might take several years.

International NGOs are also subject to the NGO regulations in Decree 739. Government officials continued to claim many NGOs were tools of foreign governments that sought to destabilize the government. Government officials, including former president Correa during his weekly television and radio addresses, also criticized the credibility of specific international and local NGOs and their findings.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the country’s human rights record on May 1. The government refused to appear at the hearings of the IACHR that focused on harassment the threat of extractive industries to indigenous peoples. The then foreign affairs minister, Guillaume Long, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the reports issued by these bodies, claiming that the observations and criticisms were based on false information provided by NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control Branch of government, focused on human rights problems. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

A special unit within the Prosecutor’s Office has responsibility for investigating crimes revealed in the 2010 Truth Commission report on alleged human rights abuses that occurred between 1984 and 2008.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison.

A 2011 government study found that 60 percent of women suffered from gender-based violence at some point during their lifetimes. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison. The law provides penalties for physical violence, psychological violence, and sexual violence. According to the law, a prosecutor must investigate the victim’s complaint of domestic abuse before issuing a restraining order. There were reports that, in some cases, victims waited 10 days or more for a response from the Prosecutor’s Office. The law requires public hospitals to provide “first reception halls” to handle cases of sexual violence and domestic violence. The specialized halls–under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and staffed by physicians, psychologists, and social workers–offer immediate attention to the victim.

Based on 2016 statistics, there were 50 judicial units and 78 courts specializing in gender-based violence. The judicial units have responsibility for collecting complaints and assisting victims in ordering arrest warrants for up to 30 days of detention against the aggressor. The units forward serious abuse cases to prosecutors for criminal prosecution. Human rights activists stated that 16,000 cases of domestic violence were pending in the court system. They argued that the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. A 2013 study by the vice presidency revealed that 5.5 percent of the population was not registered at birth.

Education: According to the constitution, education is obligatory through ninth grade and free through 12th grade. Nonetheless, costs for school-related items, such as uniforms and books, as well as a lack of space in public schools, continued to prevent many adolescents from attending school.

Child Abuse: On October 12, the Ministry of Education reported it received 882 complaints of sexual assault in schools between 2014 and 2017, with approximately 64 percent of the cases perpetrated by persons associated with the education system. On June 1, citing UNICEF, El Comercio reported that one of 10 women was sexually abused during childhood.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry the aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The age of consent is 14. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Commercial sexual exploitation of minors remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

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

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 120 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. Isolated instances of anti-Semitism occurred.

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. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. The law requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities or those who care for a person with disabilities, and it entitles employees who acquire a disability to rehabilitation and relocation. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.

The government continued a campaign to create jobs for persons with disabilities, provide funding to municipalities to improve access to public buildings, and open training and rehabilitation centers.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities, and international observers commended the government’s accommodations for persons with disabilities in the 2014 local elections. The CNE initiated a program to allow in-home voting for those with more significant disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities

Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. Afro-Ecuadorians continued to assert that they are more frequently stopped by police for document checks than are other citizens.

Indigenous People

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation before the execution of projects that affect their rights. It also provides for their right to participate in decisions about the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands and that could affect their culture or environment. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits that natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally.

On September 5, the Ombudsman’s Office reported that it monitored economic activity that may harm local communities, particularly Afro-Ecuadorians and indigenous peoples.

In November 2016 Shuar members attacked a Chinese-owned mining camp in Morona Santiago. In December 2016 members of the indigenous Shuar community Nankints attacked police officers and military who were patrolling the mining camp La Esperanza in Morona Santiago Province, killing one police officer and injuring five other police officers and two servicemen. Then-coordinating minister of security Cesar Navas announced a 30-day state of emergency in the Amazon province of Morona Santiago, declaring that a police officer died during an attack by “illegal armed groups.” The Ministry of Interior extended the December 14, 2016, state of emergency until February 15. The Shuar attack followed months of militarization of canton San Juan Bosco and police and military forcibly evicting the indigenous community from their ancestral territory to facilitate the establishment of Chinese company Explorcobres S.A. mining project.

On January 27, approximately 100 police officers raided the indigenous radio station La Voz de Arutam in Morona Santiago after it broadcast on January 26 a message by the president of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers. According to a statement from the federation, police officers seized communications equipment and shut down the station.

On May 2, civil society and indigenous groups led by CONAIE launched the “Amnesty First” campaign and presented a proposal to then president-elect Moreno to pardon 111 indigenous protesters. On May 25, newly inaugurated President Moreno suggested the potential for amnesty for indigenous protesters charged with criminal offenses during the Correa administration. CONAIE claimed that the convictions against the indigenous protesters violated their rights to freedom of expression. On May 30, a group of indigenous persons led by CONAIE marched to the National Assembly, where they asked National Assembly President Jose Serrano to pardon 177 imprisoned indigenous protesters. Serrano stated that a committee of legislators would review each case on an individual basis. As of July 5, President Moreno had pardoned five imprisoned indigenous protesters, including indigenous leader Tomas Jimpikit.

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

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation as a right. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private bodies, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

In August 2016 a law allowing individuals to select gender on their identity cards entered into force. In August a local LGBTI organization reported that 270 individuals had successfully changed their gender on their identity cards but explained that the law further perpetuated discrimination and social stigma against transgender individuals, since the identity cards revealed their decision to substitute sex with gender on their identity cards.

The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the LGBTI community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly in the transgender community, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes (particularly in higher education). LGBTI students, particularly transgender individuals, were more susceptible to bullying in schools, and human rights activists argued that the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. The LGBTI population involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, although such treatment is illegal. The clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation. According to a local LGBTI organization, law enforcement officials closed at least two such clinics in Guayaquil during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination directed at persons with HIV/AIDS. There was limited societal violence against such persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to the Ministry of Labor, 2,969 labor unions represented 879,000 workers. The Center for Labor Policy Studies estimated that labor organizations represented 4 percent of all public and private workers.

Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully let go. The process to register a union often took weeks or longer and was complicated, inhibiting union registration. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

All private employers with a union are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. The law prohibits employers from using domestic outsourcing, including subcontracting, third party, and hourly contracts, to avoid providing employees the right to form a union and to receive employee benefits.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. As of August 17, the government had not taken any action.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers cannot take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work in order to provide essential services. The law provides that “the employer may contract substitute personnel” only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and post and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of between two and five years’ imprisonment. All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or strike. In 2015 the National Assembly amended the constitution to specify that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

Government efforts to enforce legal protections of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining often were inadequate and inconsistent. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although independent, unions often had strong ties to political movements.

During the year labor organization reported several cases of labor abuse and illegal dismissal of workers. There were no reports of workers being fired for union activities. On August 25, bus owners and drivers voted to suspend all municipal transit service in Quito, following negotiations with the municipal council to raise fares. Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas announced legal action against the Pichincha Chamber of Transport, the union representing bus owners, based on a law prohibiting strikes of providers of public transportation services. The daylong strike resulted in 10 persons detained and four injured. On August 26, leaders from Quito’s municipal transportation service announced an end to the strike following meetings with municipal officials to seek agreement on a resolution. On September 6, Mayor Rodas said that municipal transportation employees had 30 days to demonstrate improved service in order to secure a five-cent fare increase. During this period the Metropolitan Transit Agency conducted random inspections and recorded 495 sanctions and 14 major infractions committed by transportation employees. They also received close to 800 complaints for poor service. Mayor Rodas said that all of the data collected during the 30-day period would be taken into account when evaluating a possible fare increase.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law does not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for cases of forced labor and includes all forms of labor exploitation, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties under this article range from 13 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The law penalizes forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor, including all labor of children younger than age 15. Penalties for forced or exploitative labor are 10 to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. As of October human rights organizations and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking. The government identified and assisted 75 potential child trafficking victims, at least 11 of whom were victims of forced labor. A report issued during the year stated that the antitrafficking and human smuggling police unit arrested 56 suspected traffickers and conducted 52 antitrafficking operations in 2016.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. On April 12, El Telegrafonewspaper reported a 25-year prison sentence against a man who forced a 12 year-old female into prostitution. Forensic tests revealed that the perpetrator drugged the minor. Indigenous Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants (see section 7.d.), were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Women and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries, the United States, and Europe. The country is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” including work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Fines for violations of child labor laws range from $50 to $300 for parents or guardians and $200 to $1,000 for employers hiring children younger than age 15. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at workplaces including factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.

The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion and the Minors’ Tribunal enforce child labor laws.

Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) and the National Survey of Employment, Unemployment, and Underemployment (ENEMDU) reported in March a total of 522,656 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 working in the country. This was a significant increase compared with NGO reporting in 2016. As reported in local press on May 1, statistics by the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion also indicated that the province with the highest rate of child labor was Cotopaxi, with 25.1 percent of children working, followed by Bolivar, Chimborazo, Canar, Loja, and Azuay. The two provinces with the lowest rate of child employment were Manabi (4.4 percent) and Santa Elena (4.9 percent). In a 2015 INEC study, more than 73 percent of child laborers up to age 14 worked in agriculture, while trade and manufacturing represented 12.2 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, of the overall child labor rate.

Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that child labor in the formal-employment sectors continued to decline. According to these groups, it was rare in virtually all formal-sector industries due to an increased number of government inspections, improved enforcement of government regulations, and self-enforcement by the private sector. For example, in the past several years, banana producers working with the Ministry of Agriculture and unions on a plan to eliminate child labor formed committees to certify when plantations used no child labor. These certification procedures do not apply to the informal sector.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal sector. In rural areas children were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Labor organizations reported that children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. Additionally, there were reports of rural children working in small-scale, family-run brick-making and gold-mining operations. In urban areas many children under age 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by street peddling, shining shoes, or begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On October 4, El Telegrafo reported that the Ministry of Labor received 347 complaints from employees about workplace harassment between 2015 and 2017. On August 24, the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

On May 7, El Comercio newspaper reported the average income of women was 27 percent lower than that of men. In December 2016 Los Andes online media outlet cited a study by the Ipsos Ibid Consultancy noting that only “one in 10 general managerial positions was occupied by a woman in Ecuador, while in positions such as vice presidencies the percentage was 20 percent.” On March 1, INEC published the results of an ENEMDU survey that reported nationally 5.5 percent of women in the economically active population were unemployed, while among men, unemployment was 3.6 percent. On June 20, El Telegrafo reported that Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often would profile them based on their job application photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage was $375. Additional benefits mandated by law correspond to 40 percent of this salary. The official poverty level was $85.58 per month, and official extreme poverty level was $48.23 per month. According to official statistics published in June, 23.7 percent of the population lived at or below the poverty level, and 8.6 percent lived at or below the extreme poverty level.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Work done from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines health and safety standards, which were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed more than 53 percent of the population.

The 2016 Organic Law for the Promotion of Youth Work, Exceptional Regulation to the Working Day, Severance, and Unemployment Insurance provides that Social Security contributors who lose their job may opt for withdrawing their individual severance funds. Alternatively, the law provides the option of using the government’s unemployment insurance, which includes a monthly payment for five months’ equivalent to between 50 and 70 percent of the contributor’s monthly average salary over the 12 months prior to the contributor’s dismissal.

Enforcement of labor laws is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and the Social Security Administration. The government’s 134 inspectors enforced all labor laws, including those for child labor.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were limited to monetary fines between $950 and $6,360; they were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor continued its labor rights enforcement reforms by increasing labor inspections and increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. Occupational health and safety problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal small-scale mines, which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Civilian authorities in the regime generally maintained effective control over most security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by security forces, including for political and religious beliefs; harsh prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest; denial of fair public trial; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home; restrictions on freedoms of speech and press; restrictions on internet freedom, academic freedom, and cultural events; restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and religion; limits on freedom of internal movement and foreign travel; inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; corruption and lack of transparency; restrictions on international nongovernmental organizations; violence against women and girls, including in military camp settings and national service positions; human trafficking; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and forced labor, including forced participation in the country’s national service program, routinely for periods beyond the 18-month legal obligation.

The government did not generally take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for such abuses was the norm.

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

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

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the government committed arbitrary killings with impunity and subjected detainees to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea presented her fourth report at the Human Rights Council on June 14. The report did not refer to arbitrary killings; however, a 2015 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report, which covered from 1991 through 2015, found that authorities had widely committed extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings since independence. Despite requests to the government, the COI was denied access to visit the country. In June the special rapporteur reported that her requests to visit had also been denied. The COI’s findings–based on interviews conducted outside of the country–included extrajudicial killings, before the border war with Ethiopia, of veterans with disabilities and political opponents, including Muslim scholars and others; extrajudicial executions of political opponents, smugglers, and others for less serious or “speculative” crimes; mass killings of members of certain ethnic groups; and systematic execution by the armed forces of soldiers accused of cowardice or desertion during the border war.

The COI found the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, had a shoot-to-kill policy to prevent its citizens from crossing the border into Ethiopia. According to the COI, this policy had been in effect for a “considerable period of time.” The COI’s June 2016 report stated it had “reliable evidence” that the policy still existed but was “not implemented as rigorously as it was in the past.” Doctors without Borders reported during the year it was common for Eritreans crossing the border to Ethiopia to be shot at or to witness others being targeted.

b. Disappearance

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

There were no known developments regarding the situation or well-being of members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.

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

The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.

According to NGO and UN reports, security forces tortured and beat army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

According to the COI’s June 2016 report, the government continued to engage in the widespread use of torture. The COI’s 2015 report found that officials used mistreatment such as extreme forms of restraint, rape, or beatings to cause severe physical and psychological pain during interrogations and to punish detainees and conscripts, and this mistreatment constituted torture. The COI found officials had either directly ordered torture or that it was inflicted with their consent and acquiescence. According to the COI, “The recurrence, coherence, and similarities of the many torture incidents… is a clear indication of the existence of a deliberate policy to inflict torture in a routine manner in the context of investigations and interrogations as well as during national service.” Authorities refused permission to the COI to visit the country. The COI received approximately 300 accounts of torture and mistreatment occurring between 1991 and 2015.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or poor detention conditions.

In 2015 the COI reported sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in military training camps, that the sexual violence by military personnel in camps and the army amounted to torture, and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps amounted to sexual slavery. In a 2015 report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern regarding reports of women in national service frequently subjected to sexual violence, including rape.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious health damage and in some instances death.

Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by the police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in that center. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.

Data on the prevalence of death in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. The government did not take action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.

Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, reportedly died in November 2016 after his release from Me’eter camp in 2015 due to illness and lack of adequate medical care during detention. He had been detained since 2009.

Authorities held some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them. The government did not provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.

Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.

Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.

Administration: It was impossible to verify whether authorities released prisoners after they served their sentences. Recordkeeping procedures were not transparent, and the government did not routinely announce the release of prisoners. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not inform foreign embassies when their respective citizens were arrested, nor did it grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for reasons purportedly involving national security, but it permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Authorities did not permit religious observance for some prisoners and detainees, although at least one detention center had a facility where authorities permitted inmates to conduct religious observances. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups. Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring by independent government or nongovernmental observers or permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions during the year. The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.

The June 2016 COI report noted that international observers and representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights were last able to visit the Sembel Prison and Rehabilitation Center in February 2016. Their report stated, however, the visit was short and did not allow for a full assessment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but such acts remained widespread.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, the reserves, demobilized soldiers, or the civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the National Security Office, which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Police generally do not have a role in cases involving national security.

Impunity for abuse was the norm. There were no known internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse or government actions to reform the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, unless there is a crime in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that they detained persons held without charge due to national security concerns.

The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrarily denied, bail amounts were capriciously set or not set, and release on bail sometimes involved paying bribes.

Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups, primarily for their refusal to perform national service.

Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.

There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.

Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. Detainees were not always told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The unimplemented constitution provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, with an exception that allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. In practice, however, the right to such a trial was generally not respected.

The unimplemented constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare one’s defense, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right for defendants to refuse to testify. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers are court appointed and have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants who are unable to pay for an attorney are not provided one at public expense.

Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.

Special courts have jurisdiction over both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.

Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. There are approximately 320 community courts. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges. Judges are elected by the community.

In 2015 the government published revised penal, criminal procedure, civil, and civil procedure codes. The codes had yet to be put into full effect by year’s end. Some judges applied the new codes while others did not.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Like other prisoners, the government did not permit any access to political detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.

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

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

Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones in particular since authorities required permits to use subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. To obtain a SIM card, citizens must present proof of completion of or exemption from national service, a PFDJ membership card, and a letter of recommendation from their regional office to the Telecommunications Ministry. Diplomats must provide a residence permit, a house lease agreement, a work permit, a supporting letter from their embassy, two photographs, a diplomatic identification card, and two copies of their passport and visa. Other foreign citizens reported the need for a blood test and x-ray to screen for hepatitis C and tuberculosis. It was not clear whether the presence of those conditions would result in refusal of a SIM card.

The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.

Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes, threatened family members, and sometimes took fathers away without explanation. Reports, particularly from rural areas, stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country. Militia groups reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm attendance at national service projects.

Some girls, women, and men married and had children to avoid national service.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and unimplemented constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections, based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, but they were not able to exercise this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government came to power in a 1993 popular referendum, in which voters chose to have an independent country managed by a transitional government. This government did not permit the formation of a democratic system. The government twice scheduled elections in accordance with the constitution but canceled them without explanation. An official declaration in 2003 asserted, “In accordance with the prevailing wish of the people, it is not the time to establish political parties, and discussion of the establishment has been postponed.” Communities elect area administrators, magistrates, and managing directors.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The country is a one-party state. Political power rested with the PFDJ and its institutions. At times the government coerced persons to join the PFDJ.

Membership in the PFDJ was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities reportedly visited citizens in their homes after they completed national service and compelled them to join the party and pay the required fees. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of PFDJ membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some citizens in the diaspora claimed convocations occurred at Eritrean embassies, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did so. Women held four of 17 ministerial positions: justice, tourism, labor, and health. Women also served in other government positions, including as ambassador to France and as regional administrators.

Members of ethnic minorities served on the PFDJ’s Executive Council and the Central Council. Some senior government and party officials were members of minority groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Persons seeking executive or judicial services sometimes reported they obtained services more easily after paying a “gift” or bribe. Patronage, cronyism, and petty corruption within the executive branch were based largely on family connections and used to facilitate access to social benefits. Judicial corruption was a problem, and authorities generally did not prosecute acts such as property seizure by military or security officials or those seen as being in favor with the government. Reports indicated corruption also existed in the issuance of identification and travel documents, including in the passport office. Individuals requesting exit visas or passports sometimes had to pay bribes.

There were reports of police corruption. Police occasionally used their influence to facilitate the release from prison of friends and family members. Police demanded bribes to release detainees.

Financial Disclosure: The law did not subject public officials to financial disclosure.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape.

The COI reported in 2015 that sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in military training camps, the sexual violence by military personnel in camps and the army amounted to torture, and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps amounted to forced sexual slavery. In a 2015 report, CEDAW expressed concern about reports that women in national service frequently were subjected to sexual violence, including rape.

Domestic violence is punishable as assault and battery. Authorities rarely intervened.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. Government efforts to reduce FGM/C included public awareness campaigns at the local level targeting religious and community leaders. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) worked with the government and other organizations, including the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, on a variety of education programs to discourage the practice.

For more information, see:

https://data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ 

Sexual Harassment: The transitional penal code does not criminalize sexual harassment. There was no record of any person ever being charged or prosecuted for sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws provide men and women the same status and rights. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women, particularly in rural areas, continued to face economic and social discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from having at least one citizen parent, whether the person is born in the country or abroad. Registration of a birth within the first three months requires only a hospital certificate. CEDAW reported that authorities registered almost all children born in urban hospitals but not those born in rural areas, where there were few hospitals. If not registered a child may not be allowed to attend school but may receive medical treatment at hospitals. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education through grade seven is compulsory and tuition free, although students’ families were responsible for providing uniforms, supplies, and transportation. Access to education was not universal. In rural areas parents enrolled fewer daughters than sons in school, but the percentage of girls in school continued to increase.

The government requires all students who reach grade 12 to complete their secondary education at the Sawa National Education and Training Center. Some persons who attempted to leave the country did so to avoid going to Sawa because of obligatory military training and poor living conditions at the school.

Child Abuse: Local social welfare teams investigated circumstances reported to be abusive and counseled families when child abuse was evident. Child Wellbeing Committees existed at the district and community levels that provide mitigation and assistance for abused and neglected children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18, although religious entities may condone marriages at younger ages. Girls in rural areas were particularly at risk for early marriage. Female ministers spoke publicly on the dangers of early marriage and collaborated with UN agencies to educate the public regarding these dangers, and many neighborhood committees actively discouraged the practice. In June 2016 the government and the United Nations launched a national campaign to end child marriage in the country. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child prostitution and includes penalties relating to obscene or indecent publications. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Penalties for conviction of the commercial sexual exploitation of children include imprisonment. Such crimes were seldom reported, and punishment was rarely applied.

Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children under age 18 into the armed forces. Children under age 18, however, were detained during round-ups and sent to Sawa National Training and Education Center, which is both an educational and military training school where living conditions are Spartan and health care very basic. Those who refused to attend and participate in military training were often unable to get a job.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the country’s sole remaining Jew maintained the sole synagogue.

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 and unimplemented constitution prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, but they do not specify the types of disabilities against which discrimination is prohibited. The government implemented programs to assist persons with disabilities, especially combat veterans, and dedicated substantial resources to support and train thousands of persons with physical disabilities. No laws mandate access for persons with disabilities to public or private buildings, information, and communications. There were separate schools for children with hearing, vision, mental, and intellectual disabilities. Most of these schools were private. The government provided some support to them.. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination was believed to continue against ethnic minorities, particularly against the nomadic Kunama and the Afar, two of nine ethnic groups in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable if convicted by 10 days’ to three years’ incarceration. The government did not actively enforce this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons do not exist.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of union leaders dismissed for union activity, but it does not provide equivalent protection for other workers dismissed for engaging in union activity. The law allows for the establishment of unions in workplaces with at least 20 employees and requires a minimum of 15 members to form a union, and Bisha mine employees unionized during the year. The law requires prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare to establish a union, but it deems registration granted if no response is received from the ministry within one month.

The government did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. While there is a fine for antiunion discrimination or acts of interference, this fine did not constitute an adequate deterrent, according to the International Labor Organization. No corresponding penal law provisions specifically address labor violations.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities did not allow nongovernmental meetings of more than seven persons. There is one umbrella trade union, the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW), established in 1979 as the trade union wing of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. The NCEW was not wholly independent, as it was directly linked to the ruling party. The NCEW’s member union represents hotel workers, service personnel, agricultural professionals, and teachers, among other occupations. The NCEW reported that labor boards, made up of representatives from the union, the workers, and the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare, address grievances before the likelihood of strikes emerges.

In general no NGOs played a significant role in promoting the rights of workers in the country.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and slavery but allows compulsory labor for convicted prisoners. The law’s definition of forced labor excludes activities performed as part of national service or other civic obligations, and labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions do not apply to persons engaged in national service. The law provides penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of “enslavement.” The law also provides penalties of imprisonment and fines for “violation of the right to freedom to work,” which appears to cover situations of forced labor. The government enforced these laws within private industry.

By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50 must perform national service, with limited exceptions. The national service obligation consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military service and development tasks in the military forces for a total of 18 months, or for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ according to the person’s capacity and profession. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.

Forced labor occurred. Despite the 18-month legal limit on national service, the government did not demobilize many conscripts from the military as scheduled and forced some to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service could not resign or take other employment, generally received no promotions or salary increases, and could rarely leave the country legally because authorities denied them passports or exit visas. Those conscripted into the national service performed standard patrols and border monitoring in addition to labor such as agricultural terracing, planting, road maintenance, hotel work, teaching, construction, and laying power lines.

The government required those not already in the military to attend civilian militia training and carry firearms, including many who were demobilized, the elderly, or persons otherwise exempted from military service in the past. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involved security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training involved occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures.

There were reports of recruitment efforts for national service projects such as cutting grass at the airport or fixing roads happening without notice or extra payment for participants.

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 age for employment is 14, although this restriction does not apply to self-employed workers. The government prohibits persons under age 18 from employment between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and for more than seven hours per day. The government has not determined by national law or regulation the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but inspections were infrequent and penalties, if imposed, were arbitrary and generally insufficient to deter violations. Although the government had a national action plan to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, the implementation process was not clear, and reports were not published.

Children in rural areas commonly worked on family farms, fetched firewood or water, and herded livestock. In urban areas children worked as street vendors of cigarettes, newspapers, and chewing gum. Children also worked in small-scale garages, bicycle repair shops, metal workshops, and tea and coffee shops. They also transported grain or other goods via donkey cart or bicycle. Child domestic service occurred. Begging by children occurred.

The government continued to require secondary school students in the ninth, 10th, and 11th grades to participate in summer work programs known as “maetot.” News reports indicated students engaged in activities such as environmental conservation, agricultural activities (irrigation, maintenance of canals, and terracing), and production and maintenance of school furniture. They also served as crossing guards in urban areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

With respect to employment and occupation, labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, social origin, nationality, political orientation, or religion. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, language, or age.

Discrimination against women was common in the workplace and occurred in an environment of impunity. The transitional penal code does not criminalize sexual harassment (see section 6, Women).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage for employees of PFDJ-owned enterprises and government employees was 360 nakfa per month. At the official exchange rate, this equaled $23, but it was considerably less at the unofficial market rate. There was no national minimum wage for private-sector workers. The government paid national service recruits according to a fixed scale, and the most common salary was 800 nakfa ($52) per month. During the year the government announced salaries of recruits would be raised, but reportedly increased deductions from salaries, such as taxes and maintenance, resulted in a decrease in some cases. The standard workweek was more than 40 hours, and employers sometimes required overtime. The law allowed for more than two hours per day or eight hours per week of overtime. The law entitles workers to overtime pay, except for those employed in national service, but this was not always enforced. The legal rest period is one day per week, although most employees received one and one-half days.

No published occupational health and safety standards existed. Each government enterprise has a separate agreement with the local union defining the work standards, including occupational health and safety regulations, for that enterprise. There are 168 government enterprises in the country.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for worker safety and welfare. The ministry employed inspectors, but the number was unclear and likely insufficient. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers reported that every enterprise has an inspection at least once per year that is then reviewed by the enterprise, the union, and the ministry.

Approximately 80 percent of the population was employed in subsistence farming and small-scale retail trading. There were no reliable data on the informal economy and no effective mechanisms for monitoring conditions or protecting workers in the informal economy.

Information regarding abuses pertaining to wage, overtime, safety, and health standards was neither reported nor available.

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a multiparty, constitutional democracy with a unicameral parliament, a prime minister as head of government, and a president as head of state. The prime minister and cabinet generally represent the party or coalition of parties with a majority of seats in the parliament. The most recent parliamentary elections took place in March 2015, with a coalition government taking office the following month. The government coalition changed in November 2016 when Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ government, composed of the Center Party, Social Democrats, and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, took office. On October 15, local elections took place. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses during the year.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police used excessive physical force and verbal abuse during the arrest and questioning of some suspects. The number of cases brought against police officers for excessive use of force declined from previous years. In 2016, authorities filed three cases against police officers for excessive use of force. During the first seven months of the year, there was one court case against a former police officer. A police officer threatened and physically assaulted one young man and used excessive force against another. On June 30, the Parnu County Court found a police officer guilty of using excessive force in 2016, sentencing the officer conditionally to 18 months in prison with two years’ probation and requiring him to complete a social program.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In inspecting several institutions during the year, the legal chancellor found a number of deficiencies in prison and detention center conditions, particularly in the latter where officials held detainees for short periods. Some facilities were inadequate in terms of the availability of medical care and fire safety. The continuing use of the worn, outdated Soviet-era prison in Tallinn for a large number of prisoners remained a problem. Recreational facilities in the prison were few and in poor condition. The legal chancellor reported inmates did not have sufficient access to legal documentation in some prisons and detention centers and that there were shortcomings in the application of restraints, including handcuffs, as well as excessive video surveillance and inadequate documentation of the medical condition of detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups, the media, and international bodies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Estonian Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The Prosecutor’s Office leads investigations and prosecutes cases in court. The Police and Border Guard Board and the Internal Security Service investigate civilian cases, while the military police investigate defense force cases. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Police and Border Guard Board, the Internal Security Service, and the army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate abuse. There were no reports of impunity during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Apart from those arrested during the commission of a crime, the law requires that in making arrests, authorities must possess warrants issued by a court based on evidence and must inform detainees promptly of the grounds for their arrest. There is a functioning bail system and other alternatives for provisional release pending trial. Authorities may hold individuals for 48 hours without charge; further detention requires a court order. Police generally complied with these requirements. Criminal procedure rules provide for a maximum detention of two months during preliminary investigations in cases where the accused is a minor and four months in cases of second-degree (less serious) crimes. Detainees are entitled to immediate access to legal counsel, and the government pays for legal counsel for indigent persons. There were no reports that authorities held individuals incommunicado or under house arrest.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, prompt and detailed notification of the charges (with free interpretation if necessary), a fair and public trial without undue delay, presence at their trial, communication with an attorney of choice, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, as well as the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and to present one’s own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. A single judge, a judge together with public assessors, or a committee of judges may hear cases. In criminal proceedings, an attorney is available to all defendants at public expense, although individuals often preferred to hire their own attorneys. In civil proceedings the government provides an attorney for indigents. Authorities generally respected these rights and extended them to all residents regardless of citizenship.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations in domestic courts. They may appeal unfavorable decisions to the European Court for Human Rights after exhausting all domestic remedies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported no issues with the government’s resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections in 2015 were considered free and fair and led to the formation of a three-party coalition government comprising the Reform Party, Social Democrat Party (SDE), and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL). The Reform Party-led coalition dissolved, and in accordance with the constitution, a new coalition, consisting of the Center Party, SDE, and IRL took office; Juri Ratas has led that coalition as prime minister since November 2016.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law allows only citizens to organize or join political parties.

Noncitizens who are long-term residents may vote in local elections but cannot vote in national elections or hold public office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were isolated reports of official corruption during the year.

Corruption: On September 29, the Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against two former top managers of the state-owned Port of Tallinn, former CEO Ain Kaljurand and former board member Allan Kiil, who were indicted on charges of accepting bribes on multiple occasions and engaging in money laundering from 2005 to 2015. Each was charged with receiving millions of euros in bribes.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to disclose their income and assets. Designated offices have responsibility for monitoring and verifying disclosures. The financial declarations of high-level government officials were available to the public, and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance with the law.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and physical abuse, including domestic violence. The penalty for rape, including spousal rape, is imprisonment for up to 15 years. According to the NGO Sexual Health Union, 13 percent of women have suffered sexual abuse, including rape.

According to NGOs and shelter managers, violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem. More than 80 percent of the victims of domestic violence registered by the police were women.

NGOs, local governments, and others could seek assistance for victims from the national government. There was a network of shelters for women, and women with children, who were victims of gender-based violence as well as hotlines for domestic violence and child abuse. Police officers, border guards, and social workers received training related to domestic and gender violence from NGOs, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Justice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but there were reports of such harassment in the workplace. By law sexual harassment complaints may be resolved in court, before the legal chancellor, by the Labor Dispute Committee, or by the gender-equality and equal-treatment commissioner. An injured party may demand termination of the harmful activity and compensation for damages. In July the penal code was amended and sexual harassment became a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine of 2,000 euros ($2,400) or detention for up to 30 days.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The government generally enforced such laws. There were reports of discrimination in employment and occupation, and unequal treatment, due to gender, age, disability, and sexual preference (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives primarily from the citizenship of at least one parent. Either citizen parent may pass citizenship to a child regardless of the other parent’s citizenship status. On January 1, an amendment to the law became effective which provides that children born to parents who are not citizens of Estonia or of any other country and have lived in the country for five years, acquire citizenship at birth. Registration of births occurred in a timely manner.

Child Abuse: In 2016 approximately 89 percent of sexual crimes were committed against persons under the age of 18. The Police and Border Guard Board worked to combat child abuse, including sexual abuse. The legal chancellor acted as children’s ombudsman. Police provide training to officers on sexual abuse in cooperation with the justice, education, and social ministries and local and international organizations.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may extend the legal capacity of a person at least 15 years of age for the purpose of marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. Conviction of engaging in child pornography carries punishment ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Girls are more frequently exploited than boys.

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 Parent Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered an estimated 2,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

A political hopeful from the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia posted a platform for 2019 European Parliament elections that included decriminalizing Holocaust denial and implementing the “correct teaching of the history of the Third Reich.” Although his statements received coverage from international media, he received only 91 votes (0.6 percent of the total votes cast in the district in which he competed) in the October local elections and was not supported by his party.

On January 27, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn. Schools participated in commemorative activities throughout the country. On January 27, the Ministry of Education and Research in cooperation with the foundation Unitas, the Estonian NATO Association, the Jewish community, and other organizations, sponsored a seminar for history and civics teachers from across the country to introduce them to best practices in the classroom for Holocaust commemoration.

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. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Persons with disabilities may avail themselves of government assistance in accessing information and may request individual personal assistants when necessary. The law provides that buildings constructed or renovated after 2002 must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Few older buildings were accessible, but new or renovated ones generally were. According to the legal chancellor, measures to safeguard the fundamental rights of individuals in mental health facilities remained inadequate. Problems included abusive use of physical restraints, documentation thereof, and inadequate medical care. NGOs complained that, while services typically were accessible in the capital, persons with disabilities in some rural areas had difficulty receiving appropriate care. There were reports of discrimination in occupation or employment (also see section 7.d.).

The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and local governments are responsible for the provision of social welfare services to persons with disabilities. The government implemented the Work Ability Reform, which was intended for persons with reduced working ability and whose ability to be active in the society was assessed individually. The government focused on developing rehabilitation services to improve the ability of those with disabilities to cope independently. The government also provided compensation for some additional expenses incurred by persons with disabilities.

In 2016 police recorded one case of physical abuse, which included hatred against a person with a disability.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In 2016 police registered 10 cases of physical abuse or breach of public order based on grounds that included hatred against racial/ethnic minorities; of these, three crimes had to do with race, six with religion, and one with descent.

Knowledge of Estonian is required to obtain citizenship, and all public servants and public-sector employees, service personnel, medical professionals, and other workers who have contact with the public must possess a minimum competence in the language.

Russian speakers alleged that Estonian language requirements resulted in job and salary discrimination.

In districts where more than half the population spoke a language other than Estonian, the law entitles inhabitants to receive official information in their language, and authorities respected the law.

Roma, who numbered fewer than 1,000, reportedly faced discrimination in several areas, including employment. The government took steps to emphasize the importance of education for Romani children, but their dropout rate remained high.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics. While the law is not specific regarding the forms of sexual orientation and gender identity covered, the general understanding is that all are included. Advocacy groups reported that harassment and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained routine.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, related regulations, and statutory instruments provide workers with the right to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Both employees and employers have the right to request that labor dispute committees, consisting of representatives of unions and employers, or the courts resolve individual labor disputes. The law prohibits discrimination against employees because of union membership and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike, but they can negotiate their salaries and working conditions directly with their employers.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were usually adequate to achieve compliance with the law. In most cases violators incurred fines that were sufficient to deter violations. Criminal proceedings and civil claims were also available. The penalties employers had to pay were related primarily to workplace accidents and occupational illnesses. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays.

The government and most employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Parties freely engaged in collective bargaining, and there were no reports that the government or parties interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations.

The Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions alleged frequent violations of trade union rights in the private sector during the year. Confederation officials claimed antiunion behavior was widespread. They also reported that some enterprises advised workers against forming trade unions, threatening them with dismissal or a reduction in wages if they did, or promising benefits if they did not.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. In 2016 police registered two cases of a forced-labor crime. In 2016, 14 cases concerning trafficking in persons reached the courts; 29 individuals, of whom seven were women, and two companies were found guilty. Penalties for human trafficking and forced-labor offenses range up to 15 years’ imprisonment. While penalties for violations were sufficient, their application in sentencing often failed to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

An amendment to the law regulating work by for minors took effect in May. The law removed several restrictions on hiring minors and made it possible for companies to apply for support for minors’ salaries. Minors who have graduated from the basic school may work full time. In most cases, the legal minimum age for employment is 18, but 15- to 17-year-old children may work, depending on whether or not the child is still at school. Seven- to 12-year-old children may engage in light work in the areas of culture, art, sports, or advertising with the consent of the Labor Inspectorate. Minors may not perform hazardous work, such as handling explosive substances, working with wild animals, etc. The law limits the hours that children may work and prohibits overtime or night work. The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing these laws. The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. There were no separate inspections regarding the age of child workers. The government effectively enforced applicable law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The government generally enforced the law prohibiting discrimination in employment and occupation. If workers claimed discrimination and turned to the courts, and the Labor Inspectorate or gender equality commissioner and the appropriate institution found the suit justified, workers were indemnified by employers. With respect to employment or occupation, labor laws and regulations require employers to protect employees against discrimination, follow the principle of equal treatment, and promote equal treatment and gender equality. Nevertheless, discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to age, gender, disability, ethnicity, and language (see section 6), and there were complaints to the gender and equal treatment commissioner, the legal chancellor, and the Labor Inspectorate.

Although women have the same rights as men under the law and are entitled to equal pay for equal work, employers did not always respect these rights. Despite possessing a higher average level of education than men, according to March 2017 Eurostat statistics, women’s average earnings were 26.9 percent lower than those of men for the same work. There continued to be female- and male-dominated professions. Women constituted one-third of managers.

Fewer than 25 percent of persons with disabilities had jobs. During the year the commissioner for gender equality and equal treatment received more claims of discrimination based on disability than in previous years. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace.

Russian speakers worked disproportionately in blue-collar industries and continued to experience higher unemployment than ethnic Estonians. Some noncitizen residents, particularly ethnic Russians, alleged that the language requirement resulted in job and salary discrimination. Roma reportedly faced discrimination in employment (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country had a national monthly minimum wage that was higher than the poverty income level. Authorities generally enforced minimum wage laws.

The standard workweek is 40 hours. The law requires a rest period of at least 11 hours in sequence for every 24-hour period. Reduced working time is required for minors and for employees who perform work that is underground, poses a health hazard, or is of an otherwise special nature. The law provides for paid annual holidays and requires overtime pay of not less than 150 percent of the employee’s hourly wage. The government effectively enforced these requirements. There is no prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were generally enforced in all sectors. The Labor Inspectorate, the Health Protection Inspectorate, and the Technical Inspectorate were responsible for enforcing these standards and made efforts to do so in both the formal and informal sectors. Violations of health and safety standards were more common in the construction and wood-processing industries. The Labor Inspectorate was adequate to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations include fines and were sufficient to deter violations. In 2016 the Labor Inspectorate prescribed penalties in 187 cases, of which 100 were for companies and 87 for individuals. Men from Poland and Ukraine experienced labor exploitation, particularly in the construction sector, where “envelope wages” (nontaxed cash payments) were sometimes paid.

Laws and regulations allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Finland

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included societal violence against minority persons based on their nationality or ethnicity or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) animus; authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

On August 18, police shot, wounded, and arrested a 22-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker, Abderrahman Bouanane, after he killed two women and wounded eight other persons in a terrorist attack in Turku.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were some instances of overcrowding, violations of prisoners’ rights, and substandard sanitation.

The parliamentary ombudsman’s annual report (last published in 2016) criticized the law allowing police to detain prisoners in temporary holding facilities and stated police employed this option too frequently.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, including regularly scheduled visits by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), most recently in June 2016.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

The most recent CPT report, released in 2015, stated that delays in notification of custody remained widespread, especially for apprehended foreign nationals who were not residents of the country. Persons who did not speak Finnish appeared to be at a particular disadvantage.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law allow anyone who is deprived of liberty by arrest or detention to challenge in court the lawfulness of his/her detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s national parliamentary elections in 2015 and the presidential election in 2012 were considered free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In June the Helsinki district court sentenced the former mayor of Vantaa, Jukka Peltomaki, to two years and six months of unconditional imprisonment for accepting bribes totaling 187,958 euros ($225,500). He was also ordered to pay the bribe money to the state.

Financial Disclosure: By law, income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens, including appointed and elected officials, must be made public each year. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure.

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